Options Magazine, Summer 2023: IIASA has joined the LEAP-RE initiative to promote sustainable rural development in sub-Saharan Africa through the RE4AFAGRI project, which focuses on climate-water-energy-land-food-environment nexus modeling and renewable energy adoption.

Regional impacts-Africa © Diianadimitrova | Dreamstime

IIASA has joined LEAP-RE, a joint initiative of the European Union and the African Union, which seeks to advance climate-water-energy-land-food-environment nexus modeling in sub-Saharan Africa through the RE4AFAGRI project.

Roughly 40% of sub-Saharan Africans live in poverty, 50% lack access to electricity, and nearly 25% face food insecurity. By promoting the uptake of renewables-based standalone systems and mini-grids, project leaders are hoping to promote agricultural productivity and profitability, and foster community-wide rural development.

While lack of electricity poses several problems for the agricultural sector, the inability to irrigate is among the gravest. Today, only 5% of sub-Saharan agricultural land is irrigated. Additionally, a lack of electricity prevents local crop processing and cold storage, which are crucial to guarantee access to profitable value chains.

There is reason for optimism, however. The technology behind climate-friendly fossil-fuel alternatives is both mature and increasingly competitive. The region simply needs valid, quantified data showing that the positive impact of adopting these technologies will far outweigh the costs needed to develop and deploy innovative business models. In essence, the project is seeking to empower the region to overcome financial barriers and mitigate risks for private investors.

“Eight out of ten poor people in Africa live in rural areas,” explains Giacomo Falchetta, a researcher in the IIASA Energy, Climate, and Environment Program. “Therefore, promoting a sustainable transformation of the agricultural sector bears huge potential to improve human wellbeing while safeguarding the environment. Promoting renewable energy uptake is a key priority to achieve such transformation.”

By Jeremy Summers