Volunteerism: A prerequisite for Africa’s progress

Volunteerism: A prerequisite for Africa’s progress
Photo Credit To The weekly market in Vitshumbi fishing village on the Southern shores of Lake Edward in Vitshumbi, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 2013 [Getty Images]

The continent’s future lies in the hands of the youth who can successfully harness agriculture and clean energy.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.

“Africa will write its own history and, both north and south of the Sahara, it will be a history full of glory and dignity.” These profound words of the Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba in the 1960’s have haunted the continent for over five decades, and working towards its fulfilment is surely on the shoulders of each succeeding generation.

It is no longer tenable to keep talking about Africa’s great potential; rather, it is time to fulfil that potential for the benefit of present and future generations. Knowing fully well that Africa’s past has long been defined by natural resources, its future should be defined by bringing together the collective strengths of its people’s skills and talent.

And there is a formula of how this can be done: Leveraging catalytic sectors for which the continent holds comparative advantage, through dedicating resources available to the continent. These resources, both physical (such as technological, institutional, financial, and the demographic dividend, where the majority of sub-Saharan Africa is under the age 25) and non-physical (including intellectual, partnerships, policies, networks), could all be utilised for a comparative advantage with a global competitive edge.

Harnessing catalytic sectors: Agriculture and clean energy

In agriculture, not only does the continent hold the majority of global arable land, but it is also home to 10 percent its inland fresh water resources.

The World Bank reports that, in Africa, a 10 percent increase in crop yields translates to approximately a seven percent reduction in poverty. Growth in agriculture is at least two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than in other sectors.

Furthermore, agriculture remains the most inclusive sector, employing about 64 percent of the population and 70 percent of the rural poor, and women produce up to 80 percent of the food. This means that Africa stands out as the most potent continent for enacting inclusive, poverty-combating growth, and pulling the base-of-the-pyramid populations out of desperate poverty.

In clean energy, Africa holds the best solar power potential in the entire planet. A mere 0.3 percent of the sunlight that shines on the Sahara (with the Middle Eastern deserts) could supply nearly all of Europe’s energy needs.

Other abundant renewable sources include hydropower, with a potential of three times more than the continent’s current demand, as well as wind and geothermal energy (PDF).

To maximise the potential of these two sectors, they need to be considered as complementary. Integrating clean energy and sustainable agriculture requires applying a carefully planned formula, and this is what Africa should prioritise.

This means linking sustainable Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) driven agriculture (which stands out as the most accessible to and compatible with smallholder farmers who make up 80 percent of the continent’s food producers) to clean energy based value addition.

Volunteerism has been tested and results are emerging and paving the pathway to building a future, from which Africa’s glorious history will be written.

The linkage of these two key sectors will help eliminate inefficiencies, such as post-harvest losses, which currently account for a loss of an average of $4bn annually. This integration can also potentially create as many as 17 million jobs, earn an additional $20bn annually from agro-trade and catalyse an agro-sector projected to be worth $1trillion in less than 15 years.

And given the carbon offsetting and climate resilience potential of clean energy and EbA driven agriculture, this integration will have the added advantage of simultaneously meeting the continent’s climate objectives under the Paris Agreement.

Therefore, sustainable EbA driven agriculture (allied with clean energy powered industry), manufacturing and processing equal economically inclusive, climate-resilient development and wealth creation; unlocking multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This integrated approach that converts the continent’s comparative advantage to a competitive edge is Africa’s winning formula.

Pockets of success and move from talk to action

Across Africa, pockets of successes demonstrate a potential for this formula.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of graduate youthful “agripreneurs” have channelled their skills, networks and capital to optimise the cassava value chain.

These young people process cassava into flour, package it, standardise it and sell to bakers. With this integration, the youth generate up to $4,000 as weekly income, translating to $16,000 monthly and $196,000 annual income.

Pockets of success are not enough for impactful progress across the continent. Rather, it is an urgent imperative to leverage relative strengths of diverse stakeholders towards a shared objective of bridging policy and fixing the operational gaps in the integration of clean energy and agriculture to realise sustainable agro-industrialisation.

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And for sustainability, this should be through voluntary, state-driven processes, taking into account unique country contexts.

A number of examples are demonstrating that the strength of this paradigm can be channelled through voluntary state-driven partnerships.

For example, in Nigeria, the spirit of innovative volunteerism mobilised youth groups through the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA). This is a policy action framework to volunteer their skills and partner with farmer cooperatives with the aim of developing EbA farming and expanding reach of EbA actions in Nigeria. This farm is being linked to markets and other commercial value chains to increase earnings. Over 1,000 youth are currently engaged.

In Malawi, innovative volunteerism partnerships engaged the Malawi Bureau of Standards to develop quality standards for the sesame crop, a high value and drought resistant crop.

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This partnership enhances the marketability of the sesame crop and incentivises its wide-scale growth. This and other market actions are increasing farmer revenues, combating poverty and food insecurity, and building bio-physical resilience given that the crop is drought-resistant.

In Kenya, other creative volunteerism partnerships have been fostered with the private sector to encourage solar-powered irrigation. Thanks to the spirit of volunteerism, a solar-powered irrigation enterprise has partnered with farmer groups in the country to enhance its use.

These attempts in Kenya are helping realise the country’s priorities of climate-smart, resource-efficient agriculture, while also offsetting carbon emissions and catalysing progress towards clean energy-powered agro-industry (PDF).

Do not be left behind

The formula to engendering an inclusive Africa and ensuring collective progress and prosperity is on the move.

Volunteerism has been tested and results are emerging and paving the pathway to building a future, from which Africa’s glorious history will be written.

Now, more than ever before, is the time for each and every citizen, stakeholders in the continent, governments, private sector, academia, NGOs and individual citizens to pull together and take advantage of voluntary, inclusive, mutual partnerships as a powerful mechanism towards bridging implementation gaps and realising the dream of a prosperous Africa.

Let’s seize the moment and start creating the 21st century we so desperately want. Together, we can.



Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change and Development Policy expert.


Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change and Development Policy expert.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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