2021: A year of opportunity for sustainability in Africa

We are at a turning point; now is our chance to create a better, safer and more sustainable world for future generations, writes Zuneid Yousuf.
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By Zuneid Yousuf

Zuneid Yousuf is Chairman of African Green Resources.

31 Mar 2021

It is an undeniable fact that 2020 was a challenging year for all of us. We collectively faced and managed a host of unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which required a total reset of our ways of working, interacting with each other and doing business.

African nations rallied and promoted a quick test and trace approach which made significant strides in curbing the spread of the virus, and limiting the immediate impacts it had on our populations. A recent report from the Tony Blair Institute For Global Change, looking into African approaches to the pandemic, concluded that “many nations were prepared and acted fast” in the wake of the virus, implementing strict and fast turnaround test and trace protocols. For example, Senegal set up a manual test-and-trace approach, and Nigeria decentralised their test and trace to allow their local state governments to implement their own procedures and protocols to prioritise quick action.

Thanks to these quick and decisive moves, Africa was able to collectively weather the challenges of the COVID pandemic generally better than their European counterparts. However, I want to put forward the idea that, looking into 2021, simply reacting effectively to the COVID pandemic and its impact is not enough. We must use this challenge to continue pushing for greener and more sustainable ways of promoting our local economies, and Africa must be at the forefront of sustainability and green programmes in the coming years.

“Africa is overwhelmingly reliant on agriculture. The UN has estimated that between 2013 and 2020, the agricultural population of Africa increased from 530 million people to over 580 million”

COVID-19 has certainly taught us that sustainability, transparency, and health should be global priorities. In recent weeks, African leaders, alongside international institutions, have tapped into these principles as demonstrated by a recent agreement to put forward The African Green Stimulus Programme, in partnership with the UN Environment Programme.

The African Green Stimulus Programme recognises the severity of the impact of the pandemic on Africa, as it has “exposed and exacerbated economic, societal and environmental challenges” across the continent. Though we have been able to implement preventative methods to ensure that we do not bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is evident that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve and create more resilient livelihoods in Africa. One of the ways in which we can begin to do this, is through supporting and encouraging sustainable agribusiness initiatives across the continent.

Africa is overwhelmingly reliant on agriculture. The UN has estimated that between 2013 and 2020, the agricultural population of Africa increased from 530 million people to over 580 million, accounting for a major source of economic and food security across the continent. In my country, Zambia, expats are returning to their home country to help promote local agriculture, most notably through the sale and growth of horticultural and other similar crops that are in demand by urban populations and provide export opportunities, highlighting the rising popularity of agriculture in the country.

This trend is not going to go away anytime soon, and the COVID pandemic has only exacerbated age-old problems, such as access to safe water, food, and reliable employment, as various lockdowns and restrictive measures hindered the ability for thousands of people to go to work throughout the year.

This is why I believe that we are at a turning point to reset and promote a different and better way of doing business, one which prioritises equality, sustainability, and fair access to resources. The African Green Stimulus Programme already has the blessing of African ministers, and this is certainly a good foundation for the future work. However, I believe that we can be doing more.

What would a more sustainable and equitable approach to farming look like? Building on the principles of the Stimulus Programme, a more sustainable and equitable approach will prioritise small to medium sized businesses’ access to resources, while also promoting sustainable and ecological procedures and ways of doing business.

“We are living during a turning point for all of us. Now is our chance to truly change and rewrite the ways in which we work, live, and collaborate with each other”

These include both bottom-up and top-down ways of promoting and encouraging smaller sustainability programmes. A bottom-up approach would empower and encourage small businesses to participate in local sustainability initiatives, encouraging and building pressure for politicians and senior leadership to prioritise sustainable economies, while a top-down approach would be derived from African governments’ commitment to take sustainability seriously, and look to provide state-backed support for sustainable and green initiatives.

At African Green Resources, which I head as Chairman, we help to uplift living standards of rural smallholders. We have invested in a diversified agro-processing facility in Central Zambia, processing a variety of food products. This will provide a base for close to 250,000 contracted famers, for market access, produce storage, access inputs and technical capacity support aimed at improving their on-farm productivity for non-GMO grain and horticultural produce.

We are living during a turning point for all of us. Now is our chance to truly change and rewrite the ways in which we work, live, and collaborate with each other. Let’s make the most of 2021 and create the right foundations to promote and guarantee a better, safer and more sustainable world for future generations.

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