We are happy to have an Interview with the first person to win the prestigious African Environmental Hero Award and a true influential environmental activist.
Your attitude towards changing the global look in Africa in your book is highly desirable. If the world is able to deal together with voluntary activities on the Africa continent, it can be called the continent of Hope for the next few years. Therefore, according to your occupation and knowledge, we want to know your opinion about the issue.
The Innovative Volunteerism you read in my book "Making Africa Work through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism" is not the traditional volunteerism as people understand it. Innovative Volunteerism is about structured guidance and inspiration of people, especially youth, to leverage what they do and their skills, talents - regardless of disciplinary background - and improve, refine and adapt these aspects towards working selflessly and collaboratively to establish climate action enterprises. These enterprises are focused on climate proofing and maximizing productivity of Africa's agro-value chains towards solving challenges of postharvest losses and declining agro-productivity, while creating income opportunities for the Innovative Volunteerism actors.
So, as you can see, Innovative Volunteerism is different from traditional volunteerism.
How did you become passionate about raising awareness of climate change and what shall we do to get everybody’s attention on this issue?
In my book, I talk about the declining yields and increased crop failure in my mother's farm and that of neighboring farmers that could not be explained with the traditional knowledge that had worked for generations. This was my moment of epiphany - that sent me on a journey that culminated in what we have today with Innovative Volunteerism. My interest in understanding why it no longer rained when it was expected to and why frequency of droughts had increased led me down the path of being a climate change scientist. But as I got to work, I realized that knowing the science and linking it to inform policy was good - but did not guarantee the operational level investment actions where real transformation occurs. People are moved to take climate action - not necessarily by the visibly worsening effects, or by the promising policies, but rather by the real economic opportunities that taking action will provide. This is how we get everyone's attention. This understanding then led me down a path of climate action as an investment opportunity. Where we link science to inform policy, and then demonstrate ground actions that drive climate aims while unlocking socioeconomic opportunities - food security, creation of income & enterprise opportunities, expansion of macroeconomic growth. And these feeding back to refine policy to make them more realistic to prevailing realities on the ground. To drive this dimension, human capital - the skills, talents, ongoing work of people - and especially the youth - represent the moist sovereign capital in the continent, and Innovative Volunteerism comes to unlock it.
What does your country authorities actually think about climate change?
Climate change is a global issue and, in my post, now, I serve Africa and I think governments across the continent have spoken and done so loud and clear on where they stand on this issue. Africa is the region that has most ratified the Paris Climate change Agreement - meaning the region has cumulatively turned their intentions of good will to fight climate change, into globally accountable commitments, plans and priorities of action. Up to 90% of countries in Africa have ratified their plans to take climate action - popularly referred as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - turning them into globally accountable commitments for action.
But even more interesting is the sectors prioritized by countries. Up to 70% prioritize clean energy and land based actions particularly in sustainable agriculture. These two sectors stands out as most catalytic for driving accelerated socioeconomic transformation in the continent through establishment of clean energy powered agro-value addition enterprises. This is critical considering that Africa tagged as the most vulnerable region globally is disproportionately vulnerable because of prevailing lack of socioeconomic opportunities. Poor communities at any level are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change because they lack the resources to quickly recover from its effects. As an example, during the recent tropical cyclone in Southern Africa - where 300% more rains were experienced resulting in fatal flooding, a family in one of the flooded areas would have been better placed to quickly move to safer areas at the sound of the first warnings – if they actually had disposable incomes. This explains why communities in North America - which experiences category five cyclones more frequently than Africa - do not suffer the same level of damage.
The message here is simple - enhancing socioeconomic development across countries in Africa, is the foundational solution to enhancing resilience to climate change. This is the trajectory that authorities in the continent are taking and is reflected even in their strategic prioritization of sectors.
What’s your opinion about this phrase “The solutions in our hands today.”?
Two key issues – first, the era of expecting government to legislate, formulate policy from such legislation, implement policy, monitor implementation and report progress is long gone. Non-state actors responsible for operational level implementation must now step to the plate and leverage existing enabling policies to engage in climate action enterprises – and by this, provide feedback loop to further refine policies and enhance scalability of enterprises. For example, nearly every country in Africa has very elaborate clean energy policies that have among benefits, zero-rating of taxation on clean energy systems and spares. For example, take solar – not only is the sun free, but thanks to favourable policies, the cost of solar in Africa has reduced by over 60% – and is the lowest in the globe. Africa’s cost of solar is $1.30 per watt compared to the global average of $1.80 per watt. But how many non-state actors are leveraging on this? And financing is not an issue here – the culture and structure of cooperatives is a ready financing tool. As an example, in Kenya where am currently based, up to 60% of Kenya’s diaspora remittances that exceed KES130 billion annually / or $1.3 billion is real estate cooperatives. These are ordinary citizens / non-state actors leveraging favourable housing policies to drive operational level investment in housing. The same model can apply to climate solutions – especially clean energy – applied to power agro-value addition to unlock enterprise opportunities.
Second, is skills retooling – Africa is 60% youthful – meaning up to 720million persons across Africa are youth. This makes them the most significant non-state actor in terms of numbers to leverage in driving climate action enterprises as above. But before this can happen, they need the right skills – and this is where skills retooling comes in. The UN Environment is through Innovative Volunteerism, - which is structured guidance and inspiration to youth & the young at heart, to use their skills, collaborate with their peers and establish climate action enterprises, retooling youths’ skills. This by supporting them refine, improve and realign their skills to tap gaps along Africa’s agro-value chains and clean energy – the twin priorities in most NDCs, and turn these into enterprises. And here, combining clean energy to power value addition is a feasible area that can drive operationalisation of the favourable clean energy policies. As an example, right here in Kenya, youth with skills in clean energy, marketing and ICT have been convened and structurally guided to forge partnerships and come up with a climate action enterprise ICT application called EBAGroPamoja available online on desktop and mobile platforms. Through EBAGroPamoja, agro-value chain actors are linked to climate solutions - organic inputs like organic fertiliser and clean energy solutions like solar driers etc., at the comfort of their phone. They are linked to financing to enae them afford these climate solutions they need to maximise their agro-productivity. EBAGroPamoja also features an online store where agro-produce grown using EBA / processed using clean energy is promoted to markets across Kenya. Through EBAGroPamoja, clean energy (mitigation) and EBA (adaptation) are upscaled through enterprise-based interventions.
In Uganda, youth have been guided to re-tool their skills in the fabrication of solar driers with enhanced drying efficiency. These driers are then linked to local cassava farmers to enable them dry their cassava, increase their shelf life and enable them scout for better markets and earn more without having to worry about spoilage which previously caused rushed selling and losses.
Innovative volunteerism is a ready mechanism for all our people to tap into enterprise opportunities that increased climate action ambition presents, leveraging on their skills and I encourage all to sign-up at www.innovativevolunteerism.ebafosa.org