Africa: Insect meatloaf, fertilizer trees and mosquito repellent plants – The promise of the African bioeconomy #AfricaClimateCrisis

Africa is feeling the impacts of COVID-19, conflict and climate change perhaps more than any other region in the world. Food, fuel and fertilizer costs have soared in recent months, adding to the slowdown in economic growth caused by the pandemic.

But Africa’s response to meet this set of challenges in the future includes new approaches: the continent’s vast and diverse plant resources, which, combined with advanced science and knowledge, can be grown and processed within of its “bioeconomy”. Unleashing the potential of the bioeconomy could help drive the next phase of Africa’s economic development while better preserving the environment and tackling climate change, a new report from the Malabo Montpellier Panel explains. Bioeconomy strategies have emerged in many countries around the world over the past decade. Africa’s bioeconomy strategies need to be adapted to local and sub-regional contexts. While the science and knowledge base of the bioeconomy is general and benefits from cooperation between countries, the local context is important and will lead to a unique African bioeconomy.

These resources are inherently renewable and economical, but are often neglected, underutilized or, even worse, wasted. Several African countries are now embracing the potential of a bioeconomy with ripple effects on their food and agriculture, health, energy and industrial sectors.

First, Africa is immensely rich in both quantity and diversity of biomass. Many native African plant species are highly nutritious or provide other health or medicinal benefits. The use of these species can create livelihoods and income, especially in rural areas of Africa, but also for entrepreneurs and young people.

The monkey orange, for example, is widely available in southern Africa and is rich in vitamin C, zinc and iron. By processing it, it can be made available even out of season to improve diets while creating jobs. Meanwhile, lake flies, which are abundant in the Lake Victoria region of East Africa, are highly nutritious and are caught in season and processed into less perishable products like crackers, muffins, meatloaves and sausages made from lake flies.

The list of possibilities seems endless and includes not only food products, but also resources for drugs, cosmetics and biofertilizers. Some examples include baobab, marula, wild cucumber, Kalahari desert truffle, devil’s claw, Faidherbia “fertilizer trees” and the plant Lippia javanica whose oil acts as a natural mosquito repellent.

Likewise, Africa’s agricultural processing waste is being used in new ways. These by-products – usually leftover marrow, husks, stems, leaves, etc. staple crops such as sugar cane, coffee and cotton, can be transformed into productive products, including as sources of bioenergy to replace fossil fuels and even for packaging. This reduces overall carbon emissions as food waste is a major emitter of greenhouse gases.

Here again, examples abound. A South African company, for example, uses sugarcane pith to grow mushrooms rather than peat. A project in Uganda is converting livestock waste into biogas, helping the slaughterhouse save 90% on energy costs and preventing water pollution in nearby Lake Victoria. Elsewhere, the paper-like banana pseudostem is used instead of plastic as biodegradable packaging to cushion soft fruits and vegetables during transport.

Innovation is also supported across the African continent to improve the performance and benefits of natural products. This includes agricultural biotechnology to develop new breeds that are resistant to pests and diseases, and tolerant of heat and drought; biochemical research to help ward off disease; and even new commercially viable processes to convert various by-products into value-added goods such as biodegradable bags, sanitary napkins, textiles, briquettes, food and beverages, fortified animal feed, and more.

South Africa is a world leader in this regard, having already recognized the potential to capitalize on its natural wealth. Not only is it one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, but it is also currently one of only 15 countries in the world – and the only one in Africa – to have endorsed a dedicated and comprehensive bioeconomy strategy. .

Over the past two decades, South African policymakers have developed a portfolio of policies, strategies and supporting institutions to develop a thriving bioeconomy, invest in education, improve university-industry collaboration , strengthen its intellectual property environment and support small businesses. Parallel policy adjustments have ensured that the process is anchored in a clear vision and focused on the most promising key sectors such as agriculture, health and industrial goods. Between 2007 and 2020, the bioeconomy’s contribution to South Africa’s GDP has remained relatively constant at around 8% and has generated between 14 and 16 million jobs.

Other countries are also developing their bioeconomy in a similar way. Namibia is working with the UN to develop its first bioeconomy strategy. Uganda is also finalizing its national bioeconomy strategy while its National Agricultural Research Organization and universities have become a center of excellence in agricultural R&D, and various incubators provide a valuable launch pad for entrepreneurs. of bio-businesses. Ghana has transformed its cocoa sector with biosciences and technology and established a wide range of industries for cashew, shea and their by-products.

Across the continent, African governments have the potential to transform their economies in similar ways, simultaneously launching new channels for sustainable economic development while becoming less dependent on global supply chains.

Dr. Ousmane Badiane is the executive chairman of AKADEMIYA2063 and co-chairman of the Malabo Montpellier panel

Professor Joachim von Braun is Professor Emeritus at the University of Bonn, Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Group and a member of the International Advisory Group on the Global Bioeconomy