“It is the tortoise’s shell, ugly and hard that protects its lifelong journey on Earth,” this African proverb highlights the divide between public policy and its implementation in Africa. Public policy is the biggest driver of change, and the people who implement policy are ordinary Africans.
Policies, institutions, regulations, and procedures, regardless of how cutting edge they are, will remain unrealized as long as ordinary citizens continue to relegate implementation to governments alone.
Ordinary citizens are the proverbial tortoise’s shell to Africa’s economies. They are the missing link in making sure policies that already exist work as intended to improve the lives of ordinary Africans.
One area in which the public policy divide plays out spectacularly is in the climate change space. Compared to Europe and North America, Africa as a whole has invested significantly in enabling legal and policy frameworks. For example, 52 out of 54 countries in Africa have ratified their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), making Africa the most compliant region globally.
NDCs balance both mitigation and adaptation commitments. As countries move to submit their second-round commitments, already 9 African countries have submitted theirs with 2 submitting stronger targets. Over 40 more have committed to enhancing their 2020 NDCs. Through internal policy prioritization, Africa has invested in climate resilience at a rate of about 2% of GDP every year. All of this is in addition to enabling sectoral policies, such as climate-smart agriculture policies.
What Africa needs to bridge the implementation divide, is not development dollars alone, but a citizenry that is bold, visionary, and selfless enough to devise enterprise solutions to challenges that affect every corner of Africa. The catchment for this citizenry is the informal sector, which already accounts for over 80% of all employment in sub-Saharan Africa. Another catchment is African youth, which constitutes up to 60% of Africa’s population making them the most significant non-state actor constituency in size, that urgently needs to be tapped to drive climate action policy forward.
Innovative volunteerism offers climate action solutions throughout Africa. Through innovative volunteerism, lessons accrued from youth in one corner of the continent are cross hybridized with willing actors in another corner of the continent without physical engagement. This is accomplished through leveraging on the passion and willingness of the volunteers themselves, as well as digital technology. With this tool, we are seeing how this dynamic can play out practically, but at a micro-level.
For example, Africa’s NDCs commitments include elements of both emissions reduction as well as resilience building. While Africa has contributed the least to global emissions, it stands out as the most disproportionally vulnerable region globally. Through innovative volunteerism, young people are being structurally guided to step up to the plate, and implement elements of Africa’s NDC policy provisions, informed by socioeconomic realities. For example, most emissions from sub-Saharan Africa are land-based accounting for up to 56%, driven by land degradation. Agriculture is a leading source of this degradation.
A significant portion of the land in Africa is cleared for agriculture. However, a significant portion of the harvest ends up as postharvest losses, estimated to be close to $48 billion. This means the goods and services expended in producing this food is lost, fueling further land degradation. In addition, a myriad of income and enterprise opportunities that would have arisen from value addition to increase socioeconomic resilience of communities, are also lost.
However, these young people are being structurally guided to leverage their skills and passion to work with local farmers, cluster them into local cooperatives to leverage economies of scale, and decentralize simple climate action solutions of solar dryers to enable value addition. These solar dryers are enhancing food safety by lowering incidents of dangerous aflatoxin by 53%, enabling farmers to increase the shelf-life of perishables thus cutting postharvest losses to ensure efficient utilization of the ecosystem services used to produce the foods Africans consume.
From these practical steps, data has been generated on the financial, market, environmental, and social benefits of youth actions, as well as the gaps that need to be addressed to sustain and upscale these successes. It is this data that is then used to recalibrate policy and make it more implementable. For example, data showing the benefits, applicability, and popularity of solar dryers in preventing aflatoxins among informal food producers were used to recalibrate national food safety and food production standards to achieve specific food safety and production standards. This integration means that any actor willing to be certified in these standards must apply the solar dryers as a tool for compliance. And by this, we see climate-smart agriculture policies that address food security issues throughout Africa.
“Being in the forest and failing to see trees is a curse,” this African proverb is a reminder that we cannot afford to fail to tap opportunities that are within reach. Citizen participation in public policy implementation is one such area that the continent must urgently leverage to bridge the policy implementation divide.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.
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