On the shores of Lake Victoria, just outside Kampala city in Uganda, State Minister for Environment of Uganda Beatrice Anywar addressed over 300 African entrepreneurs and policymakers gathered in February 2020 at the Switch Africa Green regional forum to discuss how to advance green economy in Africa.
Echoing the main lesson learned from phase 1 of Switch Africa Green, a project led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and supported by the European Union to assist Africa’s transition into green economy, Anywar said the transition to a green economy requires actions and significant technological, behavioural and systemic change at all levels of the society, including citizens, public and the private sector.
“It has been established that more radical innovations come from micro, small and medium enterprises,” Anywar said. “[These enterprises] play a key role in the transition to green economies and sustainable development in general by greening the existing business models and creating new business models that are not only economically profitable but also create environmental and social inclusiveness.”
In Africa, 125 million tonnes of municipal solid waste is said to have been generated in 2012. According to the UNEP’s Africa Waste Management Outlook, Africa only recycles 4 per cent of its waste. About 90 per cent is disposed of on land, often in uncontrolled dumpsites, while the rest is being unaccounted for. The report urges African countries to find innovative solutions to address its waste management challenges and to prepare for the expected growth in waste generation on the continent, expected to double by 2025.
Supported by Switch Africa Green project, Matilda Payne has managed to establish MH Couture, a start-up that finds alternative uses for environmental waste by turning trash to treasure.
“The Kampala forum was insightful and truly informative,” said Payne. “It enabled us to showcase our work through exhibitions, to not only reach potential customers, but also to meet like-minded entrepreneurs who shared lessons learned from their own start-ups.
Payne has benefitted from Switch Africa Green project through training, which has taught her how to expand her businesses by increasing production. Switch Africa Green helps reduce poverty, especially among women in Ghana, by empowering them through training in their field of work while creating employment and mentorship. Today, MH Couture employs 7 permanent and 68 part time workers to meet the fast-growing demand for their creations.
Implementation of the SWITCH Africa Green programme is guided by both global and regional settings and priorities. During the 17th Ministerial session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Durban, South Africa in 2019, a regional framework on circular economy was proposed, to focus on contextualizing the circular economy to the needs of African countries.
“Circular Economy approaches is part of Africa’s transformative efforts to sustainable development. Switch Africa Green programme already promotes circularity approaches such as the promotion of biogas technology, e-waste management, promoting organic agriculture, green manufacturing and eco-industrial park and standards and labelling in the hotel industry, among others,” said Patrick Mwesigye, UNEP Africa Office Regional Coordinator on Resource Efficiency. “It is important that the lessons learned, and knowledge acquired is shared among countries for regional harmonization of policies to ensure maximum impact and effective implementation at national level.”
SWITCH Africa Green programme works with Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda to achieve sustainable development by engaging in transition towards an inclusive green economy, based on sustainable consumption and production patterns.
For Herman Agathe, a young entrepreneur running an integrated farm in Roche Bon Dieu, Rodrigues Island, Switch Africa Green could not have come at a better time. Through the project, Agathe was at the Centre de Formation Agricole Frère Remy, trained in sustainable consumption and production practices in different aspects of farming straddling horticulture, agricultural practices and poultry farming, pig rearing and all related integrated farming activities among others.
“It was a successful forum. I had the idea to start a new project and my participation was an eye opener,” Herman said.
Agathe doubled his sales from around MUR15,000 (US$380) yearly in 2014 to MUR 30,000 (US$760) three years after his initial training. No longer dependent on his parents, he is focusing on acquiring a larger piece of land to grow his business.
Watching the calm waters of Lake Newton, Owino takes stock of his immediate surroundings. Across the lake in Kisumu, a small industrial port city in Kenya, the energetic entrepreneur runs a thriving leather business that specializes in shoes, jackets and other accessories made from fish waste. What is unique about his leather business is that Owino uses the most unlikely of raw materials; fish leather. On top of employing over 300 local women and 17 factory staff, Owino is creating market opportunities for 80 local farmers who supply the leather factory with a range of sustainable products. Recently, he has started buying papain, a papaya extract used as a leather softener, and bleaching agents and dyes made from moringa, hibiscus and other locally grown plants.
“For a long time, we have associated our trade with small-scale, low profit, minimal economic impact and more of a means to survive from hand to mouth,” Owino, Secretary of Kisumu Leather Dealers Association says. “Through the implementation of the project, we have been inspired to run more professional and accountable establishments with better-equipped associations that meet the demands of our clientele.”
That day, Owino was preparing to meet a foreign investor whom he has been dealing with, with big industrial investments in the offing to spur his business.
Amidst the vibrant African drums and dance from Uganda, the Switch Africa Green regional forum came to end with the Kampala Communique. It calls for the development of a regional circular economy framework to harmonize policies and institutions to facilitate its implementation and governance across the continent. Policymakers also agreed to develop regional green financing guidelines for use by financial institutions and training on integration of sustainability in credit management among others.
About Switch Africa Green
The SWITCH Africa Green programme supports seven African countries—Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda—to achieve sustainable development by engaging in transition towards an inclusive green economy based on sustainable consumption and production patterns. It aims to turn environmental challenges into opportunities based on the understanding that an inclusive green economy is at the core of sustainable development and has multiple benefits next to environmental protection, notably growth and jobs creation, poverty reduction, economic diversification and income generation. The programme focuses on key enablers for the transition, including access to green financing, enabling policies and standards, circular practices, awareness and skills on eco-entrepreneurship, and innovative solutions.
SWITCH Africa Green is developed and funded by the European Commission and implemented by UNEP. Project partners include United Nations agencies, notably the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Office for Project Services, One Planet network and the African Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production. The main governmental partners are the relevant ministries (environment, industry, agriculture, tourism, economy and finance) as well as national environmental protection or management agencies and authorities.
For more information, please contact Mohamed Atani, Head of Communication for Africa, UNEP.