A focus on the link between energy and food production in Africa at the Durban Climate Change Conference is much needed, says Robin Sanders.

Robin Sanders

The recent Durban Climate Change Conference is a follow on from Cancun which did not move a lot of things forward on key environmental issues ranging from CO2 emissions, carbon sequestration and credits), to land and water resource management.

The important fact that the conference is taking place on the African continent for the first time should not just boil down to its mere presence in Durban. But just like key sub-Saharan African economies are emerging, Africa’s emerging voice on climate change policy is vital to a number of future developmental areas, not least of which is food security – including all of its pillars from food production to improving the continent’s ability to feed itself and using renewables to spur better agricultural energy use.

However, do Africa’s agriculture, environment and energy ministers talk to each other? And why aren’t more agricultural ministers included in the climate change discussion and vice versa? This needs to happen, but it is not – at least not regularly or in a comprehensive manner.

Smart solutions

Most experts recognize that both food security and climate change are affecting the continent more than any other region of the world. The food security-climate change linkage for Africa hopefully will be heavily on the table in Durban as these symbiotic impact indicators need to be addressed together.

Food security specialists from development organizations and civil society organisations (CSOs) to policy makers need to build climate change solutions into their programmes. Africa climate change leaders and activists need not forget that the lack of progress on key environmental issues will continue to affect Africa’s progress to resolve its food security challenges.

What are some of links between food and energy production and innovative ways to address these links? There are a number of positives noted below, which need to be more broadly implemented with country-specific adaptation on top of the need to create more new solutions. Some of the smart linkages connecting the symbiotic relationship between food security and climate change include:

  • Renewable energy options for water use, such as wind or solar-powered drip irrigation, including storage of power gained through battery innovative techniques like those being used by companies like AES in West Virginia
  • Hybrid seeds that help crops withstand climate stresses such as drought, which can also lead to new usages for traditional crops such as protein-enhanced cassava (I have visited donor-supported agribusinesses in Kano, Nigeria, that adds cow peas to enhance protein in cassava flour)
  • Localize agribusiness supply chains by using small farm holders or cooperative crops, reducing transport energy, and manufacturing costs
  • Climate change-smart agricultural production, such as bio-char – the process of burning plant-based remnants and making charcoal that is then used as renewable fertilizer in places like Congo, and Benin’s Songhai Integrative Farms. The Congo project also obtains carbon credits on CO2 emissions which also further helps overall energy challenges – not just in the country but over the long term for our global community.

These global impact indicators – food security and climate change – should be addressed together to assist the people of Africa to have a better enabling environment for overall development, a subject I’ve highlighted on this blog before.  

It’s critically important because people are angry: African women smallholder farmers from 10 countries calling themselves the ‘Rural Women Assemblydemonstrated in Durban on December 3, 2011, on just this point – linking the affects of climate change on their ability to feed their families.

What to do?

The UN General Assembly this year called for improvement in sustainable energy by making 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy, with the goal of providing access to modern forms of energy, particularly for emerging markets and the developing world by 2030. But, if we do not improve our current efforts not only will this sustainability goal not be meet for Africa, but the food security-climate change symbiotic link will continue to be exacerbated as Africa’s population is estimated to reach 1.5Bn by 2030, and 2Bn by 2050.

Thus, we need to be more food security-climate change smart through innovation. We need more Africa-focused research and development like Ghana’s new bio tech facility, and by expanding the discussion circle so that both agriculture and environment policy makers, CSOs and development entities begin to come together and share in the same international, regional, community, and village fora to address these two global impact indicators.

This blog post is adapted and edited from an article that also featured in the Huffington Post.

About Robin Sanders

Dr Robin Renée Sanders, a career member of the senior US Foreign Service, is currently serving as the International Affairs Advisor for a non-governmental organization. She previously served as the US Ambassador to Nigeria from 2007-2010. Prior to that she served as International Advisor and Deputy Commandant at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, DC. Prior to this position, she served as the US Ambassador to the Republic of Congo (2002-2005) and as Director for Public Diplomacy for Africa for the State Department (2000-2002). She served twice as the Director for Africa at the National Security Council at the White House; and was the Special Assistant for Latin America, Africa, and International Crime for the Undersecretary for Political Affairs at the State Department (1996-1997). Ms Sanders holds a Doctor of Science Degree in Information Systems and Communication from Robert Morris University, Master of Art degree in International Relations and Africa Studies, and a Master of Science degree in Communications and Journalism from Ohio University. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Hampton University.

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