Editor's note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge

Farmer Eduardo Shavhangani was excited when he was allocated his one acre plot at the 25 de Setembro irrigation scheme in Boane, 30km away from Maputo City in Mozambique. However, his excitement soon changed to frustration when he realized how expensive it would be to pump water from the Umbelúzi River to irrigate his cabbage, tomatoes and potato crop. Eduardo spends 1900 Meticais ($31 USD) on 38 litres (10 gallons) of diesel to run the pump irrigating his plot twice per week. The alternative for Eduardo’s scheme is to connect to the power grid and then purchase an electric pump. But this is a farfetched dream because access to electricity is erratic, with frequent blackouts all over Africa, including South Africa, which has half of the entire Sub-Saharan Africa’s electricity. 

Africa has an energy famine, accounting for 16% of the world's population and home to 53% of all the world’s population without electricity. Per capita electricity use in Africa averages 181 kwh compared to about 13,000 kwh in the US. With a population of 1.1 billion, Africa has the same electricity coverage as Spain with a population of only 46.8 million. Over 645 million Africans do not have access to electricity – that is almost one in every two people that cannot turn on a light switch or otherwise access power.  That is the equivalent of the entire population of the 33 countries in and around western Europe living in the dark. 700 million Africans go without access to clean cooking energy, with 600,000 dying each year from indoor pollution from reliance on biomass.  This cannot go on forever.  Farmers like Eduardo cannot afford to continue pumping out more money as the income they get from farming diminishes.  

Access to energy is crucial not only for farming, but for unlocking more opportunities in the agriculture value chain to create employment for the 200 million African youth. Investment in energy will reduce the cost of doing business and unlock the economic potential from health to agriculture and education outcomes. This will spur both domestic and foreign direct investment. It was Eduardo’s hope that the Obama Administration’s Power Africa programme, launched in 2013, would benefit his community with affordable power. So far the programme has only covered 14 countries and Mozambique is not yet included.

However, the programme is creating investment opportunities by bringing on board US private sector to partner with African governments in the provision of power. The Power Africa programme has leveraged $43 billion in commitments from over 120 public and private sector entities.  Power Africa’s ambitious goal is to add 30,000 megawatts (MW) and 60 million connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. This increased capacity will make it possible to provide electricity access to 20 million new households and commercial entities in Sub-Saharan Africa with on-grid, small-scale, and off-grid solutions. 

Africa also has its own an energy plan, thanks to President Akinwumi Adesina of the African Development Bank, who has set “Light Up and Power Africa” as one of his top High Fives. Africa now has its own “New Deal on Energy.” Under Adesina’s visionary leadership, the Bank is committing $12 billion to the energy sector over the next five years which, in part, will encourage private sector investment opportunities. 

Power is light and this light should open up not just the production of seed, but the whole agriculture value chain. Africa is in a quest to combat malnutrition by taking the green revolution from the farm to the table by making agriculture production more diverse and nutritious. This will require closing the nutrient leakages in the production pathway by delivering nutrient dense foods through reducing food losses, improving storage, and fortification. These goals can be achieved through enhanced and consistent power as well as infrastructure development.  The African continent has the highest malnutrition rates in the world, with 17 countries having stunting rates above 40%, smallholder farmers are hardest hit. It is sad that the very people who are supposed to be producing food for all are malnourished.  

It's is Eduardo’s hope that power will be accessible and affordable and there is no reason why this should not happen in a continent with abundant sunshine.  South Africa is one of the world’s top ten sunniest countries and is already leading the way in driving the solar revolution with a targeted 16,800 megawatts from sun and wind to be installed by 2030. Africa is home to 7 of the world’s sunniest countries -- Chad, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, South Africa and Sudan. Surely, these sunny spots present brilliant investment opportunities to end Africa’s multiple famines while safeguarding our planet.   We appreciate US global food security efforts, including commitments to electrification, and long-term leadership by the United States will ensure that the global community stays the course in its commitments.  This will undoubtedly mitigate Africa’s food insecurity and foster investment opportunities and economic vitality. 

­­­­About the Author

Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda has over 25 years of trans-disciplinary experience in rural development, public sector reforms and private sector management. She is a trained animal scientist, an authoritative leader in agriculture climate change and nutrition, and a trained professional dialogue facilitator for multi-cultural groups. Since 2004, she has held the position of the Chief Executive Officer and Head of Mission of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), coordinating policy research and advocacy programmes aimed at making Africa a food and nutrition secure region.