Nature-based solutions to youth livelihoods and economic prosperity in Africa
To truly address the issue of youth livelihoods in Africa, we have to concentrate our efforts on the diminishing natural resource base that equally demands our attention for sustainable management. Among the pillars to be considered in a nature-based framework for youth livelihoods include climate change, biodiversity, and agriculture. Such a framework shall ensure that policies, programmes and investments are contextualized to respond to youth unemployment, poverty reduction, and ultimately, they contribute to shared economic prosperity in Africa.
Nature-based solutions is an evolving concept of living solutions inspired by and continuously using nature to address various societal challenges in a resource efficient and adaptable manner and to provide simultaneously economic, social and environmental benefits. A proposal for youth-responsive nature-based solutions is informed by two interconnected realities of global change and achievement of sustainable development in Africa. Firstly, according to the FourthAssessment of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Africa is warming faster than the global average and temperatures could increase by as much as averagely 3-4°C this century. This, coupled with other impacts of climate change, makes climate change a major economic challenge as the effects of warming translate into increased health challenges, reduced agricultural productivity, water scarcity, and displacement of people etc. Secondly, the demographic dividend is an integral part of African development; youth are both victims of poverty and inequality as well as key actors in driving inclusive and sustainable growth. By 2050, young people below 34 years will form the largest cohort of African population. This implies that majority of African leaders at local, national and regional level will be young people making decisions based on the capacities and resources at their disposal.
If these two issues were indeed the drivers for Africa’s prosperity, it then means that the growing youth population are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts but they are also have two mandates for the continent: first, as victims, to address their vulnerability and marginalization in the economy; and secondly, as leaders, to drive adaptation and resilience of African communities because they have the potential in their numbers, dynamism, and in access to new knowledge and technologies. Consequentially, sustaining youth livelihoods should not be pursued as stand-alone ‘youth’ programmes; rather, they should be integrated into existing policies and programmes. I explore the different approaches that nature-based solutions could take in climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and agriculture to address youth livelihoods, poverty reduction, and inclusive growth in a new framework.
Climate change adaptation
In nature-based climate adaptation, the goal is to preserve ecosystem services that are necessary for human life in the face of climate change and to reduce the impact of anticipated negative effects such as intense rainfall, frequent floods, heat waves or drought. Currently, climate adaptation policies do not explicitly consider young populations as key drivers and actors in adaptation strategies. Firstly, researchers, policy makers and investors ought to provide data on the economics of including youthful populations in climate change adaptation. Such should account for the diversity of young people, including their education levels, geographical distribution, mobility capabilities, population growth projections, gender, talents, and innovation capability that can be tapped towards adaptation strategies. This should be followed by an assessment of existing case studies of youth-responsive climate adaptation strategies in developing countries, examining their suitability for scaling up, and designing an appropriate way of integrating them in national and regional adaptation plans. On the other hand, working at local, national and regional level to inform policies and financial instruments that include youth-responsive adaptation strategies.
Loss of biodiversity will be a major consequence of the impacts of climate change in Africa. Addressing the socio-economic needs of poor communities directly and indirectly dependent on biodiversity reduces the pressure to exploit the resources and increases a conservation ethos. However, little is known about the contribution of young populations to biodiversity loss (or preservation), and how this population cohort can be supported to drive conservation efforts that are remunerative to the youth while significantly addressing biodiversity and socio-economic needs in the face of climate change. Specifically, we ought to invest in a framework that guides our investments towards providing data on youth populations dependent on biodiversity, directly and indirectly, and use this in designing conservation-poverty reduction strategies for young people. Such investments should also be directed towards developing pilot studies that address youth inclusion in programmes such as payment of ecosystem services for example renewable energy value chains, maintaining and regenerating natural habitats, or incentives for sustainable use of biodiversity.
Agriculture remains a backbone of most African economies and a major source of employment for rural populations. Success stories of agricultural systems that sustainably increase productivity; enhance climate adaptation; reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions; and enhance achievement of national food security and development goals have been documented around the world. However, there remains a challenge of scaling up these CSA especially because of the ageing African farmers, most of who lack the know-how and flexibility for adaptive measures, and few have the social capital to inspire innovation. Investing in Africa’s youth dividend promises real benefits to CSA by providing the numbers of new, innovative, well-educated, and flexible farmers. The proposed framework should ensure a strong collaboration among diverse stakeholders in ensuring that CSA is scaled up by prioritizing investments in further understanding of which CSA approaches would be most suitable and beneficial to new and young people. This must be followed by quantifying and including youth-responsive CSA practices to benefit from climate change investments such as carbon markets further propelling CSA adoption and increasing youth employment opportunities. And finally, designing context-specific financial instruments that meet the needs of CSA and address overall economic development needs of the countries.
The move towards nature-based solutions is valid because most are often lower cost, longer lasting, and have multiple and synergetic benefits for a variety of sectors and political goals. Since most African countries are largely reliant on natural resources, nature-based youth livelihoods are timely and relevant for economic prosperity and sustainable development.