By Lee Gross, EcoAgriculture Partners
With approximately 60% of the world’s remaining arable land, Africa is poised to achieve significant economic growth through agricultural development and other rural land uses. It has been estimated that between 2008-2020, consumer products, natural resources, agriculture and infrastructure in Africa will combine for a potential revenue of $US 2.6 trillion – with agricultural commodities like palm oil, flowers, cocoa and tea making up a significant portion of this growth.
However, risks related to the management of natural resources threaten the viability of this growth and the inclusivity of its potential benefits to local people. Companies relying on global value chains like those in Africa have found themselves more exposed to resource insecurity and extreme events (like droughts) and their consequences for food production. These risks, which are most often related to water, climate and community, exist largely beyond the farm-level and increasingly require collective, coordinated action by the public and private sectors.
To address these risks, new multi-stakeholder landscape initiatives are emerging as an operational framework to deliberately work beyond the farm-scale to support food production, ecosystem conservation and rural livelihoods across entire sourcing regions. These initiatives offer the potential to shape the next agricultural green revolution in Africa; one which combines agriculture as an engine for economic development with more explicit objectives for environmental conservation and food security. However, private sector participation in these initiatives both globally and in Africa remains low. In a 2013 continental review of 87 integrated landscape initiatives, 33 of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa identified private sector stakeholder groups as notably absent from most integrated landscape initiatives with agribusiness groups participating in only 8%, logging in 5% and mining in only 3% of existing initiatives.
To date, the private sector response has been largely focused on securing supplies and developing sustainable sourcing strategies for specific value chains. Instead, addressing risk at broader scales to secure entire sourcing areas is needed to address the origin of structural problems that are tied to the long-term success of business, communities and ecosystems.
However, a number of international public-private partnerships have developed in Africa to drive large-scale, transformative change through agricultural development with co-benefits for food security and natural resource management.
Grow Africa – a joint initiative of the African Union Commission, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the World Economic Forum with financial commitments by African heads of state of more than $13 billion in 2013 – seeks to increase private-sector investment, support partnership building and expand knowledge on agricultural best practices to smallholders at scale. The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a Grow Africa project site, has developed an “Agricultural Green Growth” strategy to guide its investments, infusing climate-smart practices into agricultural development plans to improve smallholder farmers’ yields and adaptation capacity to climate change, while decreasing overall carbon emissions.
A similar program is the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative that supports green business and encourages other sectors to achieve socially inclusive, efficient and low carbon growth that reduces loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. In Kenya, UNEP has partnered with the government in a multi-million restoration initiative to reverse the trends of deforestation in the economically and ecologically important Eastern Mau Forest Complex.
Moreover, new programs such as the Sustainable Land and Water Program led by the Sustainable Trade Initiative that focus more explicitly on combining sustainable value chain approaches with integrated landscape management objectives and governance structures will serve as incubators for supporting ILIs to engage more effectively with the private sector in the future.
The degree to which these initiatives deliver on multi-objective outcomes for people, food and nature through integrated landscape planning and investment will be critically assessed in the coming decades. These findings will offer important lessons for guiding the next African agricultural green revolution. On July 1st the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature in Africa Conference will convene a session on business and the private sector to explore some of the lessons from this front-runner experience, and discuss the challenges and priority actions for increasing business engagement in (and benefits from) such initiatives in the future.
Ideas for unlocking the potential of integrated approaches for business in Africa include:
- making integrated landscape risk and opportunity assessment tools more accessible, open source, and compatible for business operations (e.g. WikiTools for Business)
- encouraging the creation of a “Business as Unusual” school that integrates these tools and practices into new and existing curricula for business leaders, and
- continuing to build the business case through models that assess the added value of integrated landscape approaches versus business as usual single sector interventions.
What do you think? We would love to include your ideas in the session in Nairobi. Join the discussion in the comments section below.