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African Development Bank Puts Climate Adaptation ’on Steroids’ by Investing in Young People

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, Jan 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — The African Development Bank plans to deploy billions of dollars to help young people build a new digitally-driven model of agriculture that can feed the continent's people and boost prosperity even as the planet heats up, its president said.

At a global summit this week, the bank and the Global Center on Adaptation announced an initiative to strengthen African efforts to become more resilient to extreme weather and rising seas, threats worsened by fast-accelerating climate change.

The African Development Bank plans to put half of its climate finance towards the initiative — $12.5 billion between now and 2025 — and raise an equal amount from donor governments, the private sector, and international climate funds.

Akinwumi Adesina, a former Nigerian agriculture minister who leads the bank, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Africa is struggling on two fronts — with the economic and health fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as climate shocks.

Drought, floods, creeping deserts, and climate-fuelled locust attacks are forcing down crop yields and driving up hunger and migration on the continent, he said.

"It's a double disaster," the official said in a video interview. "We've got to change this and give Africa what it needs to be able to adapt well to climate change."

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Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Netherlands-based Global Center on Adaptation, which has a regional office in Abidjan, said Africa was the continent most vulnerable to climate change, despite producing only 5% of global planet-heating emissions.

The new programme is an opportunity "to put adaptation on steroids", by focusing on improved food production, climate-resilient infrastructure, youth entrepreneurship, and better access to finance, he said in an online interview.

African countries are putting more of their financial resources towards adapting to climate change, he noted, even as their budgets are stretched by the pandemic.

"But there is still a massive gap. That gap needs to be filled, and it needs to be filled urgently," he added.

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Investment not 'empowerment'

Two goals of the new Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program are increasing farmers' access to digital services to help them cope with erratic weather, and providing finance to young entrepreneurs to set up agricultural businesses, Adesina said.

The bank plans to use its capital to leverage $3 billion more to support about 10,000 new youth-led companies in areas such as food logistics, distribution, and green technology, and to educate 1 million young people on adaptation, its chief said.

It will reduce the risks for commercial banks to lend to young people and provide youths with training and skills to become so-called "agripreneurs".

Adesina, a winner of the World Food Prize, said the number of African youth — now about 250 million — would exceed 840 million by 2050, and they needed to be part of the solution to climate change, even though it was a problem they did not cause.

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"What we do with them today will determine the future of Africa," he said.

Creating more green jobs was a must to prevent many leaving the continent to seek a better life elsewhere, he added.

"I don't buy (youth) 'empowerment' language... what we need is youth investment," he said.

The adaptation programme plans to mobilise $2 billion to expand climate-smart technology to improve agriculture and food security, including access to digital services, which are only available to about 13% of African farmers today, Adesina noted.

Climate advisory services will be provided to 300 million farmers by 2030 under the programme.

Expanding insurance coverage for crops and livestock, to protect farmers from climate disasters, will be key, as well as improving weather forecasts and financial services provided on smartphones and other digital devices, he said.

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The bank is already getting drought- and heat-tolerant varieties of crops such as maize and wheat to farmers in east and southern Africa, boosting yields, and testing more ecological ways of farming, such as zero-tillage, in places like Ghana.

It has also pledged to raise $6.5 billion to drive forward Africa's Great Green Wall project to plant and restore trees, grassland and vegetation on the Sahara's southern edge to keep the desert at bay and help farmers stay on their land.

Adesina said the new programme aims to expand tried-and-tested ways of helping Africans adapt to climate change.

"We know what works — we are just all tired of small-scale stuff. We want to do big things," he said.

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African agriculture needs to become more competitive, efficient, and dynamic to feed a growing population and turn farming into a thriving business instead of a "way of life", he added.

The size of Africa's food and agriculture market is expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2030, which would represent a tripling in two decades, offering far bigger business opportunities than investing in outdated forms of dirty energy, he noted.

"Anybody going to get rich in Africa is not going to get rich out of oil and gas — they are going to get rich out of agriculture," he said.