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Attaining food security cannot be considered as a silo undertaking – Dr. Richard Munang


African Harvesters caught up with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator, Dr. Richard Munang in an exclusive interview. Dr. Richard speaks on Sustainable Agriculture, climate-smart Agric, Food insecurity & solutions.

See information on the interview below

Question 1: Can you introduce yourself and what your organization does?

Am currently the United Nations Environment Programme’s Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator. In this post, am responsible for guiding the actualization of UN Environment’s climate resilient development strategy for Africa through coordinating implementation of diverse projects in adaption, mitigation and REDD+ in key economic sectors especially agriculture, and energy as well as informing strategy development from project lessons. I am also the ecosystems based adaptation (EBA) for food security focal person where I coordinate the development and decentralization, of policy trajectories and means of implementation aimed at climate proofing & maximizing productivity of Africa’s food systems by establishing EBA driven agriculture led industrialization powered by clean energy. This is to ensure countries meet objectives of the Paris climate change agreement simultaneously with achieving their leading socioeconomic objectives of food security, creation of income & job opportunities and expansion of macroeconomic growth to cumulatively unlock multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This we do through technically backstopping the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) policy action framework that is driven by countries but facilitated by UN Environment. EBAFOSA is now in 40 countries across Africa.

The UN Environment work is to support countries adopt policy trajectories and mobilize means of implementation that integrate sustainable development into the mainstream of economic development plans. And this is achieved primarily through technical backstopping as well as scientific research aimed at informing and buttressing viability of recommended policy trajectories.    

Question 2: What is your take on Africa’s preparedness towards sustainable Agriculture and the impact on food security?

Sustainable agriculture approaches are nothing new. These are the nature based approaches like use of organic manure – that are applied by small holders who produce up to 80% of the regions food. The missing link has been the integration of these approaches with complementary sectors/subsectors to maximize their impact to food & livelihood security in Africa. Specifically, linking sustainable approaches to modern, commercial value chains to increase productivity & earnings of farmers who use these approaches thus incentivize their continued use. To remedy this scenario, the UN Environment is through EBAFOSA, supporting countries bridge policy & non-policy gaps towards linking these sustainable approaches to clean energy for value addition, financial intermediation, advisory services, standards enforcement to enhance market access, and market & supply chains. The aim is to actualize sustainable clean energy powered agro-industrialization to incentivize upscaled use of these nature based approaches and integrate the small-holders, the major food producer & practitioners of sustainable agriculture as a critical sub-system in Africa’s efforts to maximize agro-productivity.

Agriculture stakeholders need to integrate climate resilience & ecosystems enhancement principles

Question 3: Still in the euphoria of world environment day, what are the roles of Agric stakeholders in ‘connecting with Nature’?

The world environment day is primarily for advocacy and awareness creation across the globe on the urgent need to combat climate change & environmental degradation. But to ensure the impact of such advocacy is sustainable, it needs to occur within a paradigm that clearly demonstrates the socioeconomic benefit of climate & environment action. And this means going beyond the classical climate silo and including critical socioeconomic sectors like agriculture. 

Agricultural productivity is tagged with the health of ecosystems which underpin production through provision of critical ecosystems goods & services like water, healthy soils, pollinators etc. Similarly, the agriculture sector is among the most vulnerable to climate change in the continent with up to 40% yield declines due to climate change. Cumulatively, the implication is that without enhancing ecosystems to ensure continued provision of ecosystems goods & services that underpin production & without building climate resilience food systems, all other efforts to increase agro-productivity will be sub-optimal. 

Based on the above, agriculture stakeholders need to integrate climate resilience & ecosystems enhancement, which are principals advocated by world environment day, as critical elements in policies, plans & implementation actions aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity in the continent.    

Question 4: Food Security is an issue in Africa. What is your advice on attaining food sufficiency in Africa?

Attaining food security cannot be considered as a silo undertaking. Rather, the continent’s food systems need to be complemented by other sectors like energy, environment, climate resilience among others to eliminate inefficiencies along the entire agro value chain and maximize productivity.

For example, degraded ecosystems cost Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) food loss estimated as high as 6.6million tonnes of grain annually. Enough to meet annual calorific needs of approximately 31 million people. Land & ecosystems degradation in SSA is estimated at $68bn annually. It is noteworthy that healthy ecosystems are the foundation of long term productivity underpinning food production through ecosystems goods and services such as water, soils, pollinators etc. For instance, insect pollination by bees is an ecosystem service that is necessary for 75% of all crops used as human food. Increasing the quantity and variety of pollinating insects can increase crop yields by over 20%. So food sufficiency cannot be achieved without taking care of ecosystems. 

On climate change, the 2015 Africa Adaptation Gap Report observes that for a below 2°C global warming scenario the agriculture sector will be hit by up to 40% yield declines, resulting in a 25 – 90% increase in incidences of undernourishment, not to mention economic losses. Based on the 2015 UN Environment Emissions Gap Report, the globe is on track for a warming of around 3-3.5°C by 2100 with an over 66% confidence level. Implying impacts could be worse. Adapting to climate change is therefore an imperative to safeguard Africa’s future food security.

On postharvest losses (PHLs), low value addition means Africa’s average annual cereal grain loss are high, estimated at US$4 billion annually. Enough grain to feed an extra 48 million people for a year. PHLs in sub-Saharan Africa average 30% of total production. In 2010, the UN FAO estimated Africa’s cumulative PHLs of cereals, roots & tubers, fruits & vegetables, meat, milk and fish to be valued at US$48 billion. When juxtaposed with Africa’s US$35 billion food import bill in 2011, recovering these losses would essentially eliminate the need for imports without increasing production while injecting an extra US$35 billion to capitalize other sectors of the continent’s economy.

Optimizing food production by embracing Ecosystems Based Adaptation approaches (EBA) that work with nature will build climate resilience & restore ecosystems to reverse land degradation and hence: enhance recovery of the $68bn & 6.6million tonnes currently lost due to degradation, result in yield increases of up to 128% and accompanying farmer income increases, improved nutrition, enhanced capacity of ecosystems, and enhanced community climate resilience. Linking these ecological approaches to supply and demand side value chains will cut PHLs. Especially, embracing off-grid clean energy for processing, and fostering efficient linkages to markets & supply chains will cut PHLs currently costing an average of $4bn annually. Cumulatively these downstream value chain activities spur additional income and business opportunities along the entire agro-value chain, to potentially create as many as 17 million sustainable jobs annually and establish an agri-business sector projected to be worth an estimated US$1trillion by 2030. Thus optimizing the entire agro-value chain in a continuum should be the focus of transformative action in Africa’s agriculture.