Traditional security thinking places the State as the primary entity which needs to be protected from external military threats. Territorial integrity is considered a fundamental value and any threats to it endanger national sovereignty. Security is seen as a zero-sum game, and the more a state invests in military capability, the more it guarantees its security.
As argued by Peoples and Williams (2015), this state-centric approach still largely determines how governments consider and practise security despite being wholly ill-suited to the modern challenges facing the well-being and survival of peoples and states today. These challenges are internal and transnational in nature, and include things such as disease epidemics, food scarcity, climate change and environmental degradation, disruptive 4IR technologies, mass illegal migration, and transnational crime.
As shown in Good Governance Africa’s (GGAs) Wicked Conversation blog series on the COVID-19 pandemic, in times of unique crisis and social unrest, as we are experiencing today, governments too often place their survival first, narrowing the security agenda, instead of widening it and building human security which centres the citizen.
This state-centric approach still largely determines how governments consider and practise security despite being wholly ill-suited to the modern challenges facing the well-being and survival of peoples and states today.
The same has been true in how states routinely react to the threat posed by violent extremism organisations (VEOs) and other non-state armed groups (NSAGs). Rather than appreciating that violent extremism is the product of deeper and more complex social and economic problems, as well as both international and transnational in nature, VEOs are treated as traditional security threats which can be defeated by overwhelming military force.
Over the last two decades, several major military interventions have sought to stem the spread of groups such as al Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) and their affiliates, while an extensive web of conventions, laws, and institutions have proliferated to try and deny terrorist actors the ability to mobilize, finance, travel, communicate, and recruit. The estimated costs of the United States’ counterterrorism efforts alone since the al Qaeda-led attacks on 9/11 is around $6.4 trillion USD. While these interventions have had limited successes in certain contexts, overall they have failed to halt the spread of violent extremism and associated acts of terrorism either globally or in Africa primarily because they have sought to address the symptom and not the underlying problem.
In times of unique crisis and social unrest, as we are experiencing today, governments too often place their survival first.
Mozambique is a recent example. In response to a growing civil conflict in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province over the last three years, the government attempted to overwhelm the militants with force, jailed journalists, closed civil society spaces, and made it difficult for humanitarian workers to access communities most in need of food and medical support. The effect has been an almost complete closure of space for citizens to air their grievances in a non-violent manner, increased poverty and fragility, and a consequent surge in recruitment and deepening of the insurgency.
In August 2020, GGA published the third instalment of Extremisms in Africa, an anthology collection of 44 chapters with contributions from a variety of leading experts in their respective fields on understanding and addressing violent extremism and other non-state armed groups on the continent.
What became clear to us is that VEOs are just one set of actors among many which collectively determine the life cycle of a given conflict. They usually emerge and/or spread in regions where they are able to exploit extant political, social, and economic grievances which have already frayed the social contract, and where poor or absent governance, corruption, and access to illicit arms and financial flows allow them to operate with relative ease.
They usually emerge and/or spread in regions where they are able to exploit extant political, social, and economic grievances which have already frayed the social contract, and where poor or absent governance, corruption, and access to illicit arms and financial flows allow them to operate with relative ease.
In this respect, a single-minded focus on traditional counter-terrorism strategies is not a sustainable solution to The security agenda needs to be widened to take into account the many sources of insecurity facing communities in Africa today and consider aspects such as rule of law, human rights, and economic access.
There is often a resistance by states to thinking about terrorism in these terms because it forces governments to consider their own failings and responsibility for creating the conditions under which violent extremism thrives. As Galtung (1996) and many others have argued, states can act as primary sources of structural violence by imposing restrictions on civilians which oppress their human, political, and social rights in order to safeguard the state system.
A shift from state- and military-centric notions of security to a greater emphasis on human security is contingent on good governance, and in particular, good civil-military relations. These factors are both under threat today in the context of declining democracy on the continent. The overthrow of deeply unpopular President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita by Malian soldiers in August seems to be part of a recent increase in coups which have at first been met with popular public support but quickly slide into unstable military dictatorships.
States can act as primary sources of structural violence by imposing restrictions on civilians which oppress their human, political, and social rights in order to safeguard the state system.
For military regimes, conflict resolution carries little inherent value and conflicts within their region are often considered purely in terms of how they might advance or hurt their interests, or how they could promote or undermine those of their rivals. This is antithetical to the type of regional cooperation needed to address modern transnational security challenges, and is deeply undermining the ability of our regional bodies to advance peace and security.
Over the course of the next eight weeks, GGA will be publishing a weekly blog series using this “wicked problem” lens highlighting chapters from the Extremisms in Africa anthology which speak to the complexity of preventing and countering violent extremism and offer solutions at the nexus of development, humanitarian action, and security.
A “wicked problem” is defined by Williams and Van ‘t Hof (2014) as a problem which has “multiple stakeholders involved in complex and unpredictable interactions.” This systems thinking perspective should encourage the reader to not only focus on the actions and motivations of the individual stakeholder (in this case the violent extremist actor) but the root causes of vulnerability, the linkages between multiple stakeholders within a conflict system at the local, national, and regional level, and how these constituent elements comprise the whole of the system.
A “wicked problem” is defined by Williams and Van ‘t Hof (2014) as a problem which has “multiple stakeholders involved in complex and unpredictable interactions.”
Chapters featured will include:
– Hybridity and Fragmentation: Implications for Regional Security Policy in the Sahel and Beyond – Bethany L. Mcgann
– The Global Health Threat to Human Security: How Pandemics May Set the Scene for Bioterrorism – Craig Moffat
– The Potential Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Human and National Security in Africa – Futhi Luthango
– Using Evidence-Based Research to Directly Improve P/CVE Programming: A Case Study of a Social Network Analysis in Somalia – Fatma Ahmed, Laura Nettleton & Jem Thomas
– The Libya Crisis and the Need for African Ownership of Peace and Security Processes on the Continent – Lebogang Seshoka
– Neocolonial/Colonial Extremes: Defining Direct Colonialism, Reaction and Resistance in Contemporary Ambazonia and Western Sahara- Matt Meyer
– Fulani and Jihad: The Argument Against Simplistic Narratives in West Africa – Madeline Vellturo
– The Escalation of Extremist Violence in Southern Africa and the Need for More Collaborative Security Responses – Stephen Buchanan-Clarke
We’d love to hear from you! Join The Wicked Conversation by leaving your comments below, or send your letter to the editor to email@example.com.
To get your copy of Extremisms: Volume 3, click on your preferred link below:
Amazon Kindle: https://tinyurl.com/y3zgz55f
Amazon Print edition: https://tinyurl.com/y3gw5xxo
STEPHEN BUCHANAN-CLARKE is an independent analyst with several years’ experience working in conflict and post-conflict settings in Africa on national security and development issues. He currently serves as Head of Programme for Good Governance Africa’s Human Security & Climate Change Programme, and has been involved in the editing of all three volumes of the Extremisms in Africa series, as well as authoring several chapters.
The Sahel: Africa’s Great Green Wall
The African Union’s ambitious plans to revitalise the Sahel region face daunting challenges, including financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic
Acacia trees planted in Senegal’s Louga region, as part of the Great Green Wall Photo: Seyllou Diallo / AFP
It is a project that doesn’t lack ambition. The African Union’s Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI) aims to create a new living world wonder, an 8,000 km tree line across the 21 countries in the Sahel region of Africa. A project this size needs the funding to match and so far, more than $8 billion has been pledged. But conflicts, capacity, direction and ensuring capital remain huge challenges standing in the way of the GGWI. This has led the initiative to refocus away from merely planting trees to developing climate-resilient communities that will be protected from droughts, famine, conflict and migration, restoring degraded land to provide food, jobs and other products that people can use to make a living.
“Planting trees just to restore the land is not the right methodology and this is why we’re looking at income generation as a key aspect,” said Camilla Nordheim-Larsen, programme coordinator at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertiﬁcation (UNCCD). “The communities need to have a reason to take care of these trees, whether it’s to use or sell products coming from the trees or an agro-forestry project, or being able to sell carbon credits, for example,” she says, explaining the GGWI’s new direction.
The project’s aims, however, are vast in terms of land restoration, carbon offsetting, beneﬁciaries, and the number of trees planted by the end of this decade, with progress on many targets stalled and hovering around the 15 to 18% mark. Completion within the decade is ambitious, but Nordheim-Larsen remains conﬁdent the initiative can achieve its goals on time, which under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is 2030.
Nordheim-Larsen’s optimism is based on her belief that a signiﬁcant increase in investment, from a variety of different sources, both public and private, could make a drastic difference to the funding gap and help to upscale projects. However, Elvis Tangem, coordinator for the GGWI at the African Union Commission, is less optimistic about that date, which he sees as a UN rather than African Union (AU) target.
“Most of the programmes of the UN are based on the SDGs [for 2030], but for the African Union we have Agenda 2063,” Tangem says. “As far as achieving it by 2030, it’s very, very unlikely. We did an extrapolation and we looked at the possibility of attaining that objective by 2030, but we had to be restoring almost 2.5 million hectares of land a year, which is not possible… with the ﬁnancial and resources situation [as it is] we cannot say it can be achieved in the next 10 years. When you look at Agenda 2063 it’s more realistic, as we’re talking about restoring less than one million hectares of land a year.”
The GGWI is led by the AU, with the World Bank, UN, European Union and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) as its main funders. Another revenue stream UNCCD is trying to tap is private funders and it supports projects that make the GGWI self-funding by producing products that can be sold on international markets such as oil from the moringa tree, baobab and superfoods type of products, and shea butter. Tangem claims there are as many as 27 products and commodities that could be sold on international markets in the GGWI to beneﬁt communities, in addition to eco-tourism.
Although exploitation of such commodities and eco-tourism, along with addressing climate change, are all issues that may seem to be more of a focus of the western or developed world rather than the countries of the Sahel, Nordheim-Larsen is keen to emphasise the initiative is not being donor-led but was started in the region; the project ultimately builds on the vision of late Burkina Faso President Tomas Sankara.
A 3D movie about the Great Green Wall at the Chad stand at the COP21 UN conference on climate change in Paris, 2015 Photo: Eric Feferberg / AFP
“It started with African leaders and was adopted by African leaders in 2007 [after the idea was conceived in 2005] with no push from donors. We’ve come much later to try and support the initiative,” she says. Now, though, the main concern facing the GGWI is funding and searching for different revenue streams, the most signiﬁcant of which would be carbon offsetting. “The potential carbon sequestration that this project could generate would have global beneﬁts,” adds Nordheim-Larsen.
“There’s been interest from many companies in terms of offsetting projects in the region. At the moment there’s not a lot, but there’s some with the potential to be upscaled, both agroforestry and in the renewable energy sector.” Those companies include carbon polluting giants such as BP and Shell, who are believed to be very interested in offsetting through the GGWI, which could offset up to 500 gigatonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, says Tangem. But private ﬁnancial interest is not limited to the globe’s big polluters.
“During UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ climate change summit in September , we had serious engagement with companies like Timberland, who were ready to invest a good chunk of their corporate social responsibility funds in the Great Green Wall,” he adds. The recent coronavirus pandemic, though, has already begun to have an impact on this funding of the GGWI, as Tangem explains: “We successfully raised €1 million for the locust issue in the Horn of Africa, but because of Covid that money was diverted into supporting these countries to buy facemasks and sanitisers.”
This has not been a one-off issue as following last September’s UN Climate Summit in New York, the Great Green Wall has made engagements with both the public and private sector in the pursuit of additional funding that Tangem claims were successful. “We had many other pledges from private-sector partners, big and small, but many of them have withdrawn because they need to take care of their workers and help their investors during this Covid time when everything is shut down. But we are very conﬁdent that between 12 and 15 months down the line we will come back and have the support because these engagements are there,” he says.
Besides the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the GGWI has faced several other problems, as can be expected with a project of this size, the most serious of which is security. Extremists, traffickers and terrorist organisations are all operating in various countries of the Sahel where the GGWI has been working, forcing them to retreat. “Burkina Faso, for instance, was one of our best and most successful practices, but we had to abandon about 60% [of our work] because of the security issues. We abandoned most of the areas that were being intervened in Mali, such as Timbuktu.
These are key areas but we had to abandon [them] because of security issues. In Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad as well,” says Tangem. These are all issues that simply weren’t there, certainly on this scale, in 2005 when the programme started. In addition, Somalia forms a large part of the initiative’s strategy, but the GGWI is unable to operate there because of extremist organisation Al-Shabaab. Not only are these groups having a disastrous impact on the ground on the GGWI’s ability to carry out its programmes, but they have also discouraged funders, says Tangem, although he also points out that countries that are more secure have demonstrated more long-lasting results.
Ethiopia, for instance, has managed to restore 15 million hectares of degraded land. One other challenge facing the GGWI is a need to upscale domestic investment and unlock further ﬁnances from the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDFC), as it cannot rely solely on development aid, something about which both Tangem and Nordheim-Larsen agree. But, as Tangem points out, he accepts there is a domestic shortfall in funding, while many of the fund’s beneﬁciary countries are dealing with more pressing short-term issues than land restoration. The security issues detailed are the most pressing of these, though as Covid-19 continues to eat into the budgets of GGWI’s biggest funders, such as the World Bank and EU, it may well, at least in the short-term, fall to second behind ﬁnancing.
Workers water the Widu tree nursery in Senegal’s Louga region, 2011 Photo: Seyllou Diallo / AFP
East Africa: food forests
Agro-ecology enterprises are helping to cushion African farmers and smallholders against climate change, improve nutrition and generate income
Ruth Okalo in her food forest garden, which has avocado trees, passion fruit and Leucaena leucocephala, a tropical forage tree whose leaves she uses for fodder and firewood Photo: Justus Wanzala
Chirping birds welcome you to Bio Gardening Innovations (BIOGI) a local not-for-proﬁt organisation and demonstration centre in Vihiga county, western Kenya. The centre is a mass of fruit trees, other exotic and indigenous tree species and vegetables, tuber crops, a rabbit hutch, a ﬁshpond ﬁlled with collected rainwater, and a kitchen. Although measuring less than an acre, the centre resembles a natural forest teeming with abundance.
BIOGI’s goals are to address challenges of climate change, deforestation and food insecurity through innovative agro- ecological principles and sustainable management of natural resources, and the NPO works with more than 2,000 smallholder farmers and their groups in Vihiga and Kakamega counties. The two counties have one thing in common, a high population density. Vihiga has a population density of 1,047 people per square kilometre, while Kakamega has a density of 618 per square kilometre.
Population density has contributed to deforestation, soil degradation and biodiversity loss in the region, but farmers, in partnership with BIOGI, have set up community learning ecosites as places to incubate new ideas for how to create regenerative enterprises in support of livelihoods in a sustainable manner. These enterprises include setting up food forests or organic gardens, in addition to rearing small livestock to cushion farmers and smallholders against climate, improve nutrition and generate income.
Farmers are also taught innovative approaches to crop and animal husbandry. These include aspects of permaculture, seed banking, organic farming, pre- and post-harvest handling and bio-fertiliser making. Ferdinand Wafula, BIOGI’s Chief Executive Officer, explains that the food forests concept is a farming system that involves integrating trees into food gardens. Food forests, he says, mimic natural forests. “Soil degradation and high demand for wood fuel led to deforestation and poor harvests, which prompted farmers to collectively seek innovative remedies that ensure sustainable agriculture,” he explains.
Simon Amwoyo is among the local farmers affiliated to BIOGI. Amwoyo undertakes various activities on his one hectare farm, where he grows a variety of fruit trees such as mangoes and avocados, as well as Grevillea Robusta, a species used as a source of wood for fuel and timber. He also grows Calliandra and Sesbania trees, which provide fodder. “I have a tree forest and I also grow cassava, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bananas and indigenous vegetables,” Amwoyo says, adding that the skills offered by BIOGI have enabled him to establish a ﬁshpond, an apiary and keep livestock. He has also learnt better ways of using wood-ﬁred cooking stoves and to recycle farm waste for organic manure, all of which have enabled him to meet the daily needs of his household.
Likewise, Ruth Okalo, who is also affiliated to BIOGI, says she has been able to seamlessly incorporate her food forest and organic garden into rearing livestock. Okalo, who grows bananas, sweet potatoes and indigenous vegetables alongside fruits and Grevillea Robusta, also rears dairy cattle. “I am self-reliant and I supplement the income of my husband instead of depending on him as I used to do before becoming a member of BIOGI,” she says. Wafula says the practices espoused by BIOGI are turning around the lives of farmers because they mitigate against climate change and environmental degradation.
The forest cover provides protection for food and fodder crops, increasing the production of food and other farm goods that meet farmers’ needs in the short-, mid- and long-term, he says. Food forests also contribute to improving Kenya’s forest cover, given that the national average is less than 8%. The farmers, he adds, are also involved in regenerative enterprises such as converting waste into organic manure and fodder. The farmers working with BIOGI have also harnessed indigenous knowledge to ensure climate resilience, Wafula says. “As part of the local culture, the community had traditional seed banks to preserve the germplasms of indigenous crops.
They knew how to undertake seed selection and methods of preserving them until next planting season.” To that end, he told Africa in Fact, they have now helped to establish a farm seed bank to preserve the seeds of endangered, indigenous crops, especially vegetables. BIOGI also educates partner smallholders on ways of preparing the produce and thus encouraging their consumption. As part of the move to include regenerative enterprises in the value chain, so boosting the local economy, the farmers prepare and sell traditional dishes using indigenous crops. Participating farmers are also taught how to establish and manage organic gardens, Wafula says.
They also receive training in integrating small livestock with crop farming, which can have beneﬁts for nutrient recycling and renewable energy utilisation. Variants of BIOGI’s approach are appearing in other sub-Saharan countries. The approach is certainly applicable on a continent of some 51 million farms, of which 80% (41 million) are smaller than two hectares, according to the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017 of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Richard Kimbowa, chairman of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), East Africa, says the concept is also practised in Uganda. The establishment of food forests in the East African country, he says, has resulted in a range of agroforestry systems, including the use of mangoes and avocado trees in home gardens. Food forests contribute to the maintenance of existing agro-pastoral systems involving livestock, such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, Kimbowa says. Food forests keep land under cover, thus mitigating degradation, deforestation and pollution from the overuse of agrochemicals.
They also provide ﬁrewood, which most farmers depend on for energy. Moreover, the trees contribute to improving air quality and and the development of microclimates. Unfortunately, food forests also face various challenges. “Food forests are threatened by the policies of governments that favour large-scale and commercial farming, resulting in displacements and land grabs with considerable socio- economic effects,” Kimbowa says. At the same time, rising population growth means that more farmers require extension services and education to help them adopt new technologies.
Chris Macoloo, Africa’s regional director for World Neighbors (WN), an international NGO that educates communities about solutions to challenges such as hunger and poverty, says many smallholder farmers may also view food forest practices as competition for other proﬁtable land uses such as cropping and livestock rearing. “Trees are seen as competing with crops for available and limited essential resources such as labour, water and nutrients. The farmers we work with also initially lack the skills and technical expertise needed for establishing and managing agroforestry systems.”
But he agrees that food forests enhance food security and biodiversity protection. “They create a suitable habitat for wildlife and insects, including pollinators,” he says. “They also enrich the soil with organic matter and support the control of pests and diseases, enhancing and promoting agro-ecology.” Partner farmers work on their own farms, and are therefore more motivated to plant and manage the trees than those who cultivate communal areas. Moreover, he says, research has shown that vegetables, fruit trees and shrubs are more productive when cultivated in a near-natural habitat model such as that provided by the food forests.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) runs a project, the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), which offers ﬁnancial support and technical assistance to strengthen forest and farm producer organisations, says Philip Kisoyan, a programme coordinator. He describes food forests as “multi-storey gardens” that include root crops, cover crops, vegetables and fruits. “Our goal is to enable farmers to adequately beneﬁt from tree products such as fuel wood, timber, fodder for livestock and fruits.”
The choice of tree species to plant depends on climatic and ecological factors as well as the farmer’s needs. “Some farmers opt for multipurpose trees for fruits, fodder, timber and fuel wood, while others go for early maturing species,” says Kisoyan. The FFF works with smallholder famers in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Africa, the programme operaties in Kenya, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia Ghana and Madagascar. It is also operating in Bolivia, Latin America and Vietnam in Asia, according to Kisoyan. “Smallholder farmers are a critical part of society, but without support they can’t fully fulﬁl their potential,” he told Africa in Fact.
They represent a huge number of our farmers. If organised and empowered with skills and capital, they could form a signiﬁcant segment of the private sector.” Supporting farmers to organise into groups and co-operatives, he adds, also empowers them to collectively seek markets, inputs and add value to their products. The food forest concept is crucial for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, he argues. “There are more trees on farms than in designated forests in Kenya. Around 40% of timber sold in Kenya is from farms.”
Like other food security specialists, Kisoyan points to the many beneﬁts offered by food forests. In his view, the key factor is that they improve biodiversity, which contributes to high crop productivity by offering a habitat for pollinators – bees and birds. Like the WN’s Chris Macoloo, though, he says that the concept and practice of food forests faces challenges. Incentives to cultivate a food forest can be adversely affected by government policy, or a lack of knowledge, or the availability of appropriate technology. Kenya’s position on trees is a case in point, he says.
“When you plant a tree it’s your personal decision, but should you require to cut and transport it, you’re compelled to obtain authorisation from authorities.” All the same, food forests are gaining popularity in Africa, says Ru Hartwell, director of Community Carbon Link, which runs a forestry project connecting Wales and Kenya. The organisation is currently working with a community in Bore, along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, to promote farm forestry. In Hartwell’s view, food forests should also be seen as contributing part of a solution to a larger problem – climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has asserted that humanity will lose the battle against global warming if the tropics are not reforested, he says. “Reducing emissions in the developed world without stopping tropical deforestation won’t ﬁx the broken climate.” The poorest people in the world – who include sub-Saharan Africa’s large number of women farmers – now hold the key to ﬁghting climate change, says Hartwell. They are increasingly getting involved in reforesting, and growing trees for food, fodder, fuel and even medicinal purposes, he says. “No- one really appreciates it yet, but poor, marginalised women now hold the fate of the entire planet in their hands.”
Meanwhile, Stepha McMullin, a scientist at the Nairobi-based International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), also called the World Agroforestry Centre, says her organisation promotes the cultivation of various species, including indigenous and under-utilised African food trees and crops, such as baobab, moringa and sorindeia. “These are crops with under- exploited potential for food and nutrition security and they have been ignored by researchers,” she says. “They can provide fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils into the local food system.”
However, fruit consumption remains low in sub-Saharan Africa, largely because seasonality poses a challenge. Moreover, the short windows of harvests, and gluts of certain species at particular times, lower market prices, McMullin says. “Fortunately, seasonality also provides opportunities, not just for income generation but, importantly, for food security and nutrition.” To take account of these issues, ICRAF has developed a “portfolio” approach to address the seasonal availability of foods in local food systems, based on studies of the mixes of trees and crops best suited to particular areas. Some 17 location-speciﬁc portfolios have been developed across East Africa in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somaliland, says McMullin.
Working with national partners and local farming communities, the centre promotes relevant portfolios to local farmers, training them on the beneﬁts of diversiﬁcation, tree planting and management, and the importance of using quality seed and seedlings. McMullin believes farmers can be incentivised to adopt food forests if they are involved in the research process. Researchers need to provide them with information on the diversity of food tree species that can be cultivated in their localities, and the opportunities for income that they offer. Crops derived from trees have an additional beneﬁt, she argues.
“The extensive roots of trees make them more drought tolerant than annual crops, so they can provide food in dry periods when other food sources are not available.” Meanwhile, Nicholas Syano, co- founder and chief executive officer of the Drylands Natural Resource Centre (DNRC), which promotes agro-ecology among farmers in eastern Kenya, agrees that food forests can play a role in climate resilience.
“This isn’t really a new concept, but rather part of indigenous knowledge which the continent had lost,” he says. Traditionally, homes would have forest gardens with food crops such as mangoes, guavas, avocadoes and cashew nuts, root crops such as sweet potatoes, as well as beans as a cover crop, vegetables, medicinal herbs, shrubs, climbers, and fruit trees, among others. BIOGI, it seems, is on the right path, back to the future.
Case study: Talensi, Ghana
A low-cost, easily replicated land restoration technique has helped smallholders in northern Ghana resist the ravages of climate change
Farmers select pineapple plants to be cultivated on a farm in Ekumfi, Ghana, 2018 Photo: Christina Aldehuela
Although climate change has not received as much discussion as it should have in Ghana, it has taken its toll on the Talensi district in the upper east region of the country. Fortunately for the farmers in the area, a Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) project, sponsored by World Vision Ghana, has helped to alleviate its effects on the people. The project, which has been well received and is showing signs of success thus far, could be replicated across the African continent to increase food and timber production as well as resilience to climate extremes.
The Talensi district forms part of the 15 municipalities and districts in the upper east region and is one of 260 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). About 90% of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Production of the main staple food crops, namely cereals and legumes, is done by smallholder farmers using traditional methods, which have made little room for modern scientiﬁc advancement. The main crops produced are millet, sorghum, groundnut and beans. These are dependent on annual rain, which has become erratic over the years, leading to poor harvests.
Inusah Baba, a senior research scientist at the Savannah Agriculture Research Institute of Ghana’s Council for Scientiﬁc and Industrial Research (CSIR), says the Ghanaian authorities have woken up to the fact that climate change is a phenomenon that is not remote to the country. Changing weather conditions have also led to flooding, which has become an annual ritual in all major farming communities on the banks of the White Volta [the headstream of the Volta River, Ghana’s main waterway], Inusah said. As a result, many people’s crops have been washed away by flood waters.
In addition, the erratic rains have reduced yields for most crops grown in northern Ghana. Moreover, in recent years intermittent droughts – which are understood to consist of three or more weeks with no signiﬁcant rains – have also combined with unusually high temperatures in March through to April, affecting the period between August and September, when most crops are grown under rain- fed conditions. Farmers in the Talensi district, however, say that World Vision’s FMNR has helped to maintain their livelihoods.
Standing in his ﬁelds, wearing his fugu – a cotton outﬁt worn by men – John Anaba, a farmer at Namoalug in the Talensi district, said he was proud of what he had been able to achieve using only hoes and cutlasses. However, changes in the weather had given him good and bad times, he said. He did not understand what climate change was, but the weather had changed in recent years, negatively affecting his crops and those of others in the district. It was “better now”, he added.
“The Talensi FMNR, is a rapid, low-cost, easily replicated land restoration technique to combat poverty and hunger that works with communities and partners to restore degraded lands in the district so as to improve on soil health for healthy agricultural production,” World Vision Ghana’s food security and resilience technical programmes manager, Maxwell Amedi, told Africa in Fact. In practice, FMNR involves the systematic regrowth and management of trees and shrubs from felled tree stumps, which helps to sprout root systems or seeds.
The regrown trees and shrubs, which help restore soil structure and fertility, inhibit erosion and soil moisture evaporation, rehabilitate the water table and increase biodiversity. Some tree species also provide the soil with nutrients. The FMNR approach encourages the use of living tree stumps, which can resprout or produce seeds. When trees are cut down, their root systems often remain alive underground. “In many formerly forested areas this underground forest [may be] vast, with millions of trees waiting to be regenerated. FMNR systematically regenerates this underground forest,” he said.
The project is a tree management practice, involving selection, pruning, protection and maintenance, and also empowers communities, regreening both community mindsets and peoples’ relationship with nature and the landscape. Preparation for the FMNR project started in October 2006, with the support of World Vision Australia (WVA). “WVA’s aim was to improve the socio- economic living conditions of the people in the Talensi area,” Amendi says. “The WVA contributed to this goal through a programme focus approach that tackled deep-rooted issues of poverty, economic empowerment and capacity building in health and nutrition, education, water sanitation and hygiene, environmental sustainability and livelihood empowerment.”
Farmers tapping rubber trees to collect latex at Agona, Ghana, 2019 Photo: Christina Aldehuela
The FMNR did not just take off, Amendi says. “A baseline study was conducted before the implementation of each of the three phases. With each phase, we worked with the communities to reverse land degradation and hunger resulting from poor soils in the district.” In addition to the drought, floods, and erratic rainfall patterns mentioned, the Talensi district is vulnerable to infertile and degraded soils, food insecurity, land scarcity, with occasional disease outbreaks of cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM). To further test the viability of the project before it was fully implemented, a pilot was started in 2009, which aimed to incorporate sound environmental management into the farming practices in the project area.
This led to the first phase, which started in 2009 and ended in 2011, involving nine communities using the FMNR concept. So far, more than 3,000 people have benefited, and the project has helped restore over 400 hectares of degraded lands. “After successfully implementing the first phase, the second phase began in 2012 and ended in 2017,” Amendi says, adding that, “The second phase was implemented in 33 communities with funding support from Computer Share Australia through WVA. It benefited more than 8,000 people and restored over 700 hectares of degraded lands in the district.”
The third phase of the project started in July 2017 and ended in June this year, with funding support from the Australian government through WVA. It aimed to beneﬁt 8,000 people and restore another 500 hectares of degraded land. WVA has similar FMNR projects in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burundi, and Senegal, the organisation’s media manager, Mike Bruce, told Africa in Fact. The outcomes differ slightly from community to community, depending on circumstances.
“I have seen the difference that the project has brought to my people,” farmer John Anaba says. “Before, it was like the soil had quarrelled with us. Our crops refused to show any sign of life. We were just the forgotten people in the country, and food to feed our families became a problem.” So far, the project has seen an improvement in household food security and the resilience of people in the Talensi district, especially the most vulnerable and their families. This has happened through farmer-managed natural regeneration approaches and improved farming systems.
In addition, there has been better environmental management and stewardship, as well as an improvement in household income and savings among the people. Two project evaluations have taken place, both of which have shown that the approach has resulted in an increase in soil fertility and crop yield, as well as improvements in bulk compost and ﬁeld mulching with crop residue, which has produced more food, Amendi says. Moreover, bush ﬁres, once an annual occurrence, have been reduced by 80%, protecting the soil and allowing grasses and trees to recover, leading to massive reforestation of farms and communal ﬁelds.
The district now produces more fodder and nesting for livestock, which means the animals do not need to wander to feed. More fruit is available for home consumption and for sale, and more ﬁrewood is available. In total, the project has restored over 2,000 hectares of degraded land, with more than 10,000 farmers using conservation practices such as zero/minimum tillage, the use of stone bund walls, protecting the soil with layers of the residue from harvest crops, and making and using compost to improve soil fertility.
Other people in the district, among them several women, commented that FMNR has had a huge impact on the Talensi district by improving smallholder farmers’ levels of the production and reducing environmental degradation. Overall, the approach has seen an increase in opportunities for livelihoods and incomes for the people in the area.
Coal: fuel to the fire
Malawi is investing heavily in a new coal-fired plant despite the country’s stated commitment to renewables
Coal in Malawi is mainly used in local cement manufacturing and by tobacco companies Photo: Collins Mtika
Malawi plans to bankroll a coal-powered plant despite current worldwide disdain for using the fossil fuel. The country’s appetite for political appeasement has fuelled government non-adherence to its own policies and strategic documents that direct it to focus on renewables to meet its future energy needs. The $700 million, 300-megawatt Kam’mwamba coal-ﬁred plant, to be built in southern Malawi, will have a 30-year lifespan once operational, even though as of 2016 the country had coal reserves pegged at 2.2 million metric tonnes lasting just 26 years.
“We see this project supporting industrial growth as there are expectations of opening other mines and creating jobs. Moreover, Malawi coal has less than 1% sulphur content hence safe to the environment,” energy consultant Grain Malunga told Africa in Fact. The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) says the country has the potential to produce 745 MW to 1,670 MW, based on its coal resources, 630,000 metric tonnes of uranium for nuclear power and 60,000 hectares of biomass, which can provide an additional 50 MW.
Malawi consumes about 120,000 tonnes of coal per annum, most of which is used in the local cement manufacturing and steam generation industries. Malawi currently, imports about 65,000 metric tonnes of coal per year, mostly from Mozambique, at a cost of around $4 million. Less than 10% of Malawi has access to electricity, giving the country one of the lowest electriﬁcation rates in the world, according to the World Bank. The electricity grid is concentrated in urban centres, where only 25% of households have access compared to a mere 1% percent of rural households.
The government has introduced a carbon tax, which is levied on all motor vehicle owners who renew their annual Certiﬁcate of Fitness (COF). The stated aim is to mitigate the extreme effects of climate change. Yet the same government is promoting projects that are contrary to the goals of decarbonisation. In 2015, President Peter Mutharika joined world leaders in adopting the 17-point Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs chart a pathway to end poverty and environmental ruin by ensuring that everyone uses clean and sustainable energy by 2030, among other things.
Local experts claim Malawi coal has 1% sulphur hence does less harm to the environment Photo: Collins Mtika
At home, however, his government acts differently. The country’s rush to the coalﬁelds to kickstart Kam’mwamba seems a kneejerk and desperate reaction following in the footsteps of South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Nigeria, among other African countries. China had pledged to ﬁnance the project in its entirety, but backtracked in 2019, forcing the Malawi government to shoulder the cost on its own, using the public purse. Malawi’s pursuit of coal to meet the country’s power needs contradicts its documented policies in the power sector, which do not mention coal as a source of power.
The Malawi Energy Policy (2003) envisages a steady increase in hydroelectric power generation, a reduction in biomass use, and steady growth in renewable sources, especially solar, wind and micro-hydropower plants. The government agrees that pollution is already rampant in areas where coal mining currently takes place. “Yes, the companies are culprits when it comes to pollution and environmental degradation, Ministry of Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Phiri said. “But you must know that they do that in selected areas where the members of the community are also involved in clearing huge areas of forest, so we must all take responsibility in taking care of our environment.”
However, mining companies in Malawi generally take advantage of the government’s laxity in policing mining regulations that deal with environmental protection, noted Natural Resources Justice Network chairperson Kossam Munthali. “The situation in these communities is just too bad. Apart from air pollution, most of the mining companies dig deep pits and leave without ﬁlling them in, and they are now turning into death traps. All of this is simply because the government is not serious,” Munthali said.
Malawi signalled its commitment to the ﬁght against climate change and its effects by the introduction of the aforementioned carbon tax. But instead of the funds being channelled to the Climate Change fund – which government established in 2018 to provide ﬁnancial and other resources for undertaking climate change interventions – the funds are deposited into the government’s Account Number One. This account is an infamous black hole, as it is prone to political interference and abuse. Africa’s affinity with coal-ﬁred power plants reflects a failure of the continent’s governments.
Coal mines in Malawi are not fully mechanised Photo: Collins Mtika
For decades, the leadership has not only ignored the best available advice but has also glossed over information on new forms of energy. “Policy drives implementation of renewable energy across the world. Eskom (South Africa’s major power provider) relied primarily on coal for electricity production until the South African government published the white paper on renewable energy in 2003,” Professor Sampson Mamphweli, Director: Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, at Stellenbosch University, South Africa said in a presentation he gave at the Power Week Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa in September, 2019.
Mamphweli noted that sub-Saharan Africa had the highest renewable energy share among all regions of the globe due to the large consumption of solid biomass in the residential sector, with the region’s use of modern renewables signiﬁcantly below the global average. “The continent’s electricity supply was mainly fossil fuels-based, until recently. [But] following high-level declarations at the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Conference in late 2015, there is a growing interest in renewable energy in the African continent,” he said. According to an article in the Economist in July 2019, wealthy countries should stop operating coal plants by 2030 if they are to limit global warming.
Needless to say, a splurge on coal will make it harder for African countries to uphold their end of the bargain. Of the 108 countries that have thus far indicated that they will step up their climate commitments in 2020, as required by the Paris agreement, some 47 are in Africa, Professor Carlos Lopes from the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town noted in an article, titled ‘Africa must choose renewables over coal’ published by Project Syndicate in February this year.
“This is particularly critical for Africa, which is disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of global warming: more frequent and severe tropical storms, droughts, and floods, all of which have devastated African communities and economies in recent years,” Lopes wrote. In Africa, South Africa remains the leader in its use of coal, despite controversial deals, corruption and opposition from environmentalists. “Despite the economic and social case for renewables, new coal-ﬁred plants are still being planned across Africa. With projects expected to come online in Zimbabwe, Senegal, Nigeria, and Mozambique, the continent’s coal-ﬁred power capacity could increase from three gigawatts today to as much as 17 GW by 2040,” Lopes said.
“Shifting away from coal is good, not only for the climate, but also for Africa’s economy and people. In many regions, renewable energy is now cheaper than coal, even without subsidies.” Furthermore, he added, shifting to renewables could improve energy access quickly and affordably, while avoiding air pollution.