Home Sponsored Setting the global agenda for environment and climate change – Richard Munang

Setting the global agenda for environment and climate change – Richard Munang


African Harvesters had conversations with Richard Munang in an exclusive interview. He is the Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator at the UN Environment Program (UNEP). He is responsible for guiding the actualization of UNEP’s climate resilient development strategy for Africa in a manner that ensures human wellbeing.

He speaks with us on Setting the global agenda for environment and climate change.

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

I am an Africa citizen with a passion for climate action but driven from a novel dimension of accelerating realization of leading socioeconomic priorities of the continent – food security, creation of income & enterprise opportunities, and expansion of macroeconomic growth. This goes beyond the classical approach of considering climate action more as a silo regulatory obligation without any tangible socioeconomic incentives. The UN Environment programme is the leading agency of the United Nations system that is responsible for setting the global agenda on environment and climate action towards influencing pro-environment and low emissions development policy and investments by member states. This is accomplished by leveraging the institutions comparative advantage – including its convening power and expertise in new knowledge and science to inform policy. My participation in this interview is part of sharing this new knowledge to influence pro-environment policy & investments – that is at core of UNEP work

Question 2: How can Africa’s efforts to maximize agro-productivity be actualized?

I think one of my favorite African proverbs points us to the answer – that “there are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree”. Africa’s agriculture productivity challenges cannot be solved by considering the sector as a silo because the causes are external to the sector. Climate action solutions that have proven effective, affordable tools in driving agro-productivity need to be integrated as leading solutions to productivity.   

For example, Africa has lost up to 40{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of its leading staples with climate change being among leading cause factors. But at the same time, studies indicate that using nature based approaches to grow food, what we call Ecosystem Based Adaptation approaches (EBA), that ensure soils, water, pollinators and environmental resources needed to produce food are not destroyed during farming, enhance not only food security with up to 128{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} yield increases under the changing climate, but also indicators show EBA results in more nutritious food, with more immune boosting compounds than conventionally produced food. This means nutritious food is available to boost the health of the vulnerable poor in society, a very crucial aspect considering a majority in Africa, up-to 60 per cent of the population in some countries derives nutritional supplementation from food rather than medical supplements. 

Beyond studies, practically speaking, EBA techniques of minimum-tillage & mulching have enabled farmers to maximize yields on a one-half acre farm, increasing yields by over 300{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} and with additional benefits of reduced labor and improved soil fertility.

In the Sahel, use of the zai, a native cheap and accessible EBA technology widely used to enhance soil structure, water retention capacity, and organic content, has increased yields by up to 500{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}, with minimal fertilizer use, hence reducing fertilizer related emissions & costs. In addition, incomes have increased to up to 20-fold higher than the labour costs required to prepare the zai.

At the same time, the sector faces postharvest losses (PHLs) estimated at up to $48bn annually – an amount that exceeds the food import bill of $35billion annually. These losses are caused by inadequate value addition, processing & linkage to markets. Meaning if we synchronise energy & infrastructure developments, where energy is decentralised to power processing & value addition in this sector & transport connectivity infrastructure prioritised to link agro-production areas to markets, aggregation & collection points, the $48bn in losses & $35bn in unnecessary imports will be converted into $83bn worth of food secure homes, & enterprises opportunities to create the much needed jobs, income & economic expansion opportunities. At the same time, use of climate solutions of clean energy, have proven cable of cutting these losses and converting them to incomes.

The implication is simple – that solutions to Africa’s food productivity challenges, cannot be found by focusing on agriculture as a silo. The solutions lie in value addition, where key enablers like decentralizing clean energy to power value addition while ensuring we don’t pile on the emission responsible for climate change that threatens to lower yields by up to 40{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} is critical. They lie in reversing ecosystems degradation to ensure pollinators responsible for over 70{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of food crops remain intact. They lie in market enablers ensuring the continental market valued at up to $150billion is consolidated as an incentive for enhanced agro-productivity – among key areas. 

Cumulatively, these solutions mean establishing enterprises along the entire agro-value chain that address various productivity losses and ensuring policies are in place to facilitate this cross-sectorial collaboration. This is the holistic approach to food security Africa needs to foster. 

 Question 3: What sustainable approaches can be implemented for clean energy in agricultural production, food logistics and value addition?

With the changing climate, clean energy solutions apply to safeguarding and enhancing agro-productivity at both the on-farm and post-farm gate. And these are not necessarily complicated solutions. The two main classes of productivity challenges that clean energy solutions can be implemented are related to moisture stress risks at the farm level, and high postharvest losses, for the off-farm value chains.

At farm level, up to 98{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of Africa’s agriculture rain fed. While this is the case, climate change threatens to reduce the total blue and green water (BWGW) available for agriculture in Africa by more than 10{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}. As a solution, solar irrigation has been proven to increase yields by up to 100{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}, water savings by 40-80{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}, and income up to 80{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}. This is a highly relevant clean energy solution that needs to be prioritised to buffer against on-farm related productivity losses. 

For the post-farm gate value chain, simple clean energy solutions of solar dryers, have been proven to not only cut postharvest losses, but increase earnings up to 30times. And these dryers developed using locally available material are not only source of income opportunities for local youthful fabricators, they are also up to 200{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} cheaper than imported solutions enhancing their affordability in the market.   

In addition, it is estimated that by 2030 – just 9 years to come, some 230 million jobs across the continent will require some level of digital skills. This speaks of increased digitisation across many different sectors of the economy, including agriculture which is currently the largest employer. Use of digital marketing systems to link produce efficiently to market has been shown to increase earning up to 150{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}, while having a much lower carbon footprint than traditional paper processes and physical travelling for markets.

These are accessible climate resilient/clean energy approaches that Africa needs to apply to enhance value addition and productivity of its agriculture. 

Question 4: How can Agriculture stakeholders integrate climate resilience & ecosystems enhancement in food production? 

I think this is already happening. Majority of farmers across Africa – up to 80{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} are smallholders and depend on traditional approaches to grow their food – be it using biofertilizer, agroforestry, etc. But these are practiced in pockets. The key now is on how we can make these pockets of success, full blown solutions. And for this answer, we can draw wisdom from an African proverb – that “money is sharper than the sword”. Climate resilience approaches, what we call Ecosystems Based Adaptation approaches (EBA) need to demonstrate market and financial value, to attract demand towards them. And for this to happen, ecosystems enhancing approaches cannot be considered in silos. They need enablers outside EBA, and the following are among notable enablers:

First enabler is in complementing EBA with clean energy to drive value addition. EBA on its own, is applied in pockets. But to progress to broader solutions that not only enhance food security & protect the environment but put more money in more pockets, what is produced with EBA & nature-based approaches must be value added. And done so in a process that does not pile-up the aggregate emissions that compound climate change. It is in adding value that wealth opportunities are created, to attract more users towards EBA. Of critical importance however is the fact that, value addition does not need to start on a sophisticated scale. Accessible local solutions work best.

For example, decentralizing solar driers to farmers in local markets, to enable them to dehydrate and preserve their harvest that remains unsold at end of day and sell when demand peaks, has proven able to not only cut postharvest losses (PHLs) but increase earning up to 30times. The scalability of this approach is multiplied when we consider the $48billion worth of annual PHLs Africa experiences. Consequently, while applying EBA alone will increase yields, and lead to increased PHLs, combining EBA with clean energy for value addition, we will be on track to tap into billion-dollar worth of value-added enterprise opportunities that will incentivise more use of EBA.

Second, is unlocking niche markets through EBA. There is a growing market segment of consumers ready to pay up to 3 times the price of conventional foods, for food that is certified organic, healthy and environmentally complaint. And with increased public knowledge between the link of what we eat, with our health, consumers the world over are becoming more sophisticated and picky of their food choices. They are opting more for natural foods, that can be validated as having been produced in a non-chemicalised, non-artificial way. This is a niche for EBA and climate resilient approaches to exploit by being premised as a solution to help producers achieve compliance. As an example, we have worked with National standards regulators, towards ensuring EBA is integrated as an affordable, accessible, and effective technique for stakeholders to use to achieve standards compliance in areas of health, safety & organic standards. Accordingly, in Nigeria, the Standards organisation of Nigeria (SON) has been guided to integrate EBA approaches as critical techniques to meet health, safety, quality, and environmental compliance of a battery of tomato standard specifications. In Uganda, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has been guided to developed a standards guideline that incorporates EBA and clean energy as among key tools for stakeholders to use to achieve compliance in health, organic, food safety, and quality standards benchmarks of the UNBS codes.   

Third, is leveraging on EBA as enabler of affordable finance. Across Africa, one fundamental reason that innovation around agriculture finance continues to lag mainstream finance is because of perceived high risk. A fact that is increasingly exacerbated by climate change which threatens up to 40{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} yield declines of key staples. But this is an opportunity for EBA approaches to demonstrate superiority in mitigating climate change induced crop failure risk. EBA has been scientifically proven to increase yields by up to 128{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} over conventional approaches under the changing climate. What now needs to happen is for EBA to be leveraged as a risk averter in agriculture finance, by integrating it as part of requirements for crop failure risk mitigation in agro-financing. Actualising this enabler calls for collaboration between leading technical actors who are experts in EBA and climate solutions, to work with financial structures that are accessible, and acceptable to majority of small holder farmers and informal sectors players across Africa – which is like communal cooperatives, so as to deliver integrated services – where technical knowhow of using EBA is made available at the same point as financing.

We are already such collaboration taking shape. In Uganda, a leading commercial cooperative called CBS PEWOSA is partnering with us to leverage our technical capacity in application of climate action. Through this collaboration, members of this cooperative are being trained on correct development and application of climate action solutions of solar dryers and EBA. Based on this training, they are supported by the cooperative to access solar dryers and EBA and use them in enhancing their yields and preserving their perishables. Consequently, they have increased yields, cut postharvest losses, and increased their revenue and with increased liquidity, are saving more into the cooperative. This model of financial institutions collaborating with technical actors to drive uptake of climate action solutions among stakeholders needs to be replicated across the continent to increase participation of financers in driving EBA and such climate action solutions as investments.   

Fourth, is prioritising human capital. Investing in youth, by structurally guiding them to continually improve, refine & adapt their skills, talents, energy, and creativity towards finding purpose in enterprises that upscale EBA is a formidable strategy. And this is what we are doing through an approach we call Innovative Volunteerism to engage willing youth under EBAFOSA. 

This applies with direct and indirect impacts. Under direct impacts, youth trained in turning agricultural waste to biofertilizer are providing accessible organic fertilizer solutions to substitute the costlier chemical fertilisers. By so doing, they have registered over 560{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} in profit, to establish an enterprise pull factor for increased EBA investments. For indirect impacts, focus has been on providing value addition solutions to producers using EBA approaches to enable them to add value and preserve their harvest. And by this, incentivise them to produce more and hence apply more of EBA. Accordngly, youth have been guided to develop mechanical solar dryers using locally available material. Using local labour and material to fabricate the latest design of solar dryers, has resulted in an effective dryer that is up to 200{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} cheaper than imported solutions. These dryers have also proven able to dry produce effectively to below 10{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} moisture thresholds set in national standards as critical to prevent growth of mold, yeast, & aflatoxins. The dryers also ensure hygiene of final product by sheltering it from direct soiling. In addition, these dryers are also 48times faster in drying while ensuring hygiene. 

To increase affordability, rather than sell these dryers, youth have come up with an innovation of solar drying centres. These are designated communal areas where pay-as-you go solar drying services are provided on demand at fraction of the cost of purchasing a dryer – about 0.1{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of the cost. Through such centres, farmers being able to preserve their harvest for sell when prices are highest potentially earn up to 30times more to invest in more EBA.

 Fifth, is policy innovations. What is clear in Africa is that there is no lack of policies per se. For example, nearly all countries in the continent have CSA policies, that directly relate to EBA. Nearly all countries have policies in all the enablers we have discussed. Be it clean energy policies – such as feed-in tariffs. They have diverse finance policies. Nearly all have robust national standards bodies under trade ministry etc. However, the gap lies in implementation. And this is because, these policies are mostly not empirically informed, by proven enterprise actions, that are already working on the ground. And by this ensure that they can be more targeted at incentivising successes, so they become the mainstream. Through our work, we are leveraging on ground enterprise actors that have proven the social, economic, environmental and financial benefits of leveraging on EBA, solar dryers and other climate action solutions, to  share empirical data on their successes, so these can be taken up by different policy actors as tools to achieve their respective policy aims. 

As an example, through the Innovative Volunteerism logic under EBAFOSA, we have been structurally guiding youth to retool their skills, and develop solar dryers and work with small holder farmers that produce up to 80{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of food in Africa, to decentralise these dryers to the farmers and enable them to add value and preserve their harvest. The application of these dryers is generating data that proves their effectiveness, and efficiency in enabling agro-stakeholders  to achieve compliance to food safety and hygiene standards by effectively and efficiently ensuring food dehydration to below 10{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} as stipulated in national standards towards preventing aflatoxins, growth of mold, yeast, and fungus, while ensuring hygiene. This data on effectiveness was taken up by national standards bodies – under ministry of trade, who have integrated solar dryers, as affordable tools for driving compliance to food safety, health by ensuring optimal moisture content for long term preservation, and hygiene standards. Because of this integration, any actor who needs to implement food safety, moisture content, and hygiene standards, needs to apply solar dryers as a tool for achieving compliance. And this is generating a market for these dryers and creating market enterprise opportunities for youth involved in developing these climate action solutions. And those using the dryers also achieve compliance, cut their losses, and preserve their food to enhance their incomes as well. This is a direct market incentive to enhance market investment and uptake of climate action solutions of solar dryers. 

Question 5: Climate change is affecting food productivity; How can Africa’s future food security be safeguarded?

I think I have answered this – solutions to productivity lie outside the agriculture sector. And these call for enablers outside agriculture. I have elaborated on this under question 2 & 4 above. 

Question 6: What measures should Africa embrace in achieving zero emission in food preservation and cold chain logistics?

Africa as a continent is responsible for a mere 2 – 3{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of global emissions. The region is a negligible emitter by all accounts. One can therefore say that Africa has no significant emissions to cut per se. However, at the same time, the continent bears the brunt of climate change by being disproportionately vulnerable. While climate change is negligible, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects because they are unable to afford the goods and services, they need to buffer themselves against the worst of the changing climate impacts. Africa’s economies are up to 20times less productive than competitors in the global space. 257million people already go to bed hungry and over 12million youth get to the labour market searching for jobs each year. The COVID-19 emergency has simply exacerbated this dire situation with up to 50{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} of all jobs on the verge of being lost. Consequently, the real risk Africa faces arises from the low socioeconomic base and that is what needs to be addressed. Considering that the continent has committed to emissions cuts in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the key therefore is that these emissions reduction must align with actions that accelerate realisation of socioeconomic priorities – food security, creation of income & enterprise opportunities, expansion of macroeconomic growth. 

Achieving this is in an approach we call “mitigation powering adaptation”. Climate actions must not be looked at as “emissions reduction/mitigation”, or “adaptation” as separate areas, but as complementary, towards achieving parity between mitigation & adaptation. Article 7 of the Paris Agreement calls for the need for equality in prioritisation between mitigation and adaptation. What we are seeing is that our work in nature-based solutions, which centres around leveraging EBA to drive food security, ecosystems health etc., lacks when it comes to income & enterprise opportunities creation. Real incomes are in value addition and this is where clean energy power needs to be leveraged to complement nature-based solutions.  Example, agro-produce grown using biofertilizer, must be value added. And done so in a process that does not pile-up the aggregate emissions that compound climate change. And for this clean energy, which is a mitigation action, should be prioritised for powering value added actions. As I shared before, simple solar dryers, a mitigation solution, goes a long way in turning $48billion in annual postharvest losses into income opportunities. On cold storage, decentralising simple solar fridges, has been proven capable of reducing annual refrigeration costs by 39{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a}, while reducing losses and enhancing incomes.

So, the answer is in “mitigation powering adaptation”. Emissions reduction should be a means towards an end of maximise productivity of agro-value chains to unlock inclusive income opportunities. Not an end by itself.  

Question 7: How can African Youth tap into Innovative Volunteerism to increase agricultural productivity and drive youth inclusion in Agribusiness?

I think two attributes describe innovative volunteerism – “willingness or humility to learn” & “selflessness”. 

Innovative Volunteerism provides the space and framework to any willing young person in Africa,  to learn and be structurally guided, to retool their skills, talents, and work selflessly with their peers, using what they have towards delivering on-demand climate action solutions that touch many lives in society. The key is their willingness to engage selflessly driven by the desire to perfect solutions that are needed in the community and touch many lives, not benefit themselves alone. Solutions to problems of affordable and accessible value addition, where Africa loses up to $48billion every year. The solar dryers are positioning these youth to tap into recouping this $48billion lost annually but do so while delivering a solution. The community becomes a market for them. Solutions to problems of indoor pollution, where up to 600,000 people are dying prematurely every year in Africa. Here innovative volunteerism actors engaged in waste recovery to fuel briquettes are working with the community to offer sustainable, more dignified cooking alternatives that are up to 15{c59f2d9e93250d9a3f00f33c4784bba748f246721195afccc412c2cbc44f328a} cheaper than charcoal. And in the processes, they tap the $20billion a year charcoal market in Africa.

So, two attributes – willingness & humility to learn and selflessness to prioritise perfecting solutions that touch many lives, not indulging self, are what young people need to engage in innovative volunteerism. 

Question 8: What are the futuristic plans of EBAFOSA in terms of reaching more youths in the Agriculture value chain (Farm to Table)?

I think the innovative volunteerism train has long left the station and that is the future of not only EBAFPOSA but Africa climate resilient transformation. Africa’s transformation must be driven through the skills, talents, energy, creativity of its people as the sovereign capital target at maximising productivity of catalytic sectors of Africa’s economies in a climate resilient way. In this case, we are talking primarily of sustainable agriculture amalgamated to clean energy, which offers opportunities for diverse sectors, disciplinary areas, and levels of training to plug in to bridge value addition and productivity gaps and develop enterprises. Not material resources. Innovative Volunteerism, which is the EBAFOSA modus operandi is the approach to this end. So in future, expect more skills retooling and using successful innovative volunteerism actors who are actively delivering solutions to the community, to become beacons and examples to fellow youth and by this inspire them to join this selflessness model to development. 

Question 9: What is your favourite quote?

African proverbs are one of my favourites, and among them is “A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground” and this means one thing to us all – always aim higher.