Sustainable use of nature for innovative products can help strengthen economies and create jobs for young Africans
By Michael Taylor
KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Faced with the double whammy of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, many African countries are turning to nature to sustainably boost their economies – from meat and baked goods based on hulled coffee lake flies generating renewable energy.
A recent report published by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of 18 senior African and international scientists, explores the best ways to improve nutrition, food supply and energy security in Africa by fostering a “bio-economy” based on nature.
“Given its vast resources and rapidly growing science and innovation capabilities, the African continent can be at the forefront of building its own sustainable bioeconomy,” said Joachim von Braun, co-chair of the panel. from the University of Bonn.
According to the new report, around 60 countries around the world have already adopted this approach, which taps into science, technology and innovation to sustainably produce and use renewable plant and animal resources for food, fuel and energy. other goods.
Entitled “Nature’s Solutions: Policy Innovations and Opportunities for Africa’s Bioeconomy”, it examines four African nations – Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda – whose policies and innovations are leading the way.
Here is why bioeconomies matter and how they can help African countries combat rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices, as well as climate change impacts like drought:
Why are African countries well placed to develop bioeconomies?
Africa has abundant biodiversity and around 60% of its workforce lives from the agricultural sector.
This offers great potential for developing a “bio-economy” – from utilizing agricultural by-products and wastes to transforming native plant and animal species into new, higher-value products.
Examples include an indigenous fruit called monkey orange, which is widely available in southern Africa and rich in vitamin C, zinc and iron. It can be dried or made into jam, juice or wine so it can be consumed year-round as part of a nutritious diet.
Elsewhere, flies found around the Lake Victoria region of East Africa are made into foods like crackers, muffins, meatloaf and sausages.
And so-called Faidherbia “fertilizer trees” are planted next to crops in Malawi, where they shed their leaves and provide nutrients to the soil as a replacement for chemical fertilizers, thereby boosting maize yields.
On the energy front, coffee husks and pulp are turned into biogas in Ethiopia, and fruit waste turned into a bio-alkanol gel that burns without smoke or soot in the Lake Victoria Basin.
These biofuels can be used for greener, healthier cooking for women who bear the brunt of indoor air pollution.
Furthermore, Africa’s youth population is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050.
Growing a bioeconomy can create much-needed job opportunities for more than 10-12 million young people entering the labor market each year, where only about 3 million new jobs are created each year, according to the report.
How can African nations better take advantage of the opportunities of the bioeconomy?
To fully capitalize on bio-solutions, African leaders must first identify the sectors that offer the easiest payoffs for their development ambitions, the panel said.
The next step is to strengthen research and development and create demand to attract business participation.
Policymakers can also introduce rules and regulations that encourage investment in the bioeconomy, such as certification systems or advisory councils to guide a large-scale transition.
The benefits are already evident in some places.
South Africa, for example, estimated that its bioeconomy accounted for 8% of its gross domestic product and created up to 16 million jobs between 2007 and 2020, of which around 70% were in agribusiness and the agricultural.
One of its most popular products is a mosquito repellent candle made from the oils of a native plant and now available at major retailers across the country.
Uganda is one of the few African countries to have developed a national bioeconomy plan, which targets food, agriculture and traditional medicines, while Namibia is working with the Food Organization of the United Nations and agriculture to develop its first national bioeconomy strategy.
Meanwhile, the East African Community is the first economic body in the region to develop a dedicated bioeconomy strategy.
“Sustainability and adaptation to climate change require more judicious use of biological and ecological resources,” said Ousmane Badiane, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.
“This includes how these resources could be harnessed to generate innovative products that help mitigate climate change, conserve resources and protect biodiversity, while creating new well-paying job opportunities.”
Why is the rational use of nature crucial for the global economy today?
With global food supplies and prices affected by conflict, population growth, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly important for all countries to find innovative solutions, according to the report.
While most African countries are still in the early stages of developing bioeconomies, global trends – particularly in Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America and India – indicate a broader shift towards this approach, he added.
Some 60 countries have already drafted related strategies, including 14 in Africa which are currently underway.
The creation of bioeconomies will also depend on better conservation and management of natural spaces, such as oceans, forests and parks, all considered essential for safeguarding the ecosystems on which humans and animals depend.
But often governments choose to simply set aside protected areas without any real investment or ignore the potential benefits of nature-dependent industries that adopt sustainable practices.
Examples include an economic return of at least six times initial investments in protected areas and support for nature-based tourism, according to a World Bank report last year.
In addition to income from tourism, surrounding businesses can create jobs and provide quality services, such as accommodation, restaurants and indigenous crafts, which attract more visitors.
In agriculture, more sustainable livelihoods can be created using green methods such as organic fertilizers and new crop varieties, selective logging, and the promotion of local and traditional foods and products from local communities. forests or nature.
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(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news .trust.org)