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ENHANCED WATER SECURITY AND ENERGY ACCESS: KEY INVESTMENTS FOR SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

TF:10 SUSTAINABLE ENERGY, WATER, AND FOOD SYSTEMS

Abstract

In Sub-Saharan Africa, urgently needed investments in energy can unlock access to water resources and increase food security; however, to achieve clean energy access and associated water and food security sustainably and equitably requires 1) developing an understanding of accessible water resources and optimal rural energy system sizing; 2) strengthen the enabling policy and finance environment for renewable energy systems; 3) growing investment in rural renewable energy systems that support productive uses; 4) ensuring that energy, water and food policies are gender-sensitive; and 5) overcoming siloed thinking around managing across water uses and between energy and water.

Challenge

Lack of reliable access to energy, water, and food is slowing agricultural and economic growth and well-being in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Globally, the region has the lowest access to energy, safe water, and sanitation (Figure 1). Water security for productive uses is also extremely low; at 5% of cultivated area, the region has the world’s lowest share of irrigation development (Ringler 2017). The high dependence on rainfed agriculture makes farmers particularly vulnerable to seasonal climate variability and weather extremes, especially droughts. Unsurprisingly, SSA is also the region where food insecurity levels are extremely high and have been growing in the last several years due to conflict and climate change (FAO et al. 2019). Rapid projected population growth is putting further strain on inadequate energy, water, and agricultural infrastructure, while climate change and extremes are further straining existing challenges in the water, energy, and food sectors, heightening the urgency to act. Investments in decentralized rural energy systems can unlock billions of dollars in value from improved food production and increased water security. Accelerated investments are also crucial for the achievement of important Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). The recent Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequity in access to water, energy, and food across SSA and has strengthened calls for accelerated investment in handwashing facilities, cold storage for vaccines, and nutrient-dense foods, as well as improved facilities in SSA’s many refugee camps where water supply and sanitation facilities are shared.

Access to Energy

Lack of reliable access to energy, water, and food is slowing agricultural and economic growth and well-being in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Globally, the region has the lowest access to energy, safe water, and sanitation (Figure 1). Water security for productive uses is also extremely low; at 5% of cultivated area, the region has the world’s lowest share of irrigation development (Ringler 2017). The high dependence on rainfed agriculture makes farmers particularly vulnerable to seasonal climate variability and weather extremes, especially droughts. Unsurprisingly, SSA is also the region where food insecurity levels are extremely high and have been growing in the last several years due to conflict and climate change (FAO et al. 2019). Rapid projected population growth is putting further strain on inadequate energy, water, and agricultural infrastructure, while climate change and extremes are further straining existing challenges in the water, energy, and food sectors, heightening the urgency to act. Investments in decentralized rural energy systems can unlock billions of dollars in value from improved food production and increased water security. Accelerated investments are also crucial for the achievement of important Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). The recent Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequity in access to water, energy, and food across SSA and has strengthened calls for accelerated investment in handwashing facilities, cold storage for vaccines, and nutrient-dense foods, as well as improved facilities in SSA’s many refugee camps where water supply and sanitation facilities are shared.

Access to water

The following statistics highlight the severe water-access challenges in SSA and the linkages to poor energy access and a reduced food supply. Access to safe water of sufficient quality near the homestead can reduce the time spent collecting water for domestic uses, a task still performed by approximately 206 million people in SSA, primarily women and girls (UNICEF and WHO 2019). Lack of domestic water access for handwashing and sanitation affects health and nutrition, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Periodic droughts that lead to the drying up of watering holes for animals affect the availability of animal source foods in various parts of SSA, and leads to severe income shocks for pastoralist households; for example, during the 2015/2016 El Niño event in Ethiopia, cattle herds declined by 23% in the drought-prone lowlands where most pastoralists reside (Koo et al. 2019). Finally, accessing water and energy is also essential for productive purposes, particularly for agriculture but also for the manufacturing and service sectors (HLPE 2015).

Access to water

The following statistics highlight the severe water-access challenges in SSA and the linkages to poor energy access and a reduced food supply. Access to safe water of sufficient quality near the homestead can reduce the time spent collecting water for domestic uses, a task still performed by approximately 206 million people in SSA, primarily women and girls (UNICEF and WHO 2019). Lack of domestic water access for handwashing and sanitation affects health and nutrition, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Periodic droughts that lead to the drying up of watering holes for animals affect the availability of animal source foods in various parts of SSA, and leads to severe income shocks for pastoralist households; for example, during the 2015/2016 El Niño event in Ethiopia, cattle herds declined by 23% in the drought-prone lowlands where most pastoralists reside (Koo et al. 2019). Finally, accessing water and energy is also essential for productive purposes, particularly for agriculture but also for the manufacturing and service sectors (HLPE 2015).

Access to food

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where undernutrition is projected to increase in the coming decades; this projection is based on low agricultural production levels resulting from, among other things, a dependence on low-input rainfed agriculture, the intensification of the impacts of climate change, and continued conflict and civil strife. Increased use of irrigation could dramatically reduce the region’s net dependency on food imports (Xie et al. 2018), while improved energy access could fuel agricultural intensification and develop larger, rural agro-processing centers.

Source: Authors, based on data from WB (2019).
Note: Access to water is proxied by rural access to basic sanitation services that are not shared with other households (2017 data); access to food is proxied by the share of population that is not undernourished (2017 data); access to energy is proxied by access to electricity in rural areas (2016 data).

Policy Proposal

We recommend five actions to achieve sustainable and equitable clean energy access and the associated water and food security; these are to: 1) develop an understanding of accessible water resources and optimal rural energy system sizing; 2) strengthen the enabling policy and finance environment for renewable energy systems; 3) grow investment in rural renewable energy systems that support productive uses; 4) ensure that energy, water, and food policies and investments are gender sensitive; and 5) overcome siloed thinking in order to improve governance for managing across water uses and between energy and water. Implementation of this policy proposal supports the G20 Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Action Agenda, which was initiated in 2015 under the Turkish presidency . The Action Agenda encourages G20 countries to support the processes led by African countries to develop the SE4ALL agenda as an umbrella framework for national-level energy sector development; it also supports the G20 sustainable agricultural water use recommendations of 2017 and provides insights for overall food security in this region.

Action 1: Developing an understanding of accessible water resources and optimal rural energy system sizing

Much of SSA is considered to be resource rich in terms of solar energy and water; information on these resources is often poor, however, limiting access (MacDonald et al. 2012; Wu et al. 2017). We propose to focus on the following areas:

1.1 Assessment of the availability of renewable groundwater and surface water resources for sustainable development under climate change and extreme weather

We recommend five actions to achieve sustainable and equitable clean energy access and the associated water and food security; these are to: 1) develop an understanding of accessible water resources and optimal rural energy system sizing; 2) strengthen the enabling policy and finance environment for renewable energy systems; 3) grow investment in rural renewable energy systems that support productive uses; 4) ensure that energy, water, and food policies and investments are gender sensitive; and 5) overcome siloed thinking in order to improve governance for managing across water uses and between energy and water. Implementation of this policy proposal supports the G20 Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Action Agenda, which was initiated in 2015 under the Turkish presidency . The Action Agenda encourages G20 countries to support the processes led by African countries to develop the SE4ALL agenda as an umbrella framework for national-level energy sector development; it also supports the G20 sustainable agricultural water use recommendations of 2017 and provides insights for overall food security in this region.

While various data sources for water exist, there are often large discrepancies between sources, often because of the paucity of measurement stations. Existing data sources can provide regional reconnaissance information; however, much more detailed information is required at the local level in order to assess sustainable-use potential under various climate futures. We call upon the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC) and on other entities that collect water resources data to make such data publicly available—and provide it in an accessible form—to African water ministers, citizens, and private investors; this will help accelerate investment in sustainable water resources. While Big Data methods allow crowdsourcing of data, including water data, from citizens, the onus for the collection and monitoring of such data remains with the public sector.

1.2 Assessment of the optimal sizing of sustainable, cost effective, and affordable clean energy systems in order to best support a host of rural development goals

Africa has only 50 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity, which is mostly hydropower (36 GW); the potential for renewables is large, however, including for solar, wind, hydropower, and bioenergy (IEA 2019).

Maps of the existing and planned electricity grids are available for Africa; these underscore the limited access to grid electricity in SSA (World Bank n.d.). Most transmission is in South Africa and there is a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Because of limited grid interconnectivity, for much of rural SSA increasing emphasis is being placed on off-grid solutions.

Action 2: Strengthening the enabling policy and finance environment for localized, renewable energy systems

An improved enabling environment for energy investment can unlock follow-on investment in food production and water security. We propose three activities to support this action:

2.1 Improve the enabling environment for private sector investment in renewable energy systems

Africa currently accounts for just 4% of global power supply investment (IEA 2019); this is in part due to an unattractive enabling environment for private sector investment. Fiscal and regulatory frameworks are challenging, to the point where only larger companies can bear the investment risks. Acceleration of investment in renewable energy systems requires that governments develop sound investment frameworks (ibid).

While various data sources for water exist, there are often large discrepancies between sources, often because of the paucity of measurement stations. Existing data sources can provide regional reconnaissance information; however, much more detailed information is required at the local level in order to assess sustainable-use potential under various climate futures. We call upon the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC) and on other entities that collect water resources data to make such data publicly available—and provide it in an accessible form—to African water ministers, citizens, and private investors; this will help accelerate investment in sustainable water resources. While Big Data methods allow crowdsourcing of data, including water data, from citizens, the onus for the collection and monitoring of such data remains with the public sector.

2.2 Support cross-country learning on how to accelerate market access and competition for renewable energy systems

The enabling and investment frameworks for energy in SSA differ dramatically; they range from highly developed markets in South Africa to the more limited experience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Cross-country learning can help countries that are in greatest need of increasing market access and competition to gain important knowledge with regard to the improvement of national processes. Such exchanges can be organized by countries within or across regional power pools.

2.3 Provide credit, capacity building, and other incentives in order that renewable energy markets can take off in more remote rural areas

Financing for both solution providers and consumers is needed in order to support the growth of renewable energy systems; for example, while solar photovoltaic systems need larger upfront capital costs relative to diesel powered systems, their life cycle costs are lower (World Bank 2018, 30). Microlenders, such as Kenya’s Juhudi Kilimo are piloting loans for solar irrigation infrastructure (Tobiko and Sokolova 2018); other operators have introduced pay-as-you-go systems, such as CoolCap, which acquires equipment from vendors in bulk and sells it to smallholder farmers at 10% interest, repayable at harvest time (CoolCap n.d.). To repay the provider, farmers deliver their harvest to buyers, who then deduct the repayment amount from the harvest proceeds and remit it to CoolCap.

Action 3: Grow investment in rural renewable energy systems that directly support productive uses

Renewable energy system investments can be recouped if end users are able to increase their income through access to electricity. Key areas where profits can be generated include irrigation, cold storage, agro-processing, and transportation. Increased income, in turn, can unlock further investments in agriculture and water security

Localized power generation and water production solutions in SSA can simultaneously increase crop production, provide clean drinking water, and facilitate rural electrification; an example of a localized solution that has potential is the microgrid, which is defined by the US Department of Energy as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid” (Ton and Smith 2012). A microgrid can be transformational on several levels: 1) it can enable the provision of better medical services through allowing life-critical vaccines and medications to be maintained in chilled form; (for a full list of the many vaccines that are needed to address infections common in SSA such as meningitis, and which require refrigeration, see Iannelli [2017]); 2) it can enable farmers to store their harvest better, allowing them to sell it at a more controlled rate and, ideally, at better prices. (According to the International Finance Corporation [IFC 2019], walk-in cold storage rooms generally require 2 kW or more to operate; 3) local microgrids can help farmers process crops into higher value-added products; staple grains can be ground into flour, for instance, enabling farmers to realize higher economic returns; 4) better electricity access can reduce indoor air pollution by enabling people to cook with electric stoves and light their homes with LED bulbs, instead of using kerosene, cow dung (whose removal from cropland can also reduce agricultural productivity), wood, or other polluting fuels; this can especially improve the well-being of women and girls; and 5) homes can be supplied with water from solar-powered wells, which can reduce the hours spent every day by women and girls fetching water.

Solar-dominant microgrids could integrate electricity inputs from multiple sources, including solar PV panels and diesel generators; if solar-powered irrigation is widely adopted the aggregate power-generation potential becomes significant. With the proper integration of storage and load management, systems operating on such a scale could power economic activities beyond the farm, substantially benefitting local economies (Figure 2).

Source: IFC (2019); Authors’ analysis.

Leveraging the decline in the cost of solar technologies, smallholder farmers in emerging markets are increasingly adopting solar irrigation pumps; this improves crop yields, reduces vulnerability to rainfall variability, and enables multiple cropping cycles. Although the upfront costs are about three to four times that of their diesel pump equivalent, the total lifetime costs of solar irrigation are already competitive. The industry is now at an inflection point where the technology is mature enough for scale; this will continue to put downward pressure on cost. The need for solar irrigation is immense, with only about 5,000 pumps in use in the second half of 2018. The International Finance Corporation estimates that the serviceable market for solar water pumps in SSA will more than triple from its current US$456 million to US$1.63 billion by 2030, supporting 2.8 million farmers. We propose the following activities as ways to accelerate investment in rural renewable energy systems and thus speed the scaling-up process:

3.1 Establish investment initiatives to develop distributed renewable energy systems by drawing on digital technologies

In Africa, around 15 million people have access to minigrids or distributed renewable energy (DRE) systems and approximately 5 million people have access to solar home systems; Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia account for most of the recent growth and systems are very small, generally below 50 watts; the market for such systems is, however, much larger and requires important investment, often facilitated by mobile phone or other e-payment options to link seller and buyer (IFC 2019).

3.2 Support associated agro-processing and cold chains in order to ensure that high-value produce reaches consumers

Increasing yields through the introduction of solar irrigation does not in itself address the question of how the value of that additional yield will be converted into improved livelihoods. Irrigation is a critical first step, but it should be considered within an overall agriculture and food-value chain. This requires that renewable energy solutions also reliably and affordably power various agro-processing and cold storage investments. Several providers are piloting and expanding solar-powered processing and cold storage systems across various African countries, but the scale of operations remains small and in need of further support.

Action 4: Ensure that energy, water, and food policies are gender sensitive

Ensuring access to energy, water, and food requires a suitable approach that does not only consider the inextricable relationship among these crucial resources; it must also take into account the principles of gender equality. Women and men experience energy and water poverty differently due to their different assets and due to culturally and socially determined divisions of labor. Women are most often responsible for securing both water and energy sources for domestic uses; this affects their time availability for caring, income generation, and leisure (Wickramasingh 2015; Clancy et al. 2015). A further obstacle that poor rural households face is access to water and energy for productive uses such as agriculture and livestock rearing. Research suggests that most technologies to facilitate these processes are aimed at male farmers and can reduce women’s control over important assets; this can contribute to their disempowerment and to a reduction in crop and livestock yields on women’s plots and farms (Theis et al. 2018a). Depending on how energy, water, and irrigation systems are designed, implemented, and managed, women and men will benefit differently, with women’s burden potentially increasing rather than decreasing; youth employment and productivity can also be improved with interventions geared toward their skills and expertise. We propose the following activities in order to positively influence this:

4.1 Ensure that women and men are consulted during the design of rural energy systems, water supply systems, irrigation technologies, and other agricultural technologies

As suggested by research, women are generally excluded from accessing advanced irrigation technologies and tend to lose out during commercialization of agriculture (see, for example, Lefore et al. 2019; Theis et al. 2018a). To address this challenge, governments and private sector actors should undertake proactive measures to ensure that women, men, and youth are all consulted during the design of rural energy, water supply, irrigation, processing, and cold chain systems. For example, the under-performance of many clean energy cooking solutions in Africa is due to a lack of consultation with end users—chiefly women—in the design stage (Stanistreet et al. 2015).

4.2 Ensure that women and men receive equal information and training on policies, technologies, and institutions in the water–energy–food nexus space that affects their rural livelihoods and the well-being of their families

Even when women are consulted on the design of modern irrigation technologies, they tend not to receive the same quantity and quality of information once the technologies are on the market and are often excluded from credit and sales opportunities associated with advanced water, energy, and agricultural technologies. Several guidance documents and training materials have been developed to guide governments, NGOs, and the private sector in supporting gender equity and inclusion during intensification and commercialization processes (for example, Theis et al. 2018b).

The SE4ALL initiative promotes a more gender-aware approach for sustainable energy access; it incorporates provision of the financial means for affordable energy and water-access solutions and improvements in the enabling environment for women in order that they are able to participate in sustainable energy solutions at all levels (for example, SE4ALL, 2017).

4.3 Identify youth job opportunities that are linked with energy–water investments such as in rural food processing

Rural youth in Africa and elsewhere generally face more challenges to obtain credit than their elders and are less likely to own land and other agricultural assets; at the same time, they tend to be more educated and better linked to information and communication technologies. Moreover, rural youth in Africa are more likely to engage in rural nonfarm activities than their elders; this trend only increase, however, if and when more off-farm employment opportunities become available. Youth absorption in both agricultural and non-agricultural job opportunities should be supported by the actions proposed in this policy brief, that is to say by actions to improve irrigation technologies and the associated agro-processing and cold chain development in rural Africa as well as energy and water access that can stimulate other off-farm employment opportunities.

4.4 Monitor to ensure that both women and men are reached, benefit from, and are empowered by sustainable water, energy, and food systems

It is challenging to understand the gender- and youth-differentiated impacts of interventions in the energy, water, and food security space, as gender- and youth-disaggregated data are generally not being collected. We therefore recommend that all countries, civil society organizations, and private sector entities collect data in order to monitor the degree to which women, men, and youth are not only reached by new technologies in the water and energy sectors but also benefit from these technologies and can use them to transform their lives. Such data collection is already enshrined in the SDGs and basic indicators have been adopted by national statistical agencies. These efforts need to be enriched through subnational data collection as well as through standard project investment assessments that include an ex-post evaluation and learning component focused on impacts on rural dwellers disaggregated by gender and age.

Action 5: Overcome siloed thinking and improve governance for managing across water uses and between energy and water

Enhanced water security and energy access and the associated food and nutrition goals can only be achieved if siloed thinking across disparate divisions and departments in government and the private sector are overcome. Moreover, while water and energy security can advance rural and overall growth in Africa and dramatically improve the livelihoods of the poor, these interventions need to be accompanied by strong governance systems to reduce inequity in access and avoid environmental degradation and water depletion. We propose the following two focal areas for Action 5:

5.1 Develop institutions and plans that jointly consider water, energy, and food security goals

Energy ministries in many countries across the world continue to develop energy strategies without considering available water resources and without making sure that ministries of agriculture are consulted to ensure that grids are connected in such a way as to encourage productive uses that can pay for electricity access. Single-sector strategies thus incur unnecessary costs, miss important synergies, and often lead to avoidable environmental damage. We therefore recommend that integrated, cross-sectoral water, energy, and food security strategies should be jointly developed by the relevant government agencies, in consultation with the women and men end users of these services.

5.2 Develop governance systems to ensure that progress on water, energy, and food security does not increase inequity in access and degrade natural resources

There is a widespread concern that, because there are no fuel costs, solar pump irrigation will rapidly deplete groundwater resources; this concern limits support for and investment in solar pump irrigation and is based on the lessons of quasi-free groundwater irrigation in India (Shah et al. 2018). Monitoring pumpage and groundwater levels should be an integral part of procedures to assess the sustainability of irrigation. Social learning interventions have shown promise in improving groundwater governance in India (Meinzen-Dick et al. 2018) and are now being piloted in Africa under the Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for Small-Scale Irrigation .


Authors

Cluadia Ringler International Food Policy Research Institute and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems

Gabriel Collins Rice University

Bridget Scanlon University of Texas

Lama Yaseen KAPSARC

Abdulaziz M. Alqarawy King Abdulaziz University

Paul Orengoh African Ministers’ Council on Water