Once, a village chief suffered the wrath of his subjects for doing what the village residents considered unethical. Amidst an unfolding disaster, the chief called an emergency meeting compulsory for every resident. The entire village showed up expecting to get answers on how to address the disaster. But the chief had different ideas. In his mind, he considered the disaster to be an opportunity for a village lecture on how to avert future disasters. So, when he stood up to speak, he spoke at length about how the village needed to urgently learn from the disaster to ensure such never befall them. However, the villagers reacted negatively, shouting the chief down and demanding immediate solutions to address the current disaster.
The question is – was the chief right or wrong in the approach he took?
Of course, the chief could have used a bit of more wisdom in addressing his village mates, bypassing the right message at the right time. But this does not discount the chief’s thinking that times of crisis ought to jog our minds into lessons and opportunities that we can draw and apply to emerge better at the tail end of the crisis.
The past two years have been a marathon of crises for Africa and the rest of the globe. From health crises to food crises to energy crises, climate change has further compounded these crises’ impacts. These emergencies have caused a significant shrinkage of economies’ fiscal space, further dampening the ability to respond.
In early 2020, just before the full blow of the COVID-19, the horn of Africa experienced the worst locust outbreak. The worst in as much as 70 years in some countries
. The cost of damages caused by this outbreak is estimated at over $8billion
. Even before the dust could settle on the locust crisis, Africa and the world was hit by the COVID-19 emergency.
But even as countries were trying to rebuild following this devastation that has been going on since 2020, a new emergency came onto the horizon in 2022- the Russia - Ukraine conflict, which has put additional strain on economies struggling to recover. The impact has accelerated inflation in two of the most important consumer products – food and fuel. The global monthly food price index for March 2022 had increased
by up to 12.6%, the highest increase in 3 decades. The cost
of primary food items such as cereal, meat, sugar, and vegetable oil went up almost 13%, 17%, 20%, and 34%, respectively. Food prices account for up to 40%
of Sub-Saharan Africa’s consumption basket, and these increases have impacted populations significantly. Beyond food, in a few months
, oil prices increased by up to 40%
compared to 2021, exceed
ing highs last recorded
Amongst these crises is the escalating threat of environmental risks –the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution & waste, and ecological degradation – because of anthropogenic activities. On climate change alone, African economies already lose over $20billion
every year conservatively. On ecological degradation, Africa loses up to $65billion
every year, while air pollution alone costs Africa over $400billion
The big question we must answer is, how does Africa tap opportunities in crises to reshape its economic development and enhance economic competitiveness?
Re-imagining Africa’s growth for economic competitiveness and environmental resilience
The answer is a re-imagination of solutions to accelerate economic competitiveness & productivity while enhancing environmental resilience. And for this, Africa needs to re-imagine its developmental policy positions in 5 critical areas, including by injecting environmental resilience: food, energy, cities, connectivity infrastructure, and innovative financing blending both modern and traditional approaches. The objective function of this re-imagination is to maximize productivity and enterprise creation potential of these areas by leveraging lessons arising from crises. It is to unlock this potential through specific policy leanings that can catapult the region out of perennial vulnerability and economic competitiveness. These are as follows:
Re-imagining food systems should be geared towards climate-proofing them and maximizing their productivity through value addition and trade to spur local opportunities and buffer the continent against international food price shocks. In 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa’s spiralling food import bill—stood at $43 billion
. Under the status quo, this is projected to reach $110billion by 2025
. This money should be flowing in to support African businesses, not out. At the same time, Africa is losing between 30% - 50%
of all the food produced. These are losses that have topped $48 billion
in a year. With these losses
, up 25% of fresh water and 20% of farmland are wasted on unconsumed food. Through value addition, where clean energy is decentralized to power processing, these losses can be recouped and turned into much-needed incomes to build stronger, resilient economies that can withstand economic emergencies and adversities. This value addition does not have to start at the highest level.
Decentralizing simple climate action solutions of solar dryer solutions to dehydrate perishables and increase shelf-life has been proven to increase earnings up to 30times
among informal food traders who supply up to 90% of Africa’s food. This has simultaneously mitigated over
200,000tones of CO2 compared to an alternative fossil fuel value addition solution.