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How to make the green transition finally work in agriculture

The largest sector in Africa’s green economy is also the slowest to change. Here is why (think of turning an oil tanker)

Hello – most of our subscribers live in cities. But most of the impact they – you – seek is focused on the countryside. 

The solution-makers are often far from the biggest problems. Nowhere is that truer than in sustainable agriculture. 

Yet that’s not the only reason for the sector’s slow progress. Why transforming African agriculture is not working (fast enough) is one of our topics this week. 

Today’s reading time: 6 mins

LOGISTICS UPDATE | Thursday 28 March

🗃️  Report: The need for an agroecological rethink of Africa’s food

⚖️  Webinar: Climate Justice Series at Harvard Law School (Mar 29)

📊 Job: Global Innovation Fund seeks a Director of Analytics


💻 Webinar: Abatable webinar on carbon markets - March 28, 3pm

📚  Report: UNEP launched a Food Waste Index Report 2024

🏆  Award: AfDB projects win prize at the IJ Global Awards in London

1.🚁 Heli view: African agriculture is the future… and always will be? 

Big guns have been brought to bear in Africa’s agricultural transition – but so far failed to supercharge the sector. 

The latest example: A $61 billion African Development Bank plan to “industrialise African food systems” has run into opposition this month. 

  • Civil society groups called the plan a “threat to small-scale farmers”. 

  • They accuse the bank of pushing towards agro-industrialisation.

  • This in turn would “increase dependency on multinational corporations”. 

Why it matters: More than 60% of Africa’s population live in rural areas dependent on agriculture. Meanwhile, crop revenues will fall by 30% due to climate change. 

  • Agriculture is the largest sector in Africa’s green economy.

  • And no successful transformation is possible without it. 

Early successes: Some progress is made. The transition is focused on innovation.

  • Africa has eight of the top ten “scalable disruptive agritech hubs” (see chart).

Battle of ideas: A growing number of solutions is available for sustainable farming. The number of startups and sub-sectors is mushrooming

  • The focus is, among other things, on specialist information, sales, financing, insurance and distribution. 

Signs of stress: Regardless of progress, sustainable agriculture is far behind other sectors such as renewable energy and carbon markets. 

  • Only about 4% of capital funding African tech innovation goes to agriculture. 

Asking for patience: Reasons for the slow pace are to some extent internal.

  • John Woolsey, CEO of agri-biotech startup Node Bio, said, “Some technologies take time to roll out as they need network effects, which are slower by nature.”

  • Convincing farmers to collaborate with agritech companies has also proven challenging as existing supplier structures and relationships resist change.

  • Many farmers lack incentives to transition, especially where customers for greener products can’t immediately match existing ones. 

Infrastructure gap: Farming is furthermore disadvantaged by mostly being situated in the least developed areas.

  • The lack of roads and power grids near farms are familiar challenges

  • The data gap between urban and rural areas is only closing slowly. Feature phones still outnumber smartphones outside cities. That hampers connectivity-based solutions. 

Wow factor: There are nonetheless game-changing ideas that could accelerate transition meaningfully. 

  • Modelling shows a 13% yield increase by 2040 if regenerative approaches are implemented compared to traditional agriculture. 

  • Other studies suggest the increase could be as high as 40% in the future.

The details: Regenerative agriculture can reduce soil erosion, improve water retention and have biodiversity benefits as well as reduce costs for farmers. 

  • 80% of farmers engaged with a sample of agritech providers have reported increases in income & yield.

  • Estimates suggest that by 2040 a 50% adoption rate could produce a 30% reduction in soil erosion as well as other significant benefits.   

New evidence: The use of technology in agriculture is modelled to an ever greater degree, showcasing a variety of benefits. 

  • Every year, 90 million tonnes of maize are processed in more than 500,000 mostly diesel-powered mills.

  • CrossBoundary, the investment and advisory firm, calls electrifying grain mills via mini grids a $2.5 billion opportunity across Africa. 

What’s missing: The biggest bottleneck, many insiders suspect, is not funding or innovation but training on new technologies. 

  • Outside capital will need to play a greater role in developing skills. 

  • “It is the role of investors like us to push towards incorporating behaviour changes in business models,” said Rebeecca Mincy, Investment Director at the Acumen Resilient Agriculture Fund.

2. Cheat sheet: Seven top sustainable agri practices

(i) Crop rotation & diversity: Alternating crops in a specific sequence on the same plot of land helps maintain soil fertility, prevent pest buildup and reduces the need for chemical inputs.

(ii) Cover cropping: Planting crops like legumes during fallow periods helps prevent soil erosion, adds organic matter, and suppresses weeds.

(iii) Integrated pest management: Using a mix of biological controls, cultural practices and minimal pesticides to reduce reliance on harmful chemicals.

(iv) Conservation tillage: Minimising soil disturbance during planting and cultivation helps retain moisture, prevent erosion, and maintain soil health.

(v) Agroforestry: Integrating trees and shrubs into agricultural landscapes provides multiple benefits, including improved soil fertility, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.

(vi) Crop-livestock integration: Combining crops and livestock cultivation reduces reliance on external inputs, as the crops provide animal feed, and manure provides nutrients.

(vii) Water conservation: Using drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting and efficient water management to minimise water usage.

…is the current number of African children living through multiple and often overlapping crises that are intensified by climate change, including cholera outbreaks, drought and floods. The children are at risk of poor health, malnutrition, displacement & learning loss in Eastern and Southern Africa, announced UNICEF this week.

4. Network corner

Nairobi Climate Network announces the launch of the Carbon Markets Association of Kenya (CAMAK).

Climate Impact Partners and WeForest launch a high impact mangrove restoration project in Senegal.

Key Carbon & Cartesian enter into a $18 million carbon financing agreement.

5. Q&A: Climate leaders with answers

Edwin Inziani Ashiundu is the Business Area Manager for East Africa at DVA Group, a German chemicals company that develops agricultural solutions for farmers.  

Q. How is the farm market evolving in Africa? A. Governments have started banning many products harmful to the environment. That makes the market more dynamic. Customers’ purchasing behaviour is shifting due to the awareness of sustainable agriculture.

Q. How fast is the evolution? A. Innovation is happening, however, there is a need for the majority of the farmers in Africa to adapt to the new technologies.

Q. Is this going to happen? A. Stakeholders in my field are actively creating awareness about smart agriculture. There are training sessions and seminars to educate farmers. Also, the rise of local investors in the sector has been helpful.

Q. What more could governments do? A. I would say that policies do not include strict directions to farmers to embrace smart agriculture. Also, the policies do not include proof of concept trials which would increase research on sustainable agriculture. If such policies could be implemented, things would move faster.

6. Media monitoring

  • Marketplace: Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) begins carbon offset trading.

  • Boosting: Germany supports a $10-billion Namibian green hydrogen project.

  • Civil society: Greenpeace Africa launches the Climate Justice Movement in DRC.

  • Weather: Record-breaking heat wave hits West Africa, driven by climate change. 

  • Nigeria: AfDB approves $50 million loan to support climate change resilience.

  • Biodiversity: Scepticism about heavy reliance on the private sector for funding. 

Don’t have time to read 100+ media sources every day? We’ve done the reading for you. Check out our full media monitoring here 

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Thanks to the Green Rising team for putting this together.

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