Addressing Africa's most pressing challenges through innovation

Dr Ereck Chakauya

According to Rainbow Tanks, South Africa uses an average of 235 litres of water daily per capita when compared to the 173 litres of water per capita in the world. While this number paints a grim picture, a function of high levels of non-revenue water and a high reliance on water-intensive coal-fired power plants for electricity are also some of the huge contributors to this crisis. 

This is an example of challenges that the African continent is grappling with. However, it is reassuring to know that there are people who are constantly working to develop appropriate solutions to create the continent we all want to see in the future.

The annual Africa Innovation Summit 2018 (AIS) which kicked off in Kigali this month focused on innovative and disruptive solutions to the major challenges facing African countries, which include energy access, water, food insecurity, health systems, and governance.

The overwhelming view of the Summit was that in order to nurture, empower and propel African innovators and their solutions forward, a multi-sectorial and multi-stakeholder approach must be taken to ensure policies, investments and enabling ecosystems are put in place to support African innovation without apology or hesitation.

Some of the Summit’s themes which were explored through action-oriented workshops that were held across different parts of the continent from 6-8 June 2018, included the following, to mention a few:

·    Gender and Building Innovation Ecosystems in Africa
·    Civil Society and NGO’s and Innovation
·    Meeting the Basics: Water-Energy-Food Nexus
·    The Future of Health Care & Societal Wellbeing
·    The Future of Peace & Justice
·    Blockchain: Applications to Development Finance
·    "Jobs and Value" in the Age of Automation & Demographic Shifts
·    Innovation Lab: Innovating into a low(er) Carbon African future
·    African Cities: Meeting Basic Needs and Ensuring Balance
·    Mobilizing Domestic Resources to Fund Innovation
·    Seeking African solutions by Africans for Africans

Speaking at the South African Satellite event on ‘Meeting the Basics: Water-Energy-Food Nexus’, AU/NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (NEPAD SANBio) Network Manager Dr Ereck Chakauya said: “Innovation will always be a myth if does not involve real people. Innovation to me is something that is better, faster and affordable; therefore it does not always need to be high-tech.”

He also believes that bringing in new technologies for water conservation might not be the ultimate solution unless we revisit the basics.

“The water crisis could probably be easily solved if we were to ask ourselves how much water we actually need to produce the food that we eat; tons of water is wasted on suffocating plants with water they do not need. Imports are not always solutions and smart agriculture does not always have to be sophisticated. We need to start looking for solutions that are relevant to the African context,” he said.

Despite the fact that it is reported that the South African agriculture uses almost 60% of the available water, the future of farming may be to concentrate on mobilising people with power to act, including investors, policy makers, researchers and academics, the business community, the youth as well as thought leaders and thinkers into a coalition for collective action to promote and build an enabling environment for innovation in Africa. 

The main focus of SANBio is to improve livelihoods in Southern Africa with a particular focus on human health, but also considering factors impacting on this such as nutrition, food security agriculture and the environment. The programme also focuses on achieving a minimum of $40 million research portfolio; allocating at least $5 million to support postgraduate degrees and mobilising at least $80 million with 20% from Member States of the needed resources on the activities they are participating in.