Accelerating Climate Action Research and Innovation in Africa: 1.4 Billion People to Benefit from Empowerment of Continental Organizations

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by Murat Sartas, Ph.D.

CGIAR’s Climate Resilience Initiative (ClimBeR)  team participated in the eighth African Agribusiness and Science Week (AASW8), which was held in Durban, South Africa, from June 5-8,2023. The team shared the innovative scaling approach the initiative implements, high-impact potential solutions co-developed by the initiative, and the learning in catalyzing science-based innovation and scaling efforts in Africa with managers, innovators, and experts working in continental and regional public and private sector organizations. 

During the week, the team had the opportunity to engage with more than 100 managers, and private sector representatives and innovators, in key panel events, a rich set of side events, and exhibitions. Many exciting interactions showed that the agenda of African stakeholders have significantly evolved, and new foundations of African food systems transformation have been set. Co-developing organizational and partnership solutions for effective action at scale, experimenting and generating evidence on agile regulatory solutions, building local capabilities to manage innovation, and scaling were placed at the core of the new research and innovation agenda. 

In this blog, we share the team’s key learnings and provide insights about how CGIAR’s climate resilience efforts should adapt to address the emerging paradigm of the new African Food Systems Transformation.

African Extension and Research systems are preparing for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement 

One of the most popular topics of discussion at AASW8 was the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The agreement covers 55 countries and will have a significant impact on 1.4 billion Africans and the rest of the world once the legislative process is complete. According to the Word Bank, It will boost the regional income by 7%, increase the wages of unskilled workers and women up to 10% and increase trade integrity significantly. It will provide funding opportunities for smallholder farmers and help them mitigate the deleterious impact of climate change, offer new large-scale training and technical support opportunities to them and help sources of support and growth farmer cooperatives.  

A new decade of African Agricultural Research and Innovation Stakeholders (AARIS) and CGIAR Collaboration

A new plan was launched during AASW8 to guide the next decade of CGIAR efforts in Africa. “The action plan for the operationalization of the Abidjan II Communique, Strengthening partnership between CGIAR and African Agricultural and Research and Innovation Stakeholders to attain zero hunger in Africa in 2030” is the result of an intense consultation process between the African Union (AU), African Development Bank (AfDB), Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and CGIAR to provide a unified and integrated response to evolving challenges in Africa, and ensure that CGIAR reform responds to the needs of African farmers. 

The action plan explicitly called for:

  • A greater role for African governments in shaping the climate action research agenda
  • Enhanced engagement among AARIS
  • Increased access to and adoption of climate-smart agricultural technologies and innovations for millions
  • A framework for strengthening mechanisms to scale out technologies and innovations to millions of farmers
  • Regenerative and sustainable agricultural development that is inclusive (gender, youth, all others), and contributes to job creation and improved welfare

How can CGIAR climate action research and the innovation community respond to African demand? 

African stakeholders clearly demand the efforts of the climate action science community to focus on building up governance capabilities of climate action in the continent. Public sector stakeholders prioritize knowledge and innovative organizational solutions that translate the national and local priorities to practical actions via CGIAR interventions; effective and efficient engagement models that better link AARIS to facilitate their collective action; innovative mechanisms, and platforms that enhance access to existing solutions at a larger scale; a framework that can catalyze designing, developing, monitoring and updating complex and large-scale scaling interventions; and finally knowledge, software and policy solutions that integrate inclusivity, job creation and welfare into mainstream climate action. Private sector stakeholders demand agile regulatory solutions; proven alternative funding instruments; management tools and practices for industrial and innovation clusters; and digital collaboration solutions. Both public and private sector stakeholders want research and innovation support for their contributions to the AfCFTA.

A demand-driven response can only be achieved if the overall research and innovation approach of CGIAR’s climate action community changes. Its contribution to the large-scale transformative changes in Africa will be marginal unless it shifts gears from a solution provider focus to a complementary capability-builder role. The CGIAR community can help produce greater value by identifying the existing knowledge and solution gaps with rigorous diagnosis processes; understanding the capability gaps so that local systems can address knowledge and solution gaps; and building these capabilities practically and effectively that can be deployed on a large scale as quickly as possible. As the innovation and scaling activities of CGIAR’s Climber Resilience Initiative indicate, CGIAR’s research efforts can contribute to improved capabilities of local research communities if they provide basic intuitions and practical tips for developing climate models rather than implementing state-of-the-art models on behalf of local systems. The contribution of CGIAR climate innovations will amplify significantly if more efforts and resources are spent on developing complementary digital modules to existing climate action management systems already used by many local stakeholders rather than developing a turn-key digital solution from scratch.     

Co-innovation and capacity building is especially important in complex, heterogeneous African agrifood systems, which are ill-suited to one-size-fits-all technology dissemination strategies and require multi-faceted solutions developed in partnership with local experts. Partnerships between CGIAR and African organizations should aim to enhance a multi-sector coordination role in Africa-based innovation systems, so African institutions can better position themselves to deliver long-term support for demand-led, evidence-based agrifood systems policy and investment. At the heart of this agenda should be the recognition that African resilience can only be built and sustained by locally-led African institutions, spurred by collaboration at multiple levels. 

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