By Wambi Michael
Renewable energy sources like biofuels and hydroelectricity may hold the key to Africa’s agricultural productivity crisis. Withoutthis intervention, food production will not increase.
The observation is has been part of the debate at the Fourth Conference on Climate Change and Development Africa. The call for renewable energy is based on the fact that Africa still depends on human power for producing food.
“If you look at agriculture sector in Africa, you can see that much of the work there is done using human energy mainly from poorer women and women who cannot be relied on to produce for the growing population” said Dr. Wilberforce Kisamba, the chairperson of Uganda’sNational Planning Authority.
“We need better energy sources that will minimise the workload that poorer women and men are confronted with in agriculture”he added.
Mugerwa while contributing to one of the side events in Morocco said energy has always been essential for the production of food but Africa is moving slowly in adapting opportunities in renewable energy especially with threats like climate change.
“Food production in the Western countries has been based on fossil fuels but for us in Africa, we can use the huge renewable energy potential to improve our farming.” Said Mugerwa.
The 2014 Pan African Climate Justice Alliance Climate Change dialogue report says seventy percent of the population in Africa still does not have access to modern energy services that are efficient, reliable and that could improve food preservation and transformation.
Professor Jean Nduwandunge, of the University of Rwanda said ‘‘The continent is rich in renewable resources which can benefit the majority of people not just for agriculture but also in areas like health and general livelihoods” he said in an interview.
Nduwandunge said with renewable energy, farmers could only increase food production but also combats the effects of global warming. Biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind power can produce electricity for heating, lights and fuel. These are proven cleaner compared to fossil fuels.
The question is whether African countries are up to the task of investing their own resources to invest in renewable energy.
Rose Mensah-Kutin, the Director of West Africa-based ABANTU think tank, in an interview said Africa governments, local and international private sector could combine efforts to harness opportunities that exist in renewable energy in Africa.
“What is critical are the institutional frameworks that might be put in place. And that is already taking place with in West African countries. Some leadership has been shown with the establishment of the Energy Centre for Renewable Energy and energy Efficiency” said Mensah-Kutin.
She says that institutional framework has enabled countries in West Africa sub region to put in place two major policydocuments on renewable energy and the other on energy efficiency.
The two policy documentsaccording Menash-Kutinprovide for a framework in order to harness opportunities that exist in renewable energy production and uses.
A study by Dutch Bank in May 2014 indicated that food and beverage industry in Africa will be a one trillion dollar industry by 2030.
Yohannes Hailu, the East African Region Economic Affairs Officer at UN Economic Commission for Africa said that offers a huge opportunity for the private sector especially for agribusiness. He said Africa currently imports agricultural products worth over ten million dollars that what it exports.
He explained that though the problem is not largely linked to lack of energy, energy deficits have played a role in low productivity in agriculture value chain.
Hailu says the use of renewable energy within agro-industry value chain for different purposes like preservation; postharvest management and processing among others require energy that is largely not available in most of the framing systems in African countries.
But Hailus says Africa governments would have a big task in ensuring that farmers take on renewable energy in production.
“The problem is that once you go down to small scale farmers, how do encourage them to absorb renewable energy technologies when they cannot afford them. I think that is more complicated. Because even encouraging some farmers to apply fertilisers has been a very big huddle” Said Hailu
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