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Research to expand and sustain green economic opportunities

‘We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence’ (The Stockholm Memorandum, 2011[1]).

The need for gathering ‘scientific evidence’ to support clear-cut sustainability decisions that will lead to expanding and sustaining green economic opportunities is unprecedentedly rising. A well-formulated and planned research is the origin of ‘scientific evidence’. Research generates fresh ideas, policies, solutions and ignites how new innovations can be fairly disseminated to reach the widest human population, especially the most poorest. The building of a new green economy or re-greening existing economy starts with tapping varied ingredients from scientific-inspired evidences through research and efficient utilisation of its products and services. Research is really crucial. If research is ignored or underestimated, it equals the suggestion that sustainability does not matter at all. The UN Environment Programme (2011[2]) informs that ‘sustainability is still a vital long-term goal, but we must work on greening the economy to get us there’. The central issue is that promoting research into green economy must firmly reflect in resetting sustainability agendas. In other words, greening an economy based on realistic researched-data is one of the assuring ways to formulate potent solutions to withstand or overcome the troubles of income disparity, hunger, shelter deficit and pollution over time.

The green economic development strategically embedded with green industrialization presents enormous opportunities for all countries, especially in transitional and emerging economies. In and outside of Africa, green opportunities ranging from organic food production systems through public policy and housing to clean technologies are very huge and incentivized by abundant natural resources and democratic institutions. All indications point to the fact that there are good grounds for the implementation of green economy in African countries reflecting in their responses to green issues (economy, jobs, industry, etc.). In an earlier write up, I concisely examined some examples of how Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda among other countries had started initiatives toward greening their economies. The general politico-environmental conditions seem extremely conducive to engage in collective design and putting into action green solutions capable to furnish socially inclusive, economic and environmental needs.

Now, one of the things needed is policy focus on how research can deliver appropriate tools required by industry, governments and civil societies to green mainstream economies. From country to country, central governments are particularly looking forward to invest into research on the “principle” of ‘value-for-money’ while industry expects to receive research products that will significantly increase profits. Whatever the research outlook seems in developing economies, the 2015 Human Development Report clearly illustrates that governments’ investment into research has generally been inadequate in relation to their gross domestic product (GDP). For African countries, in the exception of Tunisia and Kenya, which had invested a little over 1% of the GDP into ‘research and development’ between 2005-2012, all other countries have more to do to upwardly adjust research funding with regards to green economy, which is a component of sustainable development. The growing momentum to harness green opportunities demands sufficient green investment into research to provide the quality of “green data” and cleaner technologies to facilitate transition to green economy. The financial investment is not required only in undertaking research but also in investing into various aspects of green economy for which the precise amount of money ought to be put into it is not known. According to the UNEP (2011:34-35), the ‘World Economic Forum and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, on the other hand, calculate that clean energy investment needs to rise to US$ 500 billion per year by 2020 to restrict global warming to less than 2°C, while HSBC estimates that transition to a low-carbon energy market will require US$ 10 trillion between 2010 and 2020’.

The immediate assertion confirms that, in a green economy, research is indispensable and is not carried out in a vacuum. The research activities must be financed publicly or privately or through public-private partnerships.

At country and organisational levels, financing research is perceived with misgivings. What will be the real outcomes of the financial investment? Putting all fears aside, what has to be strongly stressed and communicated to green donors and all actors is that ‘finance is the means by which we channel accumulated wealth into productive new activities to generate more real wealth and wellbeing. As such, finance is critical to sustainable development. But it cannot deliver real wealth without being responsive to the fundamental value of social, physical and environmental capital’ (UNEP, 2015:2[3]). Knowing the extent to which market failures can negatively influence economic interactions and therein limit green growth, some governments tend to ‘provide direct grants or tax credits’ to support green economic research ‘carried out by businesses’, which is a common practice in developed countries (UNIDO, 2011[4]).

It can be said that carrying out scientific research into green economy and industry is an important path towards finding solutions for managing both undesirable and desirable trade-offs that go with the complex relationships amongst economic growth, environment and society. For that reason, government policies geared at promoting green economy must pay attention to financing research and taking the step to reap the full opportunities that go with green economic services.

 

[1] The Stockholm Memorandum, 2011. Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. Sweden, 16-19 May 2011.

[2] UNEP, 2011. Towards a green economy: pathways to sustainable development and poverty eradication – a synthesis for policy makers. www.unep.org/greeneconomy.

[3] UNEP, 2015. New rules for new horizons: reshaping finance for sustainability. Inquiry into the design of a sustainable financial system. http://www.unepfi.org/psi/new-rules-for-new-horizons-report-of-the-high-levelsymposium- on-reshaping-finance-for-sustainability/  Geneva/Paris [Accessed on 31.03.2016].

[4] UNIDO, 2011. Green industry: policies for supporting green industry. Vienna, Austria.

 

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Growing food in cityspaces: dealing with research risks and expectations

cropped-upa1.jpgGrowing edible food crops in and around cities do a lot of favours for its residents and states. Urban residents who are wrapped in in-work poverty circle and financial exclusion are those that gain from urban food production the most in terms of deriving consumable food, shelter and maintaining social dignity. Yet evidence is showing that it is not a practice which everyone supports even in developing urban economies where the needs for food are getting stronger than ever. The fiscal currency and economy of nations suddenly collapse at any time. A situation that affects urban food prices and put the lives of children, in particular, in danger.

In the north, central and west coast of the Gulf of Guinea, cultivating food in cities was an abandoned area of a focused research until the early 2000s, when the International Water Management Institute in collaboration with different local partners began to explore, find and supervise practitioners, students, and policy stakeholders-based activities regarding various aspects of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA). One of the factors that affected the image of UPA then was the fear of perceived public health risks likely to come from using “dark” water to irrigate food crops. The negative image of cultivating food in cities has gone on for centuries.

The good thing is that the general attitude of the public towards UPA is changing in contemporary times. The changing attitude is as a result of interactions conducted with farmers and linking their voices, ideas and concerns through participatory deliberations involving key stakeholders, including urban governors and policy makers. However, on the part of urban food producers, the practical results of the information researchers have gathered from them over the years are not forthcoming. Urban food producers are not feeling the real benefits on the ground. Some authors had identified the frustrations and expectations of food producers:

Today, many urban farmers, especially in Accra, are experiencing what we might call ‘survey fatigue’ and are asking for less analysis but more concrete fellow-up to improve their situation” (Obuobie et. al. 2006:141); and

“… we observe that farmers are increasingly being tired of participating in surveys and long interviews that provide no benefits for them” (Adjaye-Gbewonyo, 2008:28).

In early 2000s, when I investigated growing of vegetables under dry conditions in Ghana’s second largest city in the savannas, Tamale, I had personally experienced such a setback during my fieldwork. The willingness to respond to research questions, which I posed, was partly influenced by the explanation I gave to the food producers. I simply said I was a student and needed to collect data to complete my undergraduate course of study. Like many others, it was easier to introduce myself as a student to convince them. What made it a plus for me was the unique ability to cordially work with them on the field in carrying out weeding, watering and sometimes eating together on the field. Not new any way! But, it required excellent research ethics and sensitivity to local culture.

The basic reasons why food producers in the city may be reluctant in answering research questions is the fact that outcomes of past research are not visible and practically traceable. For researchers, the farmers are demanding something that would seemingly pose a problem for future research activities on UPA. On the part of the food producers, their action is a positive way by which they could seek and receive tangible outcomes of the information they have been freely offering to researchers all these while. The critical issue, which no learned person will deny, is that expectations from respondents will go on with a research process, not only concerning UPA, but also other emerging aspects of development-environment research.

What food producers who are expecting the benefits of data collected from them does not know is that the researchers who go to them at times also face challenges, which impede the transfer of the benefits or dissemination of “technically designed packages” intended to improve their conditions. When I was on research trips recently in northern parts of Accra between 2010 – 2012, I was saddened to hear and learn that someone was hired to blackmail those in the “home” I lived that I was lazy, mad and had gone to steal and beg for food from urban farmers. Not only once! On several occasions! What is the intention of doing this? My experience is not different from one of my highly respected Nigerian colleagues who, while returning from a PhD fieldwork, decided one day to collect Achatina achatina to sell at the local market to find out and analyze the price. As soon as he reached the market, news had reached his home, colleagues and supervisor that he had gone insane. Why? He was out selling Achatina achatina to make money. A PhD researcher is expected not to do so. This is becoming an “evil” tool of creating disrespectful character as a process of stifling the works of young research professionals in our part of the global South. Young women researchers have been victims most lately. In situations of this kind, the future of some young professionals working with the poor in the field of UPA to deliver “measurable goods” as a feedback of their research activity to the door step of them is uncertain.

In the last decade, I have come across a number of urban food producers whose lives are synonymous with urban inequality, exclusion and hunger. Cultivating food crops give them hope and enabling them to regain social identity and lessen the devastating effect of hunger and poverty in the absence of public economic policy interventions. Although they are often confronted with competition for land properties, research activities have helped to influence policy on urban agricultural land uses. Now, urban food producers are enjoying policy recognition a bit than in the past. As I put forward elsewhere before, a research conducted on a given subject may not necessarily generate benefit to improve lives immediately. It takes time to milk the benefit out of research, though academic values of research can be instant. Since the cultivation of food in cities remains increasingly important in the lives of producers, consumers and for the purposes of improving urban environmental subsystems, it is equally important to educate stakeholders, particularly the urban food producers, on research impacts from time to time. This will encourage them to keep up interest and appropriately respond to research demands in future. I know some education had been done at the international conference levels. However, organising participatory meetings and field schools at the urban community levels showcasing and sharing information on new best practices and technologies about UPA will not be a wasted investment.

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