Africa and its climate

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In Africa, climate change will bring about an increased incidence of extreme weather events (droughts, floods, mudslides, etc.), as well as a rise in infectious diseases. At the same time, many Africans argue that the continent is the least responsible for GHG emissions, the least prepared for the changes, will require the most efforts to adapt and is already burdened with human security challenges related to poverty and conflict.

Drought is a key factor behind the declining productivity of Africa. There is a strong correlation between rainfall and GDP, and between land degradation and the incidence of poverty. Many scientists believe that climate change is going to make this situation even worse. Adaptation and mitigation are going to be central to the future development of the continent.

How to respond?

Biotechnology is one solution proposed by African scientists. With careful use it can provide crops that give higher yields in dry and barren land and be a major contributor to food security. However, although there are an increasing number of examples of biotech crops in Africa, compared to Latin America and Asia the use of biotechnology is extremely low and South Africa is the only country in Africa to commercialize biotech crops so far.

One interesting example is NERICA rice, initiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the development of drought-resistant maize through the Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation. Research and application in climate related biotechnology in Africa represents a unique opportunity. Philanthropic organisations such as the Gates foundation are leading the way. Governments — especially those in the G8 countries — can do much more in this field and Japan, for example, has significant research and applied work on biotechnology agriculture (e.g., the Kihara Institute at Yokohama City University, and at Tsukuba University).

Clearly, food security is a priority issue for Africa, so instead of merely sending rice and other band-aid approaches, why not come up with a framework to invest in and transfer some of the interesting research in biotech to Africa to get a “climate-proofing green revolution” of sorts going there.

As Africa becomes an emerging player on the global market — with a population of more than 900 million, natural resources and growing political stability — it wants the rest of the world to take it seriously. Africa wants new partnerships with those that are willing to understand its own innovation systems and give it access to technology that it can adapt to its own local knowledge, values, and visions.

Higher education and research in Africa are key to solving problems caused by climate change. For years the world has talked about primary education for Africa, but Africans are telling a different story. Frankly, they have the capability to provide primary education — it is higher education and research skills that they require to compete on international markets. Instead of Japan investing in building of 1,000 schools, it should invest in children’s laptops that can hold 1,000 books and connect universities with higher-band width, low-cost internet so that new intellectual leadership can grow for Africa and its burgeoning academia can share in the information economy and keep up-to-date on advanced knowledge.

A Guest Editorial