In the face of recent rising costs of food, fuel, and fertilizer, as well as the longer-term impacts of COVID-19 and climate change, Africa can leverage its rich and varied supply of natural resources together with its science and knowledge for sustainable solutions. This is the premise of Nature’s Solutions: Policy Innovations & Opportunities for Africa’s Bioeconomy, a report published by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of 18 world-renowned African and international scientists providing high-quality research to equip decision-makers to effectively implement policies and programs that support food security and nutrition in Africa.
“African food and agriculture systems are already in a transformation, which leverages biological and digital opportunities serving farmers, consumers, and nature,” said Prof. Joachim von Braun, Malabo Montpellier Panel Co-Chair from Bonn University in Germany and member of International Advisory Group on Global Bioeconomy. “Given its vast resources and fast-growing science and innovation capacities, the African continent can be at the forefront of building its own sustainable bioeconomy. Worldwide, more than 50 countries have already adopted the approach,” he said.
This report draws on the experience of four African countries (Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda) whose policy and institutional innovations have shifted the needle toward systemic change and transformation, propelling them to the forefront of the developing bioeconomy.
“Sustainability and adaptation to a changing climate require a more judicious use of biological and ecological resources,” said Dr. Ousmane Badiane, Malabo Montpellier Panel Co-Chair and Executive Chairperson of AKADEMIYA2063. “This includes how these resources might be leveraged to generate innovative products that help mitigate climate change, conserve resources, and protect biodiversity while creating new and well-paying employment opportunities. With this report, the Malabo Montpellier Panel identifies gateway sectors through which to initiate the development of a viable bioeconomy for African countries,” he said.
The continent’s youth population is expected to double to more than 830 million by 2050, and the bioeconomy can contribute stable employment opportunities to more of the 10 to 12 million youth entering the workforce every year.
The potential applications in Africa are vast, ranging from making use of agricultural by-products and waste all the way to processing indigenous plant and animal species into higher-value, new products.
For instance, a local fruit called monkey orange, which is widely available in southern Africa and is rich in vitamin C, zinc, and iron, can be processed to be more readily available year-round as part of nutritious diets. Elsewhere, lake flies found around the Lake Victoria region in East Africa are being turned into a range of edible foods like crackers, muffins, meat loaves, and sausages.
In terms of bioenergy, coffee husks and pulp are being turned into biogas, and fruit waste is being transformed into a bio-alkanol gel that burns without smoke or soot. This makes indoor cooking both more environmentally friendly and less harmful to health, especially for women who bear the bulk of this responsibility.
To fully capitalize on such bio-solutions and taking into account the experience of four African countries at the forefront of developing bioeconomies, African leaders are encouraged to first identify sectors that provide the easiest wins for their development ambitions. From there, they can then strengthen links between their R&D sector and develop demand to attract private sector involvement. Policymakers can also introduce regulations to increase incentives for investing in the bioeconomy, for example, through certification schemes or improved intellectual property regimes, and even set up independent advisory boards to help guide the transition at scale.
South Africa, for instance, assessed that its bioeconomy contributed eight percent of its overall GDP and created as many as 16 million jobs between 2007 and 2020. Uganda is one of the few African countries that has drafted a dedicated national bioeconomy plan, while Namibia is working with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to develop its first national bioeconomy strategy. Meanwhile, the East African Community (EAC) will be the first Regional Economic Community (REC) to have a dedicated bioeconomy strategy.
The report was launched as part of the May 24 Malabo Montpellier Forum, which is Co-Chaired by His Excellency Hailemariam Dessalegn, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Ethiopia, and Her Excellency Dr. Assia Bensalah Alaoui, Ambassador at Large to His Majesty King Mohamed VI of Morocco.