Climate-smart solutions can drive green growth in Africa

African countries have a huge responsibility to transform climate change challenges into opportunities to ensure green growth. More can be done using technology, but technology alone cannot deliver sustainable solutions. This means that policies, institutional systems, incentives and digital revolution can help to mitigate climatic challenges in Africa.

Therefore, government members of the Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) have identified climate change as a priority theme to support transformative green technologies through PhD and M programmes through the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF).

This was revealed during the last day of the pan-African RSIF Conference held on 29 June, in a session on innovation and green growth for sustainable development. Panellists delved into various ways that African countries can enhance green growth at higher-education institutions.

The theme of the conference was ‘African-led science, technology and innovation for contributing to the SDGs and stimulating global development’.

Panellists agreed that climate-smart agriculture is a viable mitigation strategy against climate change, and that involving communities and farmers in it is essential for green growth development.

Professor Lindsay C Stringer of the University of York, United Kingdom, notes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that climate change can also constrain Africa’s knowledge economy, as climate-related research faces severe data limitations as well as inequalities in research leadership that reduces adaptive capacity.

Stringer told University World News that some of the biggest achievements of African universities in terms of green growth can be attributed to embracing inclusivity through collaborations and partnerships that bring on board those who are often left behind, such as women, marginalised groups and youths.

“Universities such as Bayero University Kano (BUK) in Nigeria and their Centre for Dryland Agriculture where I have worked directly built excellent partnerships.

“They collaborate with farmers, NGOs, policymakers, and traditional leaders, [thereby] making sure that their latest research doesn’t just sit on a shelf to gather dust, but is used, and that the focus of the research – the questions it aims to address – meets the needs of those who can benefit from the new knowledge and helps to build the economy,” she said.

“A quick example: We had a collaborative project recently with BUK looking at non-irrigated indigenous trees, climate change, and livelihoods. Often, farmers cut the trees in their fields to free more space for planting crops. However, this is counterproductive as those trees offer lots of benefits that maybe the farmers didn’t know about.

Tree restoration often involves expensive tree nurseries and has high water demand, and many of the new trees grown are non-native species that are not climate-resilient, and which disrupt the natural ecosystem, so there are many downsides.

“Our project started with the observation that, when farmers cut their indigenous trees, they often leave the stumps in the ground, and with the right training and tree care, these stumps can be revived, the trees can re-flourish, and once again deliver benefits like shade, soil fertility, and so on.

“Indigenous trees do not require irrigation if they are already in place, and they also offer new business opportunities for green growth, particularly for women. Products such as shea, moringa and others can be harvested and processed, [thereby] adding value and developing new markets to support livelihoods.

“The role of universities in this relates to skills training, community engagement and equipping local communities with what they need to be able to move forward themselves to grow their local economy and develop new value chains to support livelihoods,” Stringer explained.

Targeted interventions necessary

Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, chair of the PASET Consultative Advisory Group, said that, although limited funding and expertise have been a hindrance to higher learning institutions in their efforts to combat the impact of climate change, external donors have fuelled programmes on climate change and mitigation strategies through research and innovation across Africa.

In his submission, Professor Rachid Serraj of Mohammed VI Polytechnic University stressed the need for targeted solutions to counter maladaptation in agriculture.

Despite the availability of irrigation and digital agricultural solutions in some African countries, there are still no sustainable solutions to combat climate change in those countries because their local communities know nothing about them. He said such solutions must be found on a local level.

“This is where we are starting a whole new [area of] targeted research to embrace climate-smart agricultural solutions. Some solutions can work in some countries and fail in others.”