Building A Sustainable Circular Bioeconomy For Africa


Key Points

  • AfricaLive has announced a partnership with European environmental engineering O Bi-Eco Green Engineering to foster European – African partnership in building a Sustainable Circular African Bioeconomy.
  • Increased funding from the European Union and both public and private sector climate-focused funds has created an opportunity for new circular and regenerative projects to be launched in Africa.
  • The circular bioeconomy is a new economic model that works with nature rather than against it. Waste is reduced by keeping products and materials in circulation for as long as possible, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels.
  • A lot of factors need to be addressed to reshape industries in a circular manner. Therefore, the journey towards a circular African bioeconomy requires collaborative problem-solving, engagement and partnerships across all stakeholders in society. AfricaLive is working to build those partnerships between universities, the private sector and governments to unlock the potential of a Circular African Bioeconomy.

 

It is well documented that many African nations will be amongst the hardest hit in the world by the effects of climate change and ecological degradation.

In addition to the impact of global climate challenges, at a local level, many African governments and businesses are struggling to deal with environmental crises generated by their own activities or mismanagement. Examples range from South Africa’s broken sewage and wastewater facilities to the clean up of the devastating oil spill in Mauritius.

Each year in Africa we see more extreme weather, shrinking reservoirs, rising sea levels, and diminishing biodiversity.

Furthermore, for the private sector, in addition to the environmental threat, there is also a financial risk to companies that do not take action on sustainability.

The Mauritius oil spill highlights the urgent need for circular economy solutions

The cost of inaction could include losing market share, reputational loss, failure to meet updated environmental standards, and increased business costs as resources become more scarce and supply chains are disrupted.

The critical question of the time is between the need to protect the environment and the need for economic development and job creation?

Providing an answer to this, the circular economy is an economic model which values nature and is based on three principles; design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; regenerate natural systems.

A sustainable global economy would not only replace fossil energy with renewable energy, but it would also use fossil-free materials, substituting carbon-intense products like plastics, concrete, steel and synthetic textiles for lower-carbon alternatives. Therefore, a new range of renewable biobased materials that can replace and outperform carbon-intense materials is required.

The World Economic Forum’s New Nature Economy Report highlights $10.1 trillion of economic opportunities from adopting circular approaches in areas such as sustainable forest management, energy & resource management and infrastructure.

This is the opportunity offered in building a Sustainable Circular African Bioeconomy – an economy not built on the promise of infinite growth, but one which delivers the employment, food security and energy security that Africans need, without fueling the climate crisis.

 

A Call For European – African Action & Collaboration

European and African institutions are strengthening ties to build sustainable, circular economies on both continents. The goal of the European Green Deal is for the European Union to become the world’s first “climate-neutral bloc” by 2050.

The EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius has called for greater EU-Africa business-to-business collaboration, saying “Europe can solve nothing on its own. We need a strong fellowship to advance the global transition to a circular economy, and in Africa, I see a very powerful partner. 

EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius
EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius

We need more EU-Africa business-to-business engagement. That will boost investment in Africa, and help the large-scale deployment of green and circular business models.”

In line with this call, funding opportunities exist to drive the green transition on both continents;

€150bn has been marked for investment in Africa under the EU’s Global Gateway Scheme with the objectives of boosting trade and fighting climate change.

In total, European institutions are expected to mobilise 1 trillion euros in sustainable investment by 2030—a significant part of it on research and development, and some in partnership with African stakeholders through Horizon Europe.

The €95.5bn (from 2021 to 2027) Horizon Europe fund is accessible to African organisations working with European partners in multiple industries including agriculture, construction, energy and tourism.

The Africa Initiative 2021-22, part of the Horizon Europe programme, has a budget of €350m for funding green transition, innovation and technology and capacities for science.

The Global Climate Fund – with a $10.2bn portfolio – will scale up action across 13 African countries in 2022.

Africa Go Green Fund is part of the German government’s Compact with Africa and aims to invest €150m in energy transition in Africa.

The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan aims to make sustainable products the norm in Europe and lead the world towards implementing circular economy practices. The African Circular Economy Alliance was founded by the governments of South Africa, Rwanda and Nigeria, and this year’s World Circular Economy Forum will be hosted in Rwanda in October.

The conference has the stated aim of examining how African businesses can seize new opportunities and gain a competitive advantage in the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies.

 

O Bi-Eco Green Engineering & AfricaLive Announce Partnership to Promote A Circular African Bioeconomy

European multi-disciplinary environmental engineering firm O Bi-Eco Green Engineering (OBE) and AfricaLive have announced a partnership to foster European-African partnership in the circular economy.

OBE specialises in delivering multi-stakeholder environmental engineering and circular bio-economy projects. Bringing a wealth of experience in building multi-stakeholder partnerships, the partnership with AfricaLive will provide opportunities for EU-African partnerships able to tackle critical socio-economic and environmental challenges.

AfricaLive draws upon a network of partners and contacts committed to sustainable growth across the African continent.

The value of the OBE – AfricaLive partnership will come from offering African organisations the combined expertise of both teams in:

Building Multi-stakeholder Partnerships  

Sustainability is not restricted to individual businesses, farms or construction sites. Risks such as water scarcity, biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, competition for natural resources and energy, or climate change impact everyone.

Similarly, opportunities from circular economy models involve collaboration across multiple sectors of industry, as waste from one industry, can be turned into fuel or raw materials for another.

Through building broad coalitions containing government organisations, universities, private sector firms and NGOs, the most critical challenges facing the continent can be addressed in a manner that brings economic benefits. 

 

Matching International Capital & Funding to African Challenges

As outlined above, there is considerable capital available from European institutions to implement circular economy solutions or to invest in research & development.

Unlocking this funding and connecting the organisations, communities and decision-makers able to deliver on projects is the key to building a thriving African circular bio-economy.

OBE – AfricaLive can assist African organisations in identifying available funds and processing applications for public and private support for ecological transition, digital transformation, and research & development.

 

Sustainability Consultancy and Technical Support

Beyond project financing, it is also essential to share technical support and expertise to make the circular economy transition available to as many companies and industries as possible.

OBE – AfricaLive can develop and execute strategies to address issues such as energy use, resource conservation, recycling, pollution reduction, waste elimination, transportation, and building design.

Technology transfer and adoption of new technologies also play a critical role in building Africa’s green economy, with considerable potential for European & African companies and universities to facilitate this through partnership.

 

African Circular Economy In Action

 

 

The circular economy removes waste by keeping products and materials in circulation for as long as possible. The graphic above shows that in the technical cycle, this is done through reuse, repair, remanufacture and recycling. In the biological cycle, the nutrients from biodegradable materials are returned to the Earth, through processes like composting or anaerobic digestion. This allows the land to regenerate so the cycle can continue.

A lot of factors need to be addressed to reshape industries in a circular manner. Therefore, the journey towards a circular African bio-economy requires collaborative problem-solving, engagement and partnerships across all stakeholders in society.

AfricaLive & OBE will bring together those groups required to tackle environmental challenges in industries such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, and connect the capital and expertise required to deliver circular bio-economy solutions.

Renewable Energy & Biowaste

 

 

Solar energy has a role to play in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and Photovoltaic Solar Plant projects will form a large part of Africa’s renewable energy future – including many of the world’s largest solar plants.

Biomass provides a reliable source of fuel using circular economy principles. For example, biomass boilers combust sustainably sourced wood pellets. Wood originally sourced from locally managed plantations ensures independence from international oil & gas markets and price volatility.

Biowaste can be converted to bioenergy (biogas, biomethane, biohydrogen and synthetic hydrocarbons) and bioproducts (bioplastics, organic fertilizers). Traditional ways of dealing with agricultural waste create environmental challenges, including air pollution and soil degradation – putting our entire food system at risk. Agricultural waste in a circular economy model is converted into high-value products bioenergy and bio-based products.

A circular economy for food could reduce the agriculture sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 49%, or 5.6 billion tonnes of CO2, by 2050.

Biofuel production in Africa can provide renewable energy while stimulating economic growth. There is vast potential to develop the sector in a circular manner across the continent, and emerging technologies in the processing of microalgae are seen as one of the most promising fossil fuel alternatives. 

 

In Action

Diageo invested in biomass boilers in its breweries across Africa. Sources of biomass used include woodchips, bamboo and rice husks. The objective for Diageo is to reduce carbon emissions by 42,000 tonnes a year

Unilever invested in a $3.75 million biomass boiler at its Maydon Wharf Factory in Durban. The boiler is fueled by wooden pallets, waste wood and off-cuts from local furniture and door manufacturers.

More: Converting Biowaste to Biogas Could Power Sustainable Future 

 

Whole Water Cycle & Circular Wastewater Treatment

Across much of the African continent, water shortages are worsening due to climate change. Pollution from waste and wastewater is also rife, harming biodiversity and leaving people without access to clean water.
OBE has extensive experience in drafting projects for the construction and improvement of wastewater treatment plants and drinking water treatment plants.

Nature-based solutions are central to the management of water in the circular bio-economy.

An example of a circular solution to wastewater is Microbial Wastewater Treatment. Microbial wastewater treatment focuses on the exploitation of microorganisms as decontaminating tools to treat polluted wastewater.

Microalgae-based technologies are also increasingly used for wastewater treatment, creating biomass that can then be used as a raw material for the production of fertilisers, biostimulants, bioplastic, and value-added products.

As the water cycle involves and impacts everyone, effective solutions to the water cycle and wastewater challenges must involve government and industry working together while ensuring the needs of local communities are met.

In Action

Ghana: Microbial fuel cell latrine shows that toilets could in future be potential power stations

More: Microalgae Technologies Can End Our Reliance On Oil

 

Circular Waste Management & Urban Bioeconomy

There is vast potential to employ Advanced Recycling Technologies to profit from Africa’s most underused resource: urban waste.

OBE provide engineering and consultancy services on integrated waste management, waste treatment (recovery & valuation), disposal (energy recovery), management and treatment of leachate and biosolids, restoration of impacted areas and closure of facilities, and the control of plants and environmental complexes.

Waste-to-Energy systems using thermal oxidation convert municipal waste into energy. Energy poverty is a critical issue for millions of Africans. Energy recovery from waste can reduce the impact of municipal solid waste on the environment with the additional benefit of providing a local source of energy.

Additionally, converting biowaste into biofuels and bioproducts for industrial use is central to the circular economy.

Waste from the tourism sector threatens the sustainability of many African economies. A circular solution would see this waste converted into bio-materials for the construction or manufacturing sectors.

In Action

Kenya: Safi Organics turns farm waste into organic fertilizers

More: As communities burn, African polluters dodge the bullet

Regenerative Agriculture, Forests and Landscape Restoration

Tamalu Farm
Tamalu Farm

As in Europe, recent years have seen African farmers generate less and less income from traditional farming, while unsustainable practices such as the use of chemical fertilizers have damaged soils to the point that our ability to grow food on it is being lost.

The exodus of Africans from rural areas to live in cities highlights that nowhere on the continent has agriculture succeeded as a means of poverty alleviation.

AfricaLive has worked to show that modern, regenerative approaches to farming are already thriving; from Tamalu Farm’s syntropic agriculture to Safi Organics approach to helping smallholders regenerate their soils.

Regenerative agriculture forms a key part of Africa’s circular future, but regenerative practices must go hand in hand with community empowerment and the creation of profitable rural enterprises.

As with other areas of circular economy building, empowering rural communities requires collaboration across sectors and support from business and government.

Regenerative agriculture forms just part of a global movement to regenerate degraded or abandoned land. The Center for International Forestry Research estimates that managing agriculture, forestry, wetlands and bioenergy sustainably and holistically could contribute to over 30% of the global climate mitigation effort. 

The circular bio-economy relies on biodiversity, for it is at the heart of a functioning ecosystem that can perform, adapt and evolve. Forests are key because forests are the main source of non-food, non-feed renewable biological resources.

Action Areas

The above examples represent just some of the circular solutions which an increasing level of both private and public funding is available for.

The primary objective of the AfricaLive – OBE partnership is to work with our existing network of university partners to identify circular or regenerative opportunities and invite private sector participation in taking action.

There is no shortage of problems to be tackled, examples of interventions being studied now are:

South Africa’s Contaminated Olifants River

South Africa’s Olifants River flows through the iconic Drakensberg Mountains and Kruger National Park, irritates farmland in Mpumalanga province and is essential to the economies of both South Africa and Mozambique.

However, due to the activities of petrochemical companies, coal power plants, mining projects and commercial agriculture, the river is one of the most contaminated in Africa.

Given the scarcity of water in Southern Africa, to be polluting major rivers in this manner is a dereliction of duty both from government and private business.

However, nature-based solutions exist to reverse the damage caused. One possibility is using fungi to filter the polluted river.

Scone Bekker of Mycominded, a South African business that works with fungi to develop organic alternatives to plastics, says “One of our ultimate goals is restoring the Olifants River in Kruger National Park which has been highly damaged by all the mining projects in its environs. The river that passes in the middle of it has been contaminated by toxins over the years and we hope to make an impact there. If our process moves along as we expect, we can help filter that river and restore the entire ecosystem that relies on it downstream.”

The actions of one group to clean the river while others continue to pollute would clearly be ineffective. The Olifants River represents a clear example of the urgent need for South Africa’s business community to unite to implement sustainable solutions.

Tackling Waste and Investing in Diversification of Small Island Economies

The Mauritius oil spill not only shows the environmental hazard that fossil fuels inherently carry, but by devastating the island’s blue economy it highlights the vulnerability of small island developing state’s economies. Following the incident, marine activities were stopped, fishing was suspended, and in many cases, families reliant on the sea had no alternative sources of income.

Africa’s small island states face similar challenges, including rising sea levels and an over-reliance on an unsustainable tourism model. Mauritius’ main industries of tourism and agriculture both produce considerable amounts of waste.

Prof Dhanjay Jhurry, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius, explains how collaboration across sectors can create economic and environmental impact, and implement circular economy solutions in both tourism and agriculture.

“We work closely with a group of farmers from the eastern part of the island to impart farming techniques thanks to a funding program of 300,000 Euros from the EU. The project arose the interest of a famous hotel group on that part of the island and soon an agreement was struck between the university, the hotel, and the farmers.

“This was possible because the hotel saw the potential of higher quality products with fewer pesticides.

“Recently we had a debriefing meeting between farmers, industry, and the university. Representatives from the industry were saying that they were ready to sign a contract with the farmers to buy produce at a higher price because they were assured of top quality.

“This illustrates our impact when it comes to finding balance and showing that interests do not have to clash.

“We need finance groups like the African Development Bank to step in and help however they can so that we can move this agenda forward. Universities can also take the agency through entrepreneurial initiatives, as we have done here in Mauritius.”

Read More: Prof Jhurry of the University of Mauritius: “Neither governments nor universities can act along to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals” >>


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