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Agribusinesses in East Africa already face several constraints affecting their overall profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability. Now, our changing climate is exacerbating the problem.

Moving from business as usual

These constraints range from low productivity of smallholder farmers (SHFs), unreliable supply chains due to over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture to inefficient value addition technologies. Climate change risks already observed in this region, have worsened some of these constraints due to low and unreliable rainfall, increasing temperatures as well as increased extreme climatic conditions such as droughts and excess rainfall. This calls for agribusinesses as well as smallholder farmers to move from business as usual to adaptation and resilience-building approaches while also limiting carbon emissions from food value chains. SHFs and Agribusinesses need to act now, their inaction will limit their ability to thrive and feed the growing number of people in East Africa and beyond.

Building sustainable and clean energy pathways to support the production and processing of food is one of the enablers for the availability of accessible and climate-resilient food. This sustained and scaled integration of sustainable and clean energy solutions in food systems requires investment in policy, innovation, and partnership. These include the development of supportive policy and regulatory frameworks that provide incentives for private sector participation and quality standards compliance. It also calls for awareness-raising; knowledge and skills development to support innovations in technology and inclusive business models; affordable financing as well as cross-sectoral coordination and partnerships.

CRAFT agribusiness model

In the era of climate change, SNV-CRAFT is facilitating an inclusive agribusiness model that aims to increase productivity, incomes, build the resilience of SHFs and agribusinesses (cooperatives and SMEs) to climate-related risks. It achieves this by leveraging private sector investments in climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies which have included renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE).

SNV-CRAFT project envisions that increasing productivity, incomes, building resilience to climate-related risks can be addressed by increasing access to productive use of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency services alongside other climate-smart technologies and practices. Adoption of renewable energy and energy efficient solutions at scale such as solar-powered irrigation, solar thermal dryers, solar-powered cooling, efficient threshing, and milling technologies, biodigesters, etc. among smallholder farmers and agribusinesses supports resilience building, adaptation, and mitigation to climate change. The low productivity and increased post-harvest losses, as well as inefficient processing constraints, can be addressed by integrating the use of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies and practices in agricultural production, post-harvest handling and processing. 

Integrating renewable energy and energy efficient technologies

SNV-CRAFT learning journey on RE and EE integration demonstrates that all food value chain actors need to understand the business case for integrating renewable energy technologies and energy efficient solutions across the agricultural value chains from production to consumption. A clear understanding of the business case support deployment of different business models that address the underlying knowledge, technology, and financing barriers to scaled adoption of renewable energy and energy efficient solutions.

Also, high-margin crops such as fruits and vegetables provide a stronger business case for the integration of RE technologies compared to CRAFT targeted low-margin crops (cereals, pulses, and oil seeds). The business case for cereals, pulses, and oilseeds is only stronger at processing where different energy management practices become evident. Nonetheless, access to sustainable energy for productive use in agriculture remains a key enabler to transforming agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa from subsistence to market-led.

Beyond the integration of other renewable energy technologies and practices, to ensure the circularity of food systems, there are tonnes of agricultural waste generated at harvest, post harvest, processing and consumption. This can be converted into energy and soil fertility improving products such as bio-slurry and biochar. The increased agricultural waste generated by smallholder farmers has overtime resulted in uncontrolled open burning practice by farmers as a land clearing and waste disposal approach. Open biomass waste burning not only affects their health, but it increases the carbon emissions generated from agricultural production.

Leverage agricultural biomass

CRAFT acknowledges the need to leverage agricultural biomass waste opportunities and the potential for generating clean energy for transforming food systems by providing energy for heating, drying, cooling, milling across value chains as well as empowering women, youth and men engaged in these agricultural value chains. These opportunities range from biogas generation to gasification as well as conversion of agricultural waste to cooking and heating fuels such as briquettes. These opportunities provide sustainable and low carbon pathways in food systems. Agricultural waste to bioenergy conversion beyond reducing carbon emissions has the potential to generate jobs and income for youth and women, therefore building their resilience.

Value chain actors working together

As SNV-CRAFT demonstrates, this is a sustainable and inclusive pathway to supporting millions of smallholder farmers. It is therefore critical for all value chain actors to act towards integrating renewable energy and energy efficient solutions for improved productivity, resilience building and reducing carbon emissions in agricultural production, processing and marketing. Lessons already emerging from CRAFT show that promising inclusive innovative renewable energy productive use technologies still need more support to be market-ready. This calls for development partners, Governments, as well as the private sector to increase support to commercialising and deploying at scale, tested innovative RE and EE technology and business models for smallholder farmers and agribusinesses to thrive amidst climate change risks