Green growth in the Lake Victoria River Basin

On 13th October 2014, Africege delivered a keynote presentation on implementing green growth approaches in Mt Elgon ecosystem, Lake Victoria river basin. This meeting which was organised by the Lake Victoria River Basin Commission (LVRB), brought together key stakeholders both from Kenya and Uganda and included government officials, private sector and farmers.

Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake in Africa, and one of the most important catchments in Africa, supporting a population of more that 30 million. As a result the economies of many countries in the region is anchored around the productivity of the lake. Pollution is also an issue of major concern for the lake, primary from untreated sewage, industrial waste and fertiliser. Due to the declining environmental conditions, fisheries has also been in decline over the last couple of years, which is quite significant because the sector employs close to 2 million people in the basin.

Numerous factors have contributed to the declining conditions of Lake Victoria, including unsustainable practices in the broader catchments and rivers that feed the Lake. One of the the most important ecosystems in the basin is the Mt Elgon region, which straddles the borders of Kenya and Uganda, and is the source of many feeder rivers into the Lake. Due to increasing population, encroachment in the mountain forest has caused soil erosion leading to landslides, decreased water quality and loss of productivity to downstream users.

The LVRB and it’s stakeholders are exploring ways of how to attract investments into Mt Elgon ecosystem, to ensure that this key ecosystems is protected, but at the same time create opportunities for those communities that are directly dependent on it.

AFRICEGE was delighted in getting involved to share our vast experience in promoting a sustainable and inclusive transition to a green economy. This workshop, which turned out to be very successful provided us with the opportunity to share lessons on green economy implementation in Eastern and Southern Africa. These kinds of engagements are directly aligned with our vision of promoting both an intra-Africa and south-south cooperation in setting the agenda for the transition to  green economy.



Africege authors report on climate change adaptation in Southern Africa

On the 1st of October 2014, a report by AFRICEGE on climate change adaptation in southern Africa was launched by His Royal Highness, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso of the Kingdom of Lesotho. The launch too place during the 2014 FANRPAN Annual High Level Food and Nutrition Security Multi-stakeholder Dialogue which was held from the 29th of September 2014 to the 2nd of October 2014 in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The FANRPAN Regional Dialogue was attended by more than 200 delegates who include senior officials of national governments, representatives of regional economic organizations, development partners, network partners, and country nodes representing farmers’ organizations, agri-business, development partner agencies and parliamentarians.

The report can be accessed here.


Inclusive green economy requires bottom-up approach

THE risk of climate change is all around us and it is quite apparent that the most vulnerable in society are bearing the brunt of this risk. Whether you speak to smallholder farmers in the rolling slopes of the Rwenzori mountains in Uganda, where rainfall has dropped by more than 20% or you speak to a township dweller in the outskirts of Cape Town, whose shack has been razed by a recent fire, the story is the same. Severe change in weather patterns is rapidly eroding their livelihoods and there are hardly enough social safety nets to help them cope.

Building an inclusive green economy lies at the centre of finding solutions that help build social and ecological resilience, but also provide an opportunity for such groups to partake in identifying the solutions that works best for their local context. To achieve an inclusive green economy therefore requires a bottom-up approach to encourage meaningful participation in the process, backed by strong policy signals from the top.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to show that this is the approach that is being undertaken in operationalising the green economy in many developing countries. Most of the discourse is still taking place at the macro-economic level and characterised by interventions at that level, whose effect on the most vulnerable people on the ground or pressing ecological crisis are limited at least in the short- to medium term.

For example, the obsession with “mega-projects”, whilst important for achieving change at a large scale, mirrors the same approaches used in the traditional economic system that led us into the climate crisis in the first place. Prestigious schemes such as the Grand Inga dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the large scale procurement of renewal energy in South Africa, are all fraught with challenges, that if not well managed might negate the very purpose for which they were conceived — energy access.

The real opportunity of creating meaningful change is through activating local economies, to enable those at the frontline of climate risk to defend themselves. This is because most of the climate-related risks inevitably translate into social problems or a local ecological crisis that need to be addressed at that level. Most importantly those who are faced by the prevalent risks must be at the forefront of devising solutions that are sustainable, through green entrepreneurship for example.

Green entrepreneurship, which is a term used to describe entrepreneurial activities that focus on ecological outcomes, plays an important role in addressing social and economic challenges that are associated with climate change. One would expect that due to the well-documented effects of climate change at the local level in South Africa, there would be a hive of green entrepreneurial activities at the local level that seek to turn climate risks into opportunities. Sadly this seems not to be the case, where in many cases environmental issues are still regarded as peripheral and lack well-established support structures in terms of business incubation and finance for small- and micro enterprises.

By their very nature many green entrepreneurial activities do not lend themselves to the traditional business models that mostly focus on profitability, growth and an understanding of a readily available market. Green entrepreneurs in many instances focus on emerging business principles that promote new forms of ownership, distribution and exchange of goods and services. As a result the odds are stuck against such ventures, and they do not often find the support required to make a significant difference.

For example, a very brief analysis of business incubators in South Africa, shows that most of the support to small enterprises is for high growth sectors, such as technology, manufacturing and the retail sector. Even though some of these ventures are social enterprises, the majority still do not embrace green economy principles. There is a need therefore to explicitly support enterprises that promote green entrepreneurship, especially for a country such as South Africa, projected be highly affected by climate change.

This is the gap that the African Centre for a Green Economy is seeking to fill through its innovation hub that is being established in partnership with DOEN foundation, the Green Economy Coalition and the New Economics Foundation. Over the next two years, the initiative will develop, support and accelerate promising green enterprises that promote local participation in building an inclusive green economy in South Africa.

An earlier version of this article was posted on the Business Day Live website, available here


Energy access a key priority for Africa in South-South cooperation***

Most people who have lived in sub-Saharan Africa have a personal tale about access to electricity or lack thereof. Whether it is ‘blackouts’ that last several days or having to put up with noisy diesel powered generators in the neighbourhood, Africa’s struggle for reliable power supply is all too evident.

My own experience is no different.

For the 6 years of my secondary schooling in Uganda in the 1990s, each student carried 5 litres of kerosene and a lamp to boarding school at the beginning of every school term.

This was necessary because electricity supply lasted only a couple of hours, which was not enough to cover the time needed to study and pass tough A-level exams. As a result we used to go for evening studies in the school library carrying our books with one hand and a kerosene lamp with the other.

As soon as the main grid power supply went off, our kerosene lamps kicked in so we could continue our schoolwork. The danger of exposure to poisonous gases and the risk of storing large quantities of highly flammable liquids in the dormitories were all too apparent, but we had no other option.

Fast forward to 2014, the above scenario is still a daily reality in many schools, households, hospitals and other vital installations throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Many communities are still faced with the daily dread that they might not have the electricity needed to carry out their routine activities, which could cost a life, an education or a meal.

It is in this context that the green transformation and the realignment to promote South-South cooperation should be viewed.

Improving energy access and empowering those at the base of the pyramid should be the defining framework for any South-South cooperation

According to the World Energy Outlook (2011), in 2009 sub-Saharan Africa had an electrification rate of 30% compared to 68% in South Asia and 93% in Latin America. Two years later, the WEO 2013 notes that Africa is still home to a large share (nearly 50%) of the 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity (PDF) and 25% of the 2.6 billion who still rely on biomass for cooking.

It’s clear that Africa’s top priority should be to increase access to electricity supply as the basis of any South-South Cooperation in the energy sector.

Depending on the choices that African leaders make, the low rate of electrification accords Africa the opportunity to deploy cleaner technologies that could place the continent at the forefront of green transformation. Improving energy access can be achieved much more cost effectively through mini-grids or stand-alone off-grid installations at the local level, especially in rural areas. Interventions that focus on extending the main grid do not often result in improving energy access, because such schemes are costly and may require long-term commitments from large consumers to make them sustainable.

Are we doing enough to lift millions of Africans out of energy poverty?

Lifting millions of Africans out of energy poverty and achieving greater economic prosperity depends entirely on how much effort is placed on the green transformation.

Many countries in Africa have made significant progress in the transition to a green economy. For example, South Africa has recently completed its third major procurement process for independent power producers, and it is estimated that by the sixth bid, the potential investments in renewables would be worth more than US$10 billion. However, some analysts are worried that most of the preferred bidders are large international utilities, driven mostly by profit motives and less interested in socio-economic outcomes like narrowing the energy poverty gap.

This tension between the pursuit of profit and socio-economic and environmentally sustainable outcomes is at the core of the opportunities and challenges facing green transformations that are meant to serve broader development goals. A similar challenge faces South-South Cooperation for development.

To-date, most of the economic interactions have been driven by corporate interests, and it remains to be seen if rules of the game will change to ensure that investment patterns result in decent jobs and environmental sustainability. Some of the more powerful countries in the global South, have been accused of exploiting less developed but resource-rich countries to satisfy their needs for raw materials in fast-growing economies, in deals similar to those that have long defined the North-South economic relationships of African countries.

Will South-South cooperation lead to an effective green transformation?

My personal observation is that unless things change radically this is very unlikely, partly because the focus of South-South cooperation is still biased towards the major economies, with the rest playing a marginal role.

There is a need to shake up this arrangement to bring more players on board to ensure that benefits of South-South cooperation trickle to those regions where change is needed the most. For example, the recent discovery of oil in the east Africa region is going to be a major economic boost for the region, but at what cost to the environment? The current flurry of oil-prospecting activities in the region, including in areas designed as National Parks and critical watersheds is quite worrying. Without strong green transformation goals, many African countries may well find themselves on the same paths the industrialised world has followed, to the detriment of all.

It is my hope that the mutual learning and knowledge sharing that has underpinned most South-South Cooperation interactions so far will be an opportunity for many African countries: an opportunity to embrace a green future, on their own terms.

Dr Mao Amis is Executive Director of the African Centre for a Green Economy (AFRICEGE)

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Happy New Year from Africege

As we usher in the New Year, we would like to thank many individuals and organizations that have supported us in the past year. Since the launch of Africege in March 2013, we have made significant progress and have laid a very strong foundation to move us forward. We are very excited about the prospects of the new year and look forward to making a difference in helping Africa grow sustainably.

At Africege we are working to promote water, energy and food security in East and Southern Africa, by providing a platform for emerging leaders in Africa to be at the forefront of addressing the continent’s sustainability challenges. Our locally driven solutions are primarily geared towards empowering those at the bottom of the pyramid.

In 2013 we initiated some innovative projects and established very strategic partnerships to help us achieve our vision of realizing a green economy in Africa that is both socially inclusive, equitable and environmentally sustainable. We will continue spreading our footprint in 2014 to ensure that we make our contribution to addressing the key challenges of water, energy and food security for the majority of Africans.

We have learnt many things since the launch of Africege, the key lesson that stands out for us is that determination, courage and good will is all we need to impact lives on the ground, regardless of the limitations we might be facing. Whether it’s mentoring young social entrepreneurs in impoverished communities in South Africa, promoting smallholder farmers in Uganda or conducting research on agricultural futures in Zambia we have been able to demonstrate the power of perseverance and a strong will to make a difference.

We are looking forward to an exciting year ahead of growing our young organization and most importantly creating that platform for emerging leaders on the continent to drive change.