This is the second part of a two-part interview with Precious Akanonu, a 2017 Young Global Changer and development economist from Nigeria. Ken Fullerton, a fellow 2017 Young Global Changer recently caught up with her to discuss a Nigerian perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic and more broadly how countries and the world can ‘recouple economic and social progress’ coming out if this crisis (click here to read the first part of the interview).
In part two of the interview, Ken chats to Precious about climate change, her views on emissions reductions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and why we should promote the adoption and use of renewable and energy efficient technologies. She also discusses an online research and messaging platform we have established and how young people can be better engaged and informed.
KF: In more positive news, many countries have experienced significant drops in carbon emissions, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While countries, and indeed the global economy, have suffered in other ways, many are perhaps realising the benefits of reduced emissions. How can we ensure that as life and work slowly begins to return to something like normality we can keep working to reduce emissions and transition to a more sustainable and greener economy?
PA: The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we can adjust our lifestyles if need be. So, as life and work begin to return to normal, we should think about and implement key changes in our work and lifestyle to cater to our environment. For instance, we have seen that we can still have productive meetings, dialogues and conferences online without all the flights. We must also invest in technology that can improve global real time communication and experience as well as help to reduce carbon emissions. We must also prepare for and create better systems and structures that can respond to climate crisis.
KF: Can you elaborate further on one or two specific examples from your research and work that could help reduce emissions, protect the environment and improve the livelihoods of Nigerians?
PA: It boils down to technology and innovation deployed across key sectors of the economy. For instance, deploying technology to help transform our agriculture sector for large-scale, high quality, and climate-smart food production, storage and distribution will help ensure present and future food security, reduce large-scale poverty, and protect our environment. Technology deployment for efficient irrigation, climate-smart crop varieties, food harvesting, agrometeorological information, and food processing can go a long way.
Technology deployment in the agriculture sector is ultimately important because the sector is a major source of livelihoods for many Nigerians (accounting for 36% of total employment or 21 million people in 2018) and contributes a great deal to national GDP (21%). Yet, we are unable to produce enough food for domestic consumption and, of adequate quality, for wider export. In 2016, the Nigeria Zero Hunger Strategic Review estimated that a total investment of N31 billion (approx. USD102 million as at 2016) is needed to provide the estimated 57 million tonnes required to close the food demand deficit for crops alone. Total public storage capacity is also insufficient at approximately 300,000 tonnes, whereas annual maize capacity alone is 7 million tonnes. As a result, smallholders witness high postharvest losses which can be as much as 50% for vegetables and fruits, 30% for tubers and roots, and 20% for grains.
Climate-smart and technological-driven agriculture not only becomes relevant to close these food demand gaps, but also to ‘produce more with less’ towards resolving climate problems which agriculture contributes greatly to.
KF: Recently, and for the first time in history, the global price of oil went below zero. This obviously affects Nigeria as a major exporter of oil but on the other hand its production has caused much environmental devastation in parts of the country. How can the need to earn foreign exchange be better balanced with a desire to transition away from fossil fuels and enable increased sustainable development?
PA: Practically everyone in the country has always known that the sole resilience on oil is problematic, given past experiences of its volatility in price and production. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the country’s major single source of foreign exchange earnings the hardest and has made the fiscal and monetary authorities deploy measures to boost local manufacturing and non-oil production. For instance, N1 trillion (currently approx. US$2.8 billion) has been made available in loans to boost local manufacturing and production across critical sectors, and N100 billion (approx. US$278 million) in credit support is being provided for the healthcare industry, particularly pharmaceutical companies and healthcare centres that want to start new or expand existing drug manufacturing or healthcare facilities. However, there is no guarantee that the government wouldn’t return to focusing on oil’s “easy money” when prices go back up.
The country needs to aggressively expand production and export beyond oil products, as it essential to job creation, expanding sources of foreign exchange, improving economic stability and macroeconomic management, and achieving the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Beyond producing raw materials, there is a need for increased domestic capacity to process these raw materials not just in agriculture but also in the oil sector with an aim to boost manufacturing capacity. It’s alarming that while Nigeria is a major oil exporting country, with approximately 70% of its income linked to extraction and exploration of fossil fuels (crude oil), the country is still unable to meet its energy demands due to its low refining capacity and thus has to import 80% of its domestically consumed petroleum products.
For Nigeria to transition away from fossil fuels, it will need to diversify its production and income sources away from its structural dependence on oil rents, with active participation and commitment from the political cadre. Any progress at advancing the goals of climate change, poverty reduction, and other SDGs will require both: i) advanced technology (such as deploying renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, and climate smart agriculture; and ii) incremental policy changes to support industry and households towards shifting away from fossil fuel sources (e.g. policies that promote investment in local non-oil production, and investment and use of renewable energy sources). This entails equitable policy decisions to decrease the climate impact of energy use but increase overall production levels needed for economic development.
KF: Not only are you a Young Global Changer, you’ve founded Reachiiing, an online publishing platform making research messaging Interesting, Insightful and Impactful for young Africans and global citizens. What was your idea behind this and how can such platforms be used to promote clear and consistent messages around its four main thematic areas (Government and economy, Business and Investment, Technology and innovations, and Life issues)?
PA: Reachiiing was formed out of the need to deliver important research insights as well as useful information to the public in their preferred style – i.e. simple, easy-to-comprehend, and interesting formats. We know that many great research projects and innovations have the potential to make impact, if spread more broadly, but they often only end up on the shelves or websites of academic or professional ‘expert’ cliques —we want to change that!
The Reachiiing platform which focuses on technology, business, governance and life issues relevant to Africans and global citizens helps keep the public aware of important developments, beyond media highlights, to foster progress. It offers Communication for Development at individual, national and regional levels. Such communication platforms can keep people informed about new useful ideas and methods, encourage adoption of those ideas and methods, encourage recognition of important issues, and find common grounds for action towards different levels of development. For instance, such platforms would be useful for informing the public about ongoing research in COVID-19 treatments, and what works for handling the crises at individual, national and regional levels towards safeguarding public health and safety.
KF: For every Young Global Changer, there are thousands or millions of other youths in Nigeria, and all over the world who are simply unaware of such opportunities but are doing innovative and incredible things. How can we better identify, support and publicise their work and achievements?
PA: I think creating spaces to engage and partner with them would be helpful.
KF: And finally, what is your message for them, particularly in these COVID-19 times of uncertainty?
PA: My message to fellow Young Global Changers is to stay safe, reach out to people within your area of influence, and use this period to further develop and perhaps implement your ideas for global change.
An interview by Ken Fullerton, YGC 2017
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.
Precious, is a 2017 Young Global Changer and development economist from Nigeria. She currently works as a research fellow at a renowned Abuja-based think tank, the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa, is a lead research consultant at a private non-profit organisation, the Belema Aid Foundation; and works remotely as a fellow at the U.S-based Energy for Growth Hub.
Ken, a 2017 Young Global Changer, currently works as a management consultant for ARTD Consultants – one of Australia’s leading public policy consulting firms – where he helps government agencies and non-profit organisations make evidence-informed decisions and track and evaluate outcomes in order to continuously improve their performance.