Management Magazine
Special Report

Climate change: A ticking bomb on Africa’s productivity

The repercussions of uncontrolled green gas emissions are dire 


“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.” –  Ban Ki-moon

In a tragedy which saw relatively little international media attention, the Mozambican city of Beira was almost wiped off the map by Cyclone Idai in March 2019. Hundreds of people perished and almost 90 per cent of buildings were destroyed in this city of more than 500,000 residents. Neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi also experienced loss of lives and infrastructure. Eleven days after the cyclone hit I news outlets reported that survivors in remote areas of the city resorted to fighting for scraps of food. An indication that the affected countries were ill prepared for a natural disaster on such a scale. Idai has been termed one of the worst cyclones on record to hit Africa and indeed the whole Southern Hemisphere.

Africa bears the brunt

UN data show that agribusiness drives 65 per cent of Africa’s employment and 75 per cent of domestic trade; thus, the impact of climate change will be astronomical. The Arctic, Africa, Asian deltas like Bangladesh and small islands are regions that will likely bear the brunt of future climate change. Africa is particularly vulnerable due to many other existing challenges and little capacity to adapt.

Mark Giordano and Elisabeth Bassini, in ‘Climate Change and Africa’s Future’ indicate that the understanding of climate change in Africa is quite poor due to many gaps in historical data. There is however a broad consensus that Africa would be hit hard by climate change – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts an increase of up to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This is particularly concerning as Africa is only responsible for 3.8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions compared to China’s 23 per cent, USA’s 19 per cent and EU’s 13 per cent – yet will face the brunt of climate change. Various models forecast that huge areas could be turned into deserts while other areas conversely could see rainfall increasing by up to 300 per cent. In 2013, The Economist reported that Africa has 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land. However, the areas being farmed produce 30-50 per cent of the crop of the global average and often the quality of the soil is poor.

Viable initiatives

The African Union (AU) has done a great job to coordinate the continent’s support for the Paris Agreement which deals with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation and adaptation. The continent forms part of 195 signatories to the agreement which becomes effective in 2020 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

However, time is of essence and African countries will do well to immediately adopt new practices from a political, legislative, economic and particularly technological perspective. 

The solution lies in technology and alternative energy sources

The Netherlands, a tiny country only about 7 per cent the size of Kenya, has become the second biggest global food producer after the United States. This is really astounding and a great example of how new practices and technologies can assist to improve productivity and sustainability. Wageningin University and Research (WUR) is widely considered as the world’s top agricultural research institution and has pioneered many of these new practices the Dutch have implemented.  Many of the farmers have managed to drop their water usage by as much as 90 per cent while almost totally eliminating the need for pesticides within 20 years. This shows the great benefits which research and the Fourth Industrial revolution can bring – satellites, drones, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and big data analytics are all technologies which could greatly improve agriculture on the continent – making it more productive and less wasteful. Coupling these technologies with alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power can open a whole new world while mitigating the damage traditional fossil fuels inflict on the environment. 

Strong political will

In many cases a strong political will is needed to address urgent change. A case in point is currently unfolding in South Africa. Greenpeace reported in October 2018 that the country’s eastern Mpumalanga province has the most polluting cluster of coal-fired power stations in the world producing record levels of nitrogen dioxide. But despite all this pollution the power utility Eskom has had to institute major power cuts, or load shedding, during March 2019 as it could not supply the power needs of the country. Many Independent Power Producers (IPPs) could assist in alleviating the problem but powerful unions are opposed to this – fearing job losses at the monolithic Eskom. Hence the SA government will have to make some difficult political decisions.

Many governments will face similar challenges, but the choice is clear – the clock is ticking for our children’s future. We need to act immediately to minimise climate change, introduce and improve sustainable practices and become much more efficient as a continent.

Francois van Dyk, @sbalie, heads up Operations at Ornico, the Brand Intelligence research company. He worked in public relations before entering the world of media research.

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