Africa Climate Week: An Inflection Point for Sustainable Development, Food Systems, and Nutrition

London, 15 September 2023 - 

On page four of the Nairobi Declaration, clause #27 out of 39 (or 74, if you count the sub-clauses), you find the only clause directly related to food and agriculture:  

[We, the African Heads of State and Government, commit to] redoubling our efforts to boost agricultural yields through sustainable agricultural practices, to enhance food security while minimizing negative environmental impacts. 

 But perhaps there's more cause for optimism here than first meets the eye. Taking a system-wide view, one could point to the acknowledgement of Africa's role as a carbon sink; the need to promote land and ecosystem restoration; the commitment to halting biodiversity loss, deforestation, desertification, and land degradation; protecting nature; the role of oceans and the blue economy; and support for smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples. It also acknowledges a lack of access to clean cooking (970 million people in Africa). All these issues - not to mention the role of adaptation and resilience, or even access to electricity and investment in renewable energy - have close connections to food systems. 

Indeed, the Declaration does acknowledge that climate change will continue to have adverse impacts on African economies and societies, and hamper growth and wellbeing. At GAIN, we believe that this will be - and already is being - driven first and foremost by food and nutrition insecurity. 

Woman giving her back to the camera and watching a group of boys going boating

Across the board, there are significant untapped opportunities to improve this kind of integration across climate and nutrition. © GAIN

 These connections between climate, environment, food systems, nutrition, and health are the primary focus of the Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN), launched last year by the Government of Egypt, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Health Organisation, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Last week, both AGRF and Africa Climate Week marked a milestone for I-CAN: the first public presentations of the two upcoming reports on this critical nutrition-climate agenda. 

 I-CAN makes the compelling case for integrated action unlocking progress across multiple development outcomes. As Jean-Paul Adam from the UN Office of the Special Advisor for Africa noted in his opening remarks at the I-CAN event: Integrated policies approach individual projects as puzzle pieces that, if interlinked, can lead to sustainable development. He pointed to benefits including cost-effectiveness, scale, resilience, and sustainability of development outcomes. 

 Across the board, there are significant untapped opportunities to improve this kind of integration across climate and nutrition. A forthcoming report from I-CAN will highlight work to be done across climate policies (Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans), nutrition policies (National Nutrition Plans, Food Based Dietary Guidelines, food procurement), finance (ODA, climate finance, multilateral investment, Green Climate Fund), business, and research. In almost all cases, there is significant room for improvement. Together, these opportunities represent a potential breakthrough for sustainable development on the continent. 

Crucially, that brighter future was very much in focus at Africa Climate Week. The Summit positioned Africa as a future leader in green growth. The talk was of potential, youth, vibrancy, deep indigenous knowledge, and innovation; richness of resources, agricultural potential, opportunities for value addition and income generation on the continent. 

 Decarbonising the global economy is also an opportunity to contribute to equality and shared prosperity.  

 True, it was heavily caveated. This potential can only be realised with the fulfilment of previously promised financial support - and more. The role of the (soon to be reformed) multilateral financial system was also emphasised. I will leave comment on this to other commentators better qualified than me, but one notable statistic: the majority (57%) of African countries are spending more on servicing debts than they are on their health systems. This is creating a burden that Africa and the entire world cannot afford to carry at this critical moment. 

 But the very good news is the strengthened commitment to integrate climate, biodiversity, oceans, adaptation, and indeed sustainable agriculture, and food security, into national plans and processes, development policymaking, and the NDCs.  

 We may not be where we ought to be but we definitely aren't where we used to be, sagely noted a representative of the African Development Bank during a UNFCCC High-Level Climate Champions event on food systems. There are signs of progress already. Coming away from Nairobi, it felt like we have reached the inflection point. Not only do we have the commitment and urgency. Now, we also have clarity. We know what needs to be done. 

 As we move forward, I-CAN represents just the right Initiative at just the right time. Moving towards COP28 and onwards to 2024, it can help us to achieve accelerated, scaled, sustainable impact across a range of critical areas for human and planetary health. So, please keep an eye out for the forthcoming report on the state of action on nutrition and climate, coming in October 2023. In the meantime, you are welcome to read more about I-CAN here, or here on the ATACH I-CAN Working Group website. 

GAIN’s Environment Strategy includes three pillars: advocacy, programmes, and operations. While work continues to green our operations and incorporate increased environmental sensitivity in our programmes, the final months of 2023 will undoubtedly take a focus on advocacy and engagement. 

GAIN has been increasingly active at global climate summits, focusing especially on UNFCCC COPs, Stockholm+50, and regional climate weeks. Attending Africa Climate Week and the Africa Climate Summit presented an ideal opportunity to connect the crucial issues of climate change and nutrition, highlighting the urgency of action and the potential of nutrition actions to unlock progress aligned to climate and environment goals. GAIN’s Environment Team and Kenya-based staff attending throughout the week, listening, learning, and contributing to this critical topic. 

In the coming weeks, we will be represented at UNGA/NYCW, the Micronutrient Forum Conference, Committee on World Food Security meetings in Rome, the World Food Prize Symposium, Asia-Pacific Climate Week, and COP28. We look forward to working with our partners at these engagements.