Monday, September 15, 2014

Ebola virus exposes Africa’s soft underbelly

The spread of the Ebola virus has been fast and deadly. The Ebola outbreak is the largest in history and the first in West Africa. As of September 6, 2014, World Health Organization (WHO) said it had recorded about 4,300 cases in five West African countries and the death toll was estimated at about 2,300.
But new figures from Liberia, the country worst hit by the Ebola crisis, are yet to be released. According to WHO, we should expect thousands of new cases in the next three weeks. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says the crisis could worsen as the public health system staggers with inadequate supplies, a population gripped in deathly fear and limited outside support. As always, in emergencies such as this, global response if often slow and limited in scale. 
While the devastation wrought by Ebola is both saddening and depressing it is hardly surprising. Ebola has hit some of the most impoverished countries and has exposed well-known vulnerabilities in Africa’s public health infrastructure. With vision and dedication, Liberia has made steady progress in delivering basic health care to its citizens since the end of the civil war in 2003. But vision and dedication does not cut it. Liberia’s health care system is beset with crippling capacity problems; a chronic shortage health care professionals, lack of equipment and poor supply of essential medicines.
Lack of capacity to deliver health critical services are not limited to Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria or Sierra Leone. These are critical concerns as Africa continues to grapple with a multitude of health challenges, not least of which is the unyielding burden of infectious diseases, which account for neatly 70 percent of deaths on the continent. But Africa’s fragile health systems must confront a new challenge. WHO projects that over the next 10 years the continent will register the largest increase in mortality from Non-communicable diseases (NCDs); cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases.
The burden of chronic illness in Africa is projected to increase by 27 percent, killing 28 million people over the next 10 years. Cancer rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to rise by 85 percent by 2030. Similarly, it is estimated that 41.5 million African will be living with diabetes by 2035. In addition to the staggering burden of infectious diseases, the cost of treating NCDs, direct and indirect economic burden of chronic illness will further hinder progress toward attaining the broader goals of sustainable development.
Africa’s shambolic healthcare infrastructure must be viewed against the Africa rising narrative. Africa is ascending economically. Africa is seen an emerging market by many in the global business community. Moreover, Africa’s youthfulness and its bonanza of its mineral resources, including hydrocarbons make it truly the continent of the future. However, Africa rising narrative reminds me of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus.
Daedalus constructed wings, from feathers and wax, for himself and his son Icarus so they could escape from the Labyrinth in Crete.  Before they set off, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high lest the sun melt the wax. Overcome by the excitement of flying, Icarus ignored his father’s warning, flew to close to sun, his wings melted and he crushed into the sea.
Here is why the Icarus and Daedalus myth is relevant to Africa. African leaders and the international business community are overwhelmed by the Africa rising narrative, which is purely based on headline GDP and the surge in commodity trade. To realize its potential fully in the long run, Africans needs forge strategic partnerships to mobilize public and private investments to tackle some of the continent’s most enduring challenges.

What Africa needs, if it is, to claim to the 21st century is a solid foundation of human capacity. Africa must lay the foundation upon which to build world-class human capital for the future by investing significant budget and planning resources in education and skill building for the youth, healthcare, affordable housing for a burgeoning urban population, water and sanitation services for its vast rural population, food and nutrition security for the hundreds of millions who are hungry and malnourished.

I have always argued that Africa’s neglected priority challenges will not resolve inevitably, and in honor of Africa’s meteoric GDP growth. The Ebola emergency has shone a bright light on Africa’s underlying problem, governance incapacity, which is manifested in weak and ineffective public institutions. We have work do to. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Healthier Diets and Smart Agriculture Key to Addressing Global Warming

It is axiomatic that we live in the Anthropocene, which in my view is a post-Holocene epoch exemplified by mankind’s unchallenged dominion over the earth. Our capacity to change the chemical, physical and biological attributes of our planet has been likened to the aftermath of a volcano or earthquake or glacier. 

At the heart of the dysfunction of our relationship with our home, planet earth is the structure of the modern economy and our dietary choices, especially high consumption of animal products in developed countries, and now increasingly in developing countries.

Our addiction to fossil fuels, as well as a surge the in demand for food, fodder, biofuels, and meat products has precipitated unprecedented emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These gases are referred to as greenhouse gases because when they are released into the atmosphere they trap solar radiation, raising regional and global temperatures and alter entire climate systems. The effects of a changing climate system are manifested in extreme weather – droughts, floods and heat waves – rising oceans, hunger and conflict over scarce resources, as well as emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

Globally, efforts aimed at slowing down global warming have been limited to regulatory mechanisms and financial incentives necessary to reduce emissions from industry, energy and transportation. Moreover, we have been pre-occupied with the effects of global warming on agriculture. Until recently the contribution of the global food system to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change has receive d tepid attention.

It is estimated that agriculture contributes between 19 and 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Land use change, especially conversion of forests to pasture and cropland in the tropics releases more carbon dioxide annually than does every bus, car, train and truck in the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) methane accounts for nearly half of total agricultural emissions. The largest source of methane is the digestion of organic materials by livestock. Agriculture generates 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide and 35 percent of methane, which have 289 times and 25 times the Global Warming Potential (amount of heat trapped per unit mass of gas) of carbon dioxide respectively.

FAO has projected that cropland and pasture-based food production will increase by 60 percent by 2050 to meet rising global food demand owing to population growth and affluent diet preferences. This implies that cropland must expand by circa 42 percent, fertilizer application will increase by 45 percent and tropical forest cover will decline by a further 10 percent to create land for agriculture.

A new study, “Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation”, led by University of Cambridge scholars and published in the journal Nature Climate Change warns that an increase in global food demand would result in a whopping 77 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Clearly, to push for more food production by adding more land, more technology, more inputs and more livestock could erode critical planetary boundaries and push vital earth systems beyond critical thresholds into alternative but sub-optimal states.

Meeting global food supply needs must not only happen though increased agricultural production. Options that address the demand side of global food must be on the table. In this regard, healthier diets through consuming less meat products, reducing food waste and cutting food losses (both pre-and-post-harvest) must be part of a combination of solutions to ensure food security while avoiding dangerous climate change.

For example, reduction of global meat consumption could halt deforestation and achieve significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, the 1 billion tonnes of barley, wheat, oats, rye, maize and sorghum that go into livestock feeding troughs to produce meat could nourish half of the world’s 7.2 billion population. Moreover, it is estimated that the amount of food wasted in the developed world, 2.3 billion tonnes, is equivalent to the entire food production in Africa. FAO estimates that eliminating post harvest losses could bring an additional 14 million tonnes annually to Africa’s cereal ledger.

Climate change mitigation policies must not focus solely on energy and transportation sectors. By consuming less meat, eliminating waste and reducing post harvest losses, our food system can be part of the solution to the climate crisis, complementing efforts to de-carbonize our economies. Moreover, adopting agroforestry practices offers significant carbon sequestration benefits, enhancing our capacity to achieve food security without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to grow Africa's middle class

After nearly a decade of uninterrupted economic expansion, governments, investors and market analysts are hysterical with excitement about Africa’s emerging consumer class.

According to the 2013 Annual Development Effectiveness Report of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Africa’s middle class, which earned between $2 and $20 a day had reached 350 million. The proportion of the population living below the poverty line dropped from 51 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2012.

However, this discovery of Africa’s trove of middle class was greeted with both optimism and caution. The mushrooming malls persuaded the optimists while caution was motivated by the findings of the Global Pacific, which estimated that Africa’s middle class was less than five percent, with a majority living in countries such as South Africa, Egypt, Botswana, Nigeria, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco. Tiny pockets of Africa’s middle class also live in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda.

In March this year, I argued in this column that the growth and size of Africa’s middle class was not adequately measured. A new report, Understanding Africa’s middle class, by Standard Bank now shows that AfDB’s estimates of Africa’s middle class were exaggerated. The study analyzed 11 of the biggest economies in the region, which account for about half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population and GDP.

The economies of these 11 countries have expanded tenfold since the year 2000. The 11 countries in the study are Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Today the combined GDP is estimated at $1 trillion– about half of Africa’s combined GDP.

Using a more robust definition, globally valid definition of “middle class”, the report concluded that Africa’s lower middle class and middle-class comprised individuals consuming from $15 to $115 a day. This is in dramatic contrast with the $2 to $20 definition of the middle class by AfDB in 2011. However, the Standard Bank report, like the AfDB report, shows dramatic growth in Africa’s middle class.

On the positive side, the ascent of Africa’s middle class signifies that Africa’s prosperity, which has been in under the tight grip of politically connected elite is percolating, and finding its way into broader classes of society. This also implies that a socio-economic class is emerging, which could buttress Africa’s fledgling democracies.

But here is what we must to pay attention to. Both the richer and poorer classes have grown. This means that the distributions are unchanged. About 86 percent of households in the 11 countries studied fall within the low-income band. These households are vulnerable, highly marginalized and often unable to allocate income or earnings to non-food expenditure.

Moreover, the scale of income and wealth inequality in our societies is both unprecedented and dangerous. In Kenya for example, 10 percent of the wealthiest households control more than 42 percent of the total income, while the poorest 10 percent control less than 1 percent.  In his Apostolic Exhortation in November 2013, Pope Francis wrote; “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world”.

Africa’s tide of growth will not, inevitably, lift all the boats. What is needed to grow the ranks of Africa’s middle class is targeted policy, to increase agricultural productivity, expand access to nutrition for children, water and sanitation high quality education. I submit that agriculture is the stone the builders of African economies forgot. For as long as more than 75 percent of Africans are employed in small family farms and trapped in collapsing rural economies, Africa’s middle class will remain small and brittle.

The IMF and the World Bank have attributed Africa’s ascent and economic growth to prudent macro-economic management. I argue that sound fiscal policies alone will not deliver what Africa sorely needs: equitable and transformative economic growth. To reduce poverty and grow the middle class, Africa must develop pro-poor policies targeting public investment in agriculture and rural development. A Vibrant agriculture-led rural economy will reduce rural poverty, undergird political stability and provide cheap, reliable food supply for urban-based industrial workers. 

Poverty reduction and the rise of Africa’s middle class will depend solely on growth models that are accompanied by structural transformation where agriculture becomes more efficient and excess rural labor shifts from primary production to higher productivity sectors in agricultural value addition, manufacturing and services. 


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