Planet Earth Institute Working for the Scientific Independence of Africa Sun, 10 Feb 2019 12:29:43 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Five questions with Professor Hesham El-Askary Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:47:19 +0000 Read More ]]>

Prof. Hesham El-Askary

This week, we interviewed Professor Hesham El-Askary, Professor of Remote Earth Sensing and Earth Systems Science at Chapman University, and a speaker at last November’s Spotlight Seminar on Renewable Energy in Africa. Professor El-Askary spoke passionately about harnessing North Africa’s solar energy resources and GEO-CRADLE, a new project that coordinates earth observation activities in North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.

1) What are the key challenges in energy on the African continent at the moment?

Explosive population growth in Africa and the need and demand for energy are two of the key challenges in this area. Most nations on the African continent are still developing, which means they need access to cheap and plentiful energy. However, we must balance the imperative for rapid energy access against environmental impact.

As a climate scientist, I want to promote green energy and technologies so that our economies can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. The global rise in temperature has caused huge problems. Just this year, we have observed natural disasters such as the hurricanes that have hit the East coast of the US, and tremendous heat waves in Australia. As a result, scientists need to partner with the global community to accelerate investment in renewable energy.

A big issue is producing green energy and technologies in clean and safe ways to meet the demand for power in coming decades. North Africa boasts incredible solar energy resources and is one of the best places in the world for solar radiation. However, the region experiences a plethora of dust storms, which can block solar radiation. We must address this challenge if we want to achieve SDG 7’s aim of providing access to clean and affordable energy for all.

2) Last year, you were appointed as regional coordinator on GEO-CRADLE, a project funded with a €3 million grant from the European Union Horizon 2020. Could you please tell us about this?

GEO-CRADLE is a three-year project that coordinates and integrates state of the art earth observation activities in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans. We wanted to create a regional hub that allows people from different sectors to access earth observations. The project deals with four major areas: adapting to global climate change, food security, access to raw materials, and access to energy and the production of clean energy. Through our 23+ partners spread across 15 countries, we wanted to create a hub that provided access to satellite and ground observations, as well as modelling data. Our aim was to share this amongst communities on a broader scale, and in doing so, promote the use of science to address the four thematic areas. 

It was my honour to be selected as regional coordinator for North Africa and the Middle East. The whole management team was successful in reaching a range of stakeholders, decision-makers and governmental entities. We are now in the process of promoting the project in order to take it to the next level. Through the partnerships we have formed, we have addressed the role of earth observation in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, and reached out to large entities in Egypt.

Part of our proposal is to create a partnership agreement between the consortium and countries’ national statistical offices. GEO-CRADLE is already starting to leverage networks and facilitate collaboration between different entities, making use of earth observations to address some of the key challenges of our lifetime.

3) Could you please tell us about the Solar Energy Nowcasting SystEm, which is part of GEO-CRADLE?

One of the thematic areas of Geo-Cradle is access to solar energy. For that reason, we are trying to develop different products that can help accelerate solar production. We are developing technology that can be used to monitor usage and consumption of solar energy in real time, as we have data sets from a fifteen-year climatology.

The technology addresses the different factors that can affect the production of solar energy, which range from clouds to aerosols. The product is operational and relies on a wealth of information; we have worked with terabytes of data to develop the product. It also depends on complex climatology studied over the course of 15 years, and we use spatial resolutions ranging from 5 to 3 kilometres. Spectrally, the product is very rich in information and data, meaning that it can also be applied for different applications, such as health applications that aim to assess the impact of the sun on skin.

The Egyptian government is currently using the Solar Energy Nowcasting SystEm to facilitate the development of the country’s first solar atlas. Our hope is to export this technology to other African countries, using Egypt as a pilot study to demonstrate the project’s capabilities. Sudanese officials have already expressed interest in adopting the technology.

4) You believe that using renewable energy is the only way to address global climate change issues. Why is this?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, the average global temperature has risen by one degree Celsius. However, the international community has set a target of preventing global temperatures by rising an additional two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. An increase of 4 degrees Celsius would mean wiping out 50% of the human species. Eventually, our planet will become uninhabitable; we will see more dramatic melting of the polar areas, and more aggressive dust storms, hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. We are now at a crossroads: we have observed a distinct correlation between the rise in temperature and increased greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act accordingly. 

Now is the time to take action – we must set a plan for achieving gradual independence from fossil fuels in order for our planet to adjust. This must be addressed at a very high level.

5) Egypt aspires to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% of its energy mix by 2022. Could you please tell us more about that?

The Egyptian government wants to move away from its previous reliance on fossil fuels. However, Egypt does need to use carbon-intensive energy resources to achieve its development objectives. The country is making excellent progress towards its objective of increasing the share of renewable energy to 20% of its energy mix and needs to maintain its progress.

Photo: Green Prophet, Kuraymat, 2011


The Planet Earth Institute is an international NGO and charity accelerating science, technology and innovation across Africa. We have developed the PEI exChange – the first online networking matching platform connecting professionals working in and for Africa – to make it easier for experts to meet, exchange knowledge and showcase their work.

Join the community and drive change for Africa.

Read More

10 fascinating facts about energy in Africa

The latest & greatest renewable energy news from Africa

The informal sector deserves more attention in African development

]]> 0
Five questions with HE Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:45:14 +0000 Read More ]]>

HE Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.

This week, as part of our interview series with the shortlisted candidates for Director General of the World Health Organisation, we were fortunate to speak to HE Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s candidate. Dr. Tedros spoke articulately about his desire of achieving universal health care, his experience addressing a chronic shortage of health workers when he was Minister of Health in Ethiopia, and the need to strengthen health systems, among other issues.

1) Why do you want to be Director General of the World Health Organisation, and how does Africa feature in your world view?

I want to be Director General of the WHO for three reasons. First, I have a deep-rooted passion for global health. I envision a world where everyone can lead healthy and productive lives regardless of who they are or where they live. Second, I believe in the power and potential of the WHO to drive change and push toward the goal of achieving universal health care. Third, I am uniquely qualified with the required technical, diplomatic and political skills, a track record of addressing the greatest health challenges of our time at their roots, and driving change and getting results, both nationally and internationally through reforming bureaucracies.

I am inspired by the energy, progress and potential of Africa just as I am inspired by the progress we have made in other regions. I have witnessed this first hand as Chair of the Executive Council of the African Union. Here, I facilitated the drafting of Agenda 2063, a global, strategic framework aimed at accelerating Africa’s economic, political and social development through regional cooperation and solidarity. This framework offers an enormous opportunity to put universal health care front and centre in the political agenda in Africa and improve the lives of Africans.

Our efforts to advance universal health care can build on the tremendous progress made and experiences gained in the last two decades tackling HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, and child and maternal mortality. We also need to strengthen primary health care systems with integrated community engagement to address communicable and non- communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, and injuries. These efforts will help not only to deliver evidence-based health promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services, but also to enhance prevention, detection, and response and recovery efforts for health emergencies such as the Ebola crisis. I believe I have the political acumen and technical competence to lead and assist in this process – and it’s the progress I’ve seen in Africa and other regions that continues to inspire me to want to do more.

2) According to the WHO, the continent “bears the brunt of more than 24% of the global disease burden, but has access to only 1% of health workers”. What can Africa do to train and retain high-quality health professionals?

Building a strong and well-functioning health workforce is among the most noticeable health system challenges in Africa. I’ve thought about this issue a lot because the goal of achieving universal health care depends in part on solving this challenge.

I faced similar challenges when I was Minister of Health of Ethiopia, and the lessons we learned there can be instructive. When I started as Minister of Health, among other health worker shortages, there was only one physician for more than 40,000 people. For us, it was first important to candidly assess the problem at a political level and identify the challenges. Then we could come up with solutions to address the challenges. Here, we looked at best practices of other countries and tailored those solutions to our context. That is how we ended up prioritising the task sharing and flooding strategies. Task sharing is about sharing the burden of health professionals with lower-level, community-based providers who have appropriate training and follow up procedures in place. For example, we trained Surgical Officers who shared the tasks of surgeons for life-saving, emergency laparotomy and cesarean section services. Meanwhile, to achieve the flooding strategy – growing the overall number of health care workers in the system – we found innovative ways to train and retain new medical doctors and other health professionals in the country. We increased the number of medical schools from six to 30, and because of that, the number of medical doctors who graduate in the country increased from about 150 in 2004 to nearly 3,000 in 2016.

This experience demonstrates how, with the right political commitment to identify challenges and a focus on implementing practical and contextualised solutions, we can address challenges such as the shortage of healthcare workers in Africa. To do this everywhere, we’ll need to share best practices and encourage co-operation among countries – both roles the WHO can play as a platform. In addition, African governments and all stakeholders will need to deliver on existing global commitments to train and retain health care workers, and address the brain-drain. The commitments include the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, the global strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030 and the Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel.

3) In December, the World Health Organisation’s Africa office announced a steep rise in risk factors for non-communicable diseases. What steps can African countries take to combat these diseases?

Fast economic growth and changing lifestyles are increasing the risk and burden of non- communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, in the African region.

Addressing NCDs requires us first to strengthen political leadership and foster multi-stakeholder engagement. NCDs are not just a public health challenge. They require working across all sectors, mobilising communities and individuals, and building consensus. Governments, global and regional institutions, civil society, the private sector and academia all have a role to play to meet the goals laid out in the 2011 UN Political Declaration on NCDs. This includes accelerating implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Second, integrating NCDs into primary health care and embedding them into community-level health activities will help scale evidence-based approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment. With the right interventions – delivered through a firm primary health care design – it is also possible to encourage healthier lifestyles.

Here, we can also learn from our collective years of experience addressing communicable disease. Africa has made remarkable progress in controlling communicable diseases over the past few decades. That experience gives us a unique perspective on how to prevent and control NCDs. Not only can those learnings advance approaches in Africa, but I also believe that the rest of the world can learn from Africa especially on ways to reach all people in need.

Third, we need new evidence and data that can support our understanding of the nature and extent of NCDs as well as possible solutions. For example, many African countries have very little data on the prevalence of NCDs. Without this type of data, we can’t fully understand what challenges we’re facing, determine what’s working or not, and identify where to focus and refine our efforts.

Finally, it is impossible to speak of non-communicable diseases and injuries without emphasising the need to tackle the grand challenge of mental health. Mental health conditions account for 13- 14% of the global burden of disease, and yet about nine out of 10 people don’t have access to mental health services. We need to flip this ratio, so that nine out of 10 people do have access. I believe we can do so best in the context of universal health care.

4) How can African countries ensure their wider preparedness for health emergencies?

African countries have suffered from numerous deadly public health emergencies that took thousands of lives. The recent Ebola viral disease outbreak, among others, tested the continent in real terms. It tore apart health systems. It created an unfavourable economic and social environment which strangled the growth of affected countries, their neighbours and the region. And it left communities scarred from losing loved ones. It is now time for Africa to say ‘No More’.

To be prepared for public health emergencies, we primarily need to invest in strengthening health systems. Countries with strong health systems have managed to prevent or easily control disease outbreaks. This includes smart and rapid repurposing of existing resources, investing in internal capacities such as robust human resources, reliable infrastructure, strong information systems, secure supply chains and adequate financing.

It is also very important for African countries to commit to implementing the International Health Regulations requirements comprehensively. This will require political commitment and South- South solidarity and support. The WHO can also assist countries in conducting Joint External Evaluations, but it is important that we ensure peer participation.

Given the number of players focused on this issue, we also need to harmonise and find synergies among efforts of various stakeholders. Sub-regional and regional organisations working on emergency preparedness need to be coordinated on technical assistance, capacity building and response activities. I believe that the establishment of the African CDC also provides an opportunity to strengthen emergency preparedness further and coordinated response efforts, and complement the work of the WHO.

Finally, availability of and access to essential vaccines and medicines is also among the crucial issues to address. The recent yellow fever outbreak showed us how essential it is to have availability and timely access to vaccines. WHO and all relevant stakeholders need to work toward securing sufficient supplies and ensuring that there is enough stockpile before and during such response operations. Our goal should always be preventing these types of public health emergencies, but we also need to be ready to respond.

5) The Sustainable Development Goals recognise the private sector as a key driver of development. How can for-profit businesses work with African countries and the WHO to achieve the SDGs’ ambitious agenda for health?

The challenges of global health and development are too big to be solved by any one sector alone. The role of partnership in particular is clearly recognised by SDG 17: “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.” I chaired the negotiations on financing the SDGs (the “Addis Ababa Agenda”) which recognised that Official Development Assistance could only be catalytic, and that private investment and resources from countries themselves are needed to reach the SDGs.

The burgeoning role of the private sector in health in African countries, fuelled by the increase in GDP, requires particular attention. The private sector brings many capabilities that are complementary to national governments, and I believe such partnerships can build on a shared vision and lead toward shared benefits. The WHO can play a critical role in facilitating such partnerships by helping to create accountability mechanisms, foster transparency, and protect against conflicts of interest. Effective application of the WHO’s Framework on the Engagement of Non-State Actors will also help play a facilitative role to enhance its engagement with the private sector.

6) If you were elected Director General of the World Health Organisation, what do you think global health will look like by the end of your term?

I would like my legacy to be the Director General who brought the world together to achieve Universal Health Care that is equitable and affordable for all. I am convinced that universal health care, with financial protections and strong primary health care linked to community engagement, is the key to a world where everyone can lead healthy and productive lives regardless of who they are or where they live. It is also the key to identifying and overcoming public health emergencies and giving us a safer world. Related, I would like to see the WHO help propel “health for all” into the centre of efforts to achieve all of the sustainable development goals – because we know when people are healthy, their families, communities and countries benefit.

In addition, I would like to see a world that is better prepared and more effective at responding to emergencies including anti-microbial resistance. For the WHO’s role specifically in this, I would hope that I’ve helped it better foster multi-sectoral and multi-agency collaboration to develop and leverage new tools, such as big data, new diagnostic tests and vaccines, that will help us more effectively predict, prevent, detect and respond to emergencies and emerging public health threats, including zoonotic diseases. Lastly, I would like to see an organisation that is positioned to better understand, prevent and mitigate the health impacts of climate and environmental change.

7) Following on from the last question, if you were appointed Director General of the World Health Organisation, what do you think the health outlook for sub-Saharan Africa will be by the end of your term?

I would like to see a continent where all citizens have access to universal health care with financial protection and can lead healthy and productive lives. I would like to see a continent that continued to intensify, sustain and consolidate the gains that it’s made on HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical and other communicable diseases as well as on polio and maternal, child and infant health. I would like to see that the experiences from these efforts have been used to tackle the growing challenge of non-communicable diseases with a primary health care platform that integrates effective community engagement. And, finally, I would like to see a continent with such strong health systems that it is capable of leading the prevention, detection, and response and recovery efforts around public health emergencies, antimicrobial resistance and the impact of climate change’s on health.

]]> 0
#scienceAfrica campaign Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:44:15 +0000 Read More ]]>

Our #scienceAfrica campaign is focused on pushing science, technology and innovation higher up the developmental agenda. Working with governments in Africa and beyond, as well as businesses, NGOs and the academic community, we are committed to promoting and championing the role of science. Our campaign has seen us take delegations across Africa, as well as to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, working in partnership with the African Union.

Below are some recent videos collected by the PEI team of supporters and campaigners around the world, putting what scientific independence means to them in their own words.

]]> 0
PEI Spotlight Seminar: The Future of Agriculture in Africa Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:42:34 +0000 Read More ]]>

Agriculture is fundamental to development on the continent. It
employs more than 65% of the continent’s populations and contributes 32% of
Africa’s GDP. Yet the continent’s smallholder farmers, who comprise 80% of its
agricultural labour forces, continue to face challenges from plant disease,
unproductive soil, pests and droughts to gender disparities, unreliable
markets, poor pricing information and a lack of appropriate financing.

Yesterday, the PEI hosted the first in a new series of events –
the Spotlight Seminars – that explored the issues defining African agriculture
today, as well as the scientific and technological innovations that will come
to shape the sector in the future. PEI Chairman, the Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng,
opened the event with a warm welcome to our guests and a special thank you to
our PEI Partners whose support makes these initiatives possible.

Defining the State of Agriculture in Africa Today

Our first speaker, H.E. Dr. Alexander Yakovenko, Ambassador
Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the United
Kingdom, outlined the major challenges facing African agriculture today, with
climate change identified as one of the most pressing issues – decreased
precipitation and a higher risk of flooding can kill crops and livestock,
affect human health, and cause grave damage to wildlife. Amb. Yakovenko also
highlighted the risks posed by the use of mineral based fertilisers, which can
leak heavy metals such as cadmium and lead into soils and water systems,
increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases such as cancer and
cardiovascular disease.

Tegan Palmer, mAgri Business Intelligence Manager at the GSMA,
then spoke about M’Chikumbe, a mobile app launched in partnership with Airtel
Malawi. This provides advice via interactive voice responses on a range of
local crops and farming practices, as well as dynamic information such as
market prices and weather. She reported that UX research conducted by the GSMA,
Airtel Malawi, and Frog revealed that the app’s end users were four times more
likely to change their approach to land management and planting practices
compared to non-users. This project is ongoing and an in-depth case study will
be published in early April and will be available on the PEI website.

Next we heard from Dr. Robert Mwanga, Sweet Potato Breeder at
the International Potato Center and Winner of the 2016 World Food Prize. In an
impassioned presentation, he explained that pre-existing sweet potato varieties
in sub-Saharan Africa experienced significant yield losses of 50-90% due to
sweet potato virus disease, and were low in nutrients. In response, Dr. Mwanga
and his colleagues at the International Potato Center have worked to create
orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties with accelerated breeding cycles,
resistance to disease, and high beta-carotene concentrations. Since 2009, the
successes of his work have been shared throughout the region, with nine
countries releasing 56 new superior varieties; 40 of which are orange-fleshed.
Such far-reaching impacts will prove crucial in the fight against vitamin A
deficiency and associated health problems.

Perez Ochieng, CEO, Sacoma, argued that African farmers need new
technology or higher yielding, more resilient food crops that deliver larger
harvest, as well as greater access to energy and better infrastructure. In
addition, Perez discussed how her company, Sacoma, has worked with smallholder
farmers in Kenya to grow sweet potato crops, reduce post-harvest losses during
transportation and storage, and expand the use of sweet potato in premium food

Our final speaker in the morning panel, Daniel Hulls, CEO of
AgDevCo, spoke about his company’s efforts to invest in and develop early-stage
farming and agri-processing businesses. These include a $2million investment in
co-operative sugar outgrower business in Malawi supplying Illovo sugar.
Regarding this project, Daniel explained how AgDevCo agreed with the local
community to turn previously unused land into sugarcane fields, and that local
households now receive $700-800 per year in dividends. A key takeaway from his
presentation was that there are few quick wins and that building sustainable
and profitable agri-businesses in Africa requires early stage investment,
particularly in the case of high-value crops.

From there, Lord Boateng invited our audience to participate in
a Q&A session with our speakers. We were delighted to see the high levels
of engagement from our guests, and listen to the wide-ranging discussion.
Issues raised included the importance of ensuring transparent market prices for
the continent’s farmers, the sustainability of agribusiness models, and the
need to strengthen agricultural education.

Innovation from Africa:
The Future of Agriculture on the Continent

Our afternoon panel opened with a presentation from Marie
Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust, on the importance of conserving
crop diversity. Marie outlined how protecting the world’s crop varieties is
essential – one could potentially contain the traits needed to adapt crops to
changing climates, increase nutritional value, and fight disease. She also
discussed the Crop Trust’s capacity building partnerships with African
partners, which include enhancing the heat and drought tolerance of cowpea in
Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Niger.

Dr. Gideon Onumah, Agricultural Economist at the Natural
Resources Institute within the University of Greenwich, highlighted that whilst
agriculture accounts for over 50% of the continent’s export revenues, farmers
continue to face challenges such as high yield gaps and huge postharvest
losses. Furthermore, Africa contains more under-exploited arable land than
anywhere in the world and available technology exists that can help bridge the
yield gaps – this represents both significant challenges and tremendous
opportunities. He also outlined innovative financial solutions such as crop and
livestock micro-insurance in countries such as Nigeria and Zambia, and
promising innovations in agricultural finance such as farmer-based funded
credit guarantee schemes. These are designed to soften the blow felt by farmers
and insurers in the event of poor harvest.

Nico Mounard, CEO of Farm Africa, spoke at length about
his organisations efforts to develop technology and innovations in line with
the way farmers develop agriculture, which include drought-resistant crops and
agriculture in Kenya. Nico also noted that, if we’re really focused on
enhancing agricultural development in Africa, it’s essential to align private
sector partners, development agencies and research bodies. He also identified
three main challenges in realising this ambition: getting the business model
right; making innovation practical; and ensuring the stakeholders, from
business, development agencies and research institutions, are speaking the same

Dr. Stuart Gillespie, Senior Research Fellow at the
International Food Policy Institute and CEO of Transform Nutrition, then
focused on tackling the agriculture-nutrition disconnect in Africa. He began by
outlining some stark facts regarding the scale of malnutrition globally in
2016. For example, 794 million people were calorie deficient, with 159 million
under 5 year olds stunted and 50 million under fives wasted, and a staggering 2
billion people experiencing micronutrient malnutrition. He noted that
malnutrition is by far the biggest driver of the global burden of disease, and
causes annual GDP losses of 11% in Africa. Dr. Gillespie also argued that there
is a clear and urgent need to rethink food systems for nutrition, as agri-food
systems are not just about feeding people, but must also focus on nourishing
them. This insightful re-imagining emphasised the catalytic role of women in
the agricultural process.

Our final speaker, Julius Akinyemi,
Entrepreneur-in-Residence at MIT Media Lab and Founder of UWIN Corp, noted the
paradoxes in agriculture on the continent. He pointed out that, while Africa
has the largest amount of arable land in the world and more labour units per
acre of land, its agricultural yields are amongst the lowest. Julius also
discussed the Unleashing the Wealth of Nations platform, which provides an
innovative ‘risk sharing’ system for economic growth and financial inclusion.
This focuses on leveraging a community reputational index and mobilising local
‘dormant assets’ to source affordable loans and capital. He poignantly
emphasised that systems and approaches that may have worked in the developed
world are not necessarily appropriate for Africa – addressing the challenges
and capitalising on the opportunities will require imagination and innovation.

Our guests then embarked on another spirited discussion
with our panellists, which explored how to make markets work for the poor,
enhancing the resilience of the continent’s natural ecosystems, and enhancing
local produce. Lord Boateng closed the event by calling on all attendees to be
activists in the continent’s agricultural development.

Thanks go to our distinguished speakers for their
illuminating presentations, as well as our attendees for their active
participation! We are especially grateful for our PEI Partners whose assistance
makes these events a reality.

]]> 0
Financing Renewable Energy in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:41:24 +0000 Read More ]]>

On the 25th October, the PEI held a
successful Africa Breakfast Club meeting focused on Financing Renewable Energy
in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities. Featuring a keynote presentation from
Yvonne Ike, Managing Director, Sub-Saharan (Ex-RSA), Bank of America Merrill
Lynch, our guests included African Heads of Mission, senior diplomats,
academics, and high-level representatives from the private sector.

First, Ms Ike provided a comprehensive overview of
Africa’s energy landscape, and the varied access to electricity across the
continent. She observed that there are currently 600 million people who lack
access to energy on the continent, and over 30 countries that experience
regular power outages. What’s more, over 700 million people are still using
traditional biomass fuels as a source of energy every day, which present
significant health and environmental issues. Due to population growth and
economic advancement, energy demand is expected to triple by 2030.

However, Ms Ike argued that Africa itself has many of the
solutions and high-quality renewable energy sources to address these
challenges. From biomass to solar and geothermal, she noted that Africa has
some of the best renewable energy sources in the world. In addition, due to
technological advances, the continent is in a unique position to leapfrog the
traditional centralised methods of delivering utility. This should help drive
down the cost and enhance the efficiency of implementing renewable energy over

She also noted that traditional private sector investors
have been slow to embrace the renewable energy market due to concerns about
access to capital, high inflation, and the enabling environment. As a result,
governments need to create the regulatory framework and policies needed to incentivise
private investors to enter the market. Similarly, Ms Ike observed that local
governments should provide grants and concessional financing to create the
first layer of capital in an environment that can bring other sources of
funding in.

In the near future, Ms Ike expects to see a shift from
traditional investors entering the space to groups such as pension funds and
sovereign wealth funds prepared to invest over the long term. Green bonds are
an also important means of accelerating investment in renewable energy, as
these investors are not purely motivated by high financial returns, but have
factored environmental and social impact into their investment models. Finally,
Ms Ike called on stakeholders to work together to unlock the $55 billion per year
needed to address the continent’s energy needs until 2030. Policy and advocacy,
capacity building in financial institutions, and enhancing access to capital
markets will be essential in this endeavour.

The presentation led to a dynamic discussion among attendees
whose comments focused on access to technology, enhancing investment in
R&D, and crowdfunding to address energy needs. We were delighted to welcome
a range of African High Commissions in London, including distinguished
representatives from Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana, and Russia. Furthermore, the PEI
was grateful for the attendance of representatives from businesses including
IBM, Investec Asset Management, Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, and the
Royal Academy of Engineering (RAENG).

Thank you to the distinguished guests who attended and,
especially, the members of the PEI Partners Forum whose support makes these
events possible.

]]> 0
How Do We Innovate to Create ‘New Collar’ Jobs in Africa? Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:40:14 +0000 Read More ]]>

On Tuesday 27th February, we held our first Partners Forum
event of 2018: an Africa Breakfast Club meeting held in collaboration with
longstanding Partner, IBM Research-Africa. Featuring a
presentation from Rashik Parmar, IBM Distinguished Engineer, the ABC focused on
the possibilities created by ‘new collar’ work. This refers to jobs in emerging
technologies such as cloud computing and data science that require specific
skills and knowledge, but don’t necessarily require a four-year university

First of all, Rashik noted that technological progress is a
major force driving the growth of ‘new collar’ work. Hard technology
essentially consists of transistors, which have grown exponentially since their
invention in 1947. In 2012, it’s estimated that there were 1 billion
transistors for every human alive. What makes transistors especially valuable
is that they produce huge volumes of data. In 2017, for instance, it’s
estimated that there was 20 extabytes of data worldwide, a figure that doubles
every 18 months. Effectively harnessed, data sets available can help enable
changes in a range of economic sectors.

Emerging technologies can create significant disruptions in
services industries, which accounts for 70% of the UK’s economy and half of
Africa’s output. The advance of technologies such as artificial intelligence
can transform routine jobs such as shop assistants and taxi drivers by
automating their manual, repetitive tasks. In fact, Rashik estimated that 50%
of routine work will be disrupted in the next 15-20 years.

As a result, economies will need people with new skills and
competences to exploit new technologies fully. Rashik argued that there will be
huge demand for five new kinds of workers that he classified as ‘squirrels,
owls, foxes, hawks, and weaver birds’. First of all, ‘data squirrels’ are
people with the ability to identify existing data and understand what data sets
can be used for different transformations. ‘Owls’ are people who can analyse
data sets and examine how they can be used to solve different problems. Then,
‘foxes’ are people who think about the new algorithms needed to create new
insights from data. ‘Weaver birds’ are analogous to data engineers who can
imagine how to scale systems to serve our societies better. Finally, ‘hawks’
are people who examine the ethics and legality of data science.

The presentation sparked a lively discussion among our attendees
whose comments focused on the infrastructural developments needed to harness
emerging technologies in Africa, creating inclusive technology, and skills
development. We’re especially grateful for the support of IBM Research-Africa
whose support made this event possible.

]]> 0
African Governments and business leaders join to launch Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:37:53 +0000 Read More ]]>

A ‘Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund’ for Africa was launched on 13th June 2015. The launch event was led by the President of the Republic of Senegal HE Macky Sall, and representatives of the Heads of States of Ethiopia and Rwanda. The Fund will contribute to the World Bank ‘Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET)’ programme, which seeks to award 10,000 African PhD scholarships over ten years, to strengthen research and innovation in applied science, engineering and technology.

The African Governments involved committed to the Fund alongside a new group of prominent business figures, the ‘Africa Business Champions for Science’, to raise a total of $5million during the launch. The ‘Africa Business Champions for Science’ group is chaired by the Angolan businessman Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, also Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute NGO. Additional funds will now be mobilised from African Governments, business leaders and other developmental partners, to operationalise the Fund by June 2016.

The initiative is led by the PASET Steering Committee comprising Ministers responsible for higher education and research from Senegal, Rwanda and Ethiopia, business leaders, representatives from academia and the World Bank. The overall objective of PASET is to accelerate the creation of a skilled, high-quality workforce in Africa to power Africa’s socio-economic transformation. The launch of the Fund is an outcome of the actions agreed at the previous PASET Forum’s held in Ethiopia (2013) and Senegal (2014), as well as the related Forum on Higher Education, Science and Technology held in Rwanda (2014).

HE Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, hosted the event in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the company of: Shiferaw Shigutie, Minister of Education, representing HE Prime Minister Desalegn of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, representing HE President Kagame of the Republic of Rwanda; Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, representing the African Business Champions for Science group; and Prof Mary Teuw Niane, Minister of Higher Education & Research of Republic, Senegal and Chairman of the PASET Steering Committee. The Heads of State of these three Governments will now sign a formal declaration.

The World Bank reaffirmed its support to the PASET objectives and its readiness to continue to support the initiative. According to the World Bank, after a decade of exceptional growth in Africa, averaging 4.5 percent a year across the continent, it is necessary to build skills to sustain this growth and transform African economies towards higher levels of competitiveness. Currently the African workforce greatly suffers from a lack of scientific and technical capacity and an integrated approach that brings together all partners – public and private, traditional and emerging partners – is needed. The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund adopts this approach, with African Governments committing hand in hand with the private sector and other partners.

His Excellency Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal.

“Increasingly, Africa sees the need to depend on science and technology to increase industrial and agricultural productivity, guarantee food security, tackle diseases, ensure a safe water supply, and reduce the energy deficit. While these may seem like insurmountable challenges, the continent cannot waste any more time.

We must launch a sustained campaign to train and employ a great number of scientists, engineers, and technicians to achieve the structural transformation that Africa needs, and that is exactly what this programme is designed to help support.”

Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, Chairman, African Business Champions for Science and Chairman, Planet Earth Institute

“As Africa continues to make great strides forward, we must also continue to recognise the importance of investing in our future generations. This investment must go beyond access and enrolment to develop excellence, too, especially in science and technology. Excellence in science and technology will equip Africa with a workforce ready to compete in the 21st century, where we can lead the world as scientists, engineers and innovators.

As Chairman of the African Business Champions for Science, I confirm by commitment to this agenda and to recruiting others that share the vision. Led by the African Governments and in partnership with business leaders and the World Bank, we want to go beyond philanthropy to find innovative ways to properly link industry with scientific and technical excellence for the long-term, and for the benefit of us all”

IMGL1341 copy
HE Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, meets Dr Álvaro Sobrinho and Shiferaw Shigutie, Minister of Education, Ethiopia, Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Rwanda, Prof Mary Teuw Niane, Minister of Higher Education & Research of Republic, Senegal and Ms Sajitha Bashir, World Bank

]]> 0
Village-level food security in Ethiopia Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:34:05 +0000 Read More ]]>

Food is one of the most fundamental human needs. It provides people with a sense of security and improves their quality of life and increases their well-being. The recent global food crisis 2007-2013 left many people chronically hungry, food insecure and reduced their quality of life. For instance, in the year 2010-2011 the number of food insecure and chronically hungry people in the world was estimated to be between 870 million to one billion. This crisis has opened the eyes of the international policy makers to take drastic actions to bring sustainable food security to the world population.

Africa was particularly affected by this crisis. Working with international bodies, the African Union (AU) has made efforts towards solving the food insecurity issue and aims to bring more sustainable food security for its citizens. Under the AU, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was created in 2002. Through the NEPAD Agency, African leaders recently have made a commitment to resolve the challenges of hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty by placing agriculture at the centre of its agenda.

Through NEPAD, in 2003 the African leaders established the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) as the Continent’s main development programme to resolve food insecurity and hunger. The CAADP framework includes; Land & water management; Market access & infrastructure; Food supply and nutrition and Agricultural research. CAADP was not very active until the global food crisis hit most of the African nations. Since then, most of the AU member states, including Ethiopia, are adopting the CAADP framework and are implementing the agenda at a ground level.

Ethiopia’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa, recording 8% in 2013. However, food insecurity is a major issue and challenge for the country.

A case study took place to assess the food security policy implementation process and effectiveness at the ground level in Ethiopia. The study area, East Gojjam Zone, is one of the eleven zones of the Amhara regional state located in the Northern part of Ethiopia. Dejen is a town in West-Central Ethiopia, located in the East Gojjam Zone of the Amhara Region on the edge of the canyon of the Blue Nile. Dejen Woreda mainly lays on the low-land and high-land topography of the Blue Nile Gorge. Map 1: below shows the study area Dejen Woreda.


The Growth Transformation Plan (GTP) is the main development programme in Ethiopia for 2010-2020. Through the GTP and working with the AU framework, the Agriculture Transformation Plan (ATP) has been set up to help increase food productivity and security in the country. ATP at the Kebele (village) level mainly focuses on the adaptation of the new technologies. These technological inputs include chemical fertiliser, chemical pesticide and improved seeds.They increase the food productivity of the farmers so that they are able to increase their food security. In each Kebele, over 20 people were using either chemical fertiliser, pesticides/herbicides and or improved seeds. Most popular were chemical fertilisers used in the Yetnora Kebele.

Adopting the technological inputs at household levels, there are a number of success stories that the farmers are reporting. Many farmers are more productive using the technologies, and are now able to sell more of their crops, earn more income and buy other goods that help improve their livelihoods.

At the ground level, adopting the technologies is not straight forward.. Most respondents from both villages stated that the technologies are extremely expensive. Those who can afford it can increase their productivity greatly. However, households with low incomes cannot afford the technologies, productivity level remains low. More factors that reduce the farmers’ productivity include, degraded land or if the farmer is too old to maintain the land.

Food security varies from household to household. However, using the Ethiopian federal measurement method based on eating three times a day, the state of food security is high in both villages. In Gelgele, 73% of households were food secure with a further 20% with partial security. It Yetnora, a lower proportion of 60% were food secure, whilst another third had partial security. In both villages approximately 7% were classed as unsecure.

Even through the level of food productivity and the amount of food people eat appears to be high, there are some issues raised by the farmers. For instance participants have mentioned that the government is only emphasising on the production, and not the quality of the food people consume.

“I believe that we are focussing too much on food production and not on the quality of the food people consume. We could say that people are food secured because they are productive and they eat three times a day. But how do we measure food security based on the quality, healthy food people consume? Food security is not when you eat lots, but when you eat quality healthy food as this will increase your well-being. (Gelgele Kebele Agriculture Officer, 2014).

“Just because you are producing more, it doesn’t mean that you are food secured” (Gelgele Farmer, 2014).

Alemu, a 37 year old farmer from Gelgele is now using the technologies such as improved seed, chemical fertiliser and pesticide. He has been able to increase his productivity and provide meals to his family three times a day.

“When people can’t afford to buy the technologies, they usually borrow money from the government agencies that are set up for this purpose. If they cannot afford to pay it back, most of them migrate out to cities as they will get in trouble if they get caught” (Anteneh, Farmer from Gelgele, 2014).

Mulu, an 80 year-old farmer from Gelgele stressed that the old ways and the new ways of life are extremely different. She sees a struggle coming as now the farmers are becoming more dependent on technological inputs. Whilst these inputs are useful, they’re harmful in many ways too.

“We are slowly losing our original seed, our land is also used to chemical fertiliser and without it the land is not productive. It seems now that we must always use chemical fertiliser, it is extremely expensive and a lot of us even get in to debt to be able to afford it. Moreover, the food we now eat using the improved seeds has less taste, less value, it just feels empty and we are losing our old ways. Fertiliser has destroyed our land; if I have the energy I would use organic fertiliser more” (Mulu, Gelgele farmer, 2014).

In conclusion, following the top-down policy approach the findings from this research shows that the policy does flow well and reaches the ground. The implementation process appears to be very efficient. For instance, the policy to increase food productivity applying the technological inputs in order to help the farmers eat three times a day to help achieve food security is in place being practiced at the ground level.

The research also have found that, the policy seems to flow mainly from top to down, with very little evidence of information and feedback going back to the policy-makers. From the farmers’ perspective, the policy also seems to focus on productivity and the quantity of food people eat. There is very little attention to the nutrition and quality of food consumed.


Author and researcher, Misgun Kahsu in Yetnora, Ethiopia, on livestock market day.

Gelgele Women

Gelgele Women going back home after market day. The donkey carries fertiliser.

Rainwater harvest

A rainwater harvesting and drainage ditch in Yetnora Kebele.


Electricity is transported above for the main towns and cities, however not all villages have access to electricity.

]]> 0
Our 2017 #ScienceAfrica UnConference! Sat, 09 Feb 2019 14:12:28 +0000 Read More ]]>

On Thursday 20th July, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) was delighted to welcome over 250 people for the 2017 #ScienceAfrica UnConference. The exciting day saw guests from a diverse range of backgrounds come together to celebrate ‘Big Ideas for Africa’. The UnConference also highlighted the individuals, research groups, academic institutions and commercial organisations making great scientific and technological advancements on the continent.

Our Chairman and Trustee, the Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng, opened the day with a warm welcome to our guests. In his speech, Lord Boateng stressed that Africa is a diverse continent experiencing rapid and dynamic growth, and emphasised the world-class contributions it has made, and can continue to make, to global science, technology and innovation.

Following Lord Boateng’s welcome, our Operations Director, Nick Staite, introduced the PEI exChange, the first online matching platform for all those committed to African development. Based on user-identified criteria (including countries and regions of focus, industries and sectors of interest, skills and experiences), the PEI exChange algorithm provides personalised matches to help turn ‘Big Ideas for Africa’ into reality. With easy online chat features and dedicated projects pages on the ‘Big Ideas Map, the PEI exChange will revolutionise the way people connect, do good and do business in Africa.

Our fantastic facilitator, Alison Coward, then took to the stage and asked our attendees to consider what the future holds for science and tech in Africa. Our guests were also invited to think about their own ‘Big Ideas for Africa’, the skills and experiences they could offer and the people they needed to connect with to turn their big ideas into big change for Africa. This was a key sub-theme throughout the day, with attendees – whether from business, academia, government or civil society – encouraged to think about how they can personally contribute to African development. At the PEI #ScienceAfrica UnConference, we want to make activists of our attendees, and they did not disappoint. Everyone had an idea – some complex, others simple, and some pan-African, whilst some focused on a single village. What’s more, everyone wanted to connect, exchange ideas and drive change for Africa.

Our attendees share their big ideas for Africa

From there, Lord Boateng introduced our morning panel, which was tasked with exploring Big Ideas for Africa. This year we were delighted to welcome the Hon. Min. Blade Nzimande, the South African Minister for Higher Education and Training, Maya Kulycky, Project Director for Business Development and Strategy at IBM Research-Africa, Prof Kelly Chibale, Professor and Principal Investigator at the University of Cape Town, and Simon Kay, Head of International Operations for the Wellcome Trust.

The Hon. Min. Blade Nzumande opened the morning panel with a consideration of the great scientific and technological innovations emerging from Africa. He also stressed that the purpose of science and technology is to improve society. Our next speaker, Maya Kulycky, discussed how IBM Research-Africa is tackling the continent’s grand development challenges. She also highlighted the organisation’s impactful research to implement data-driven healthcare, their work helping local governments improve business processes, as well as collaborations with the Square Kilometer Array, one the world’s largest radio telescope. Professor Kelly Chibale then discussed the work of H3D, the continent’s first integrated drug discovery and development centre. He explained the organisation’s efforts to deliver sustainable pharmaceutical research in Africa, stressing the need to invest in training students and creating world-class scientific infrastructure. Finally, Simon Kay discussed the Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI), led by the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) in partnership with Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Simon also outlined CARI’s mission of building a highly coordinated, well-funded, and African-led African innovation enterprise.

Professor Kelly Chibale introduces the work of H3D

After a short break, our guests participated in nine different simultaneous interactive workshops. The workshops were led by organisations including Global Challenges Research Fund, INASP, the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), GSMA, and Amref Health Africa. Our workshop leaders did a fantastic job of delivering highly participative and stimulating sessions on a wide variety of issues. These ranged from integrating gender thinking into innovation processes, the navigations between research and policy, and the development of utility scale solar electricity. Walking around the venue, it was inspiring to see attendees discuss and debate ideas, share different perspectives and drive to solutions.

During the lunch break, attendees were able to explore the PEI Partners Fair, with some fantastic organisations exhibiting. These included IBM, the University of Exeter, GSMA, British Council, RAENG and the Global Challenge Research Fund.

After lunch, Alison kicked off the afternoon session by inviting our guests to think about what was needed to make their ‘Big Ideas For Africa’ a reality and specifically the type of people they needed to connect with. Following this, Lord Boateng introduced our second panel of high-level speakers, which focused on celebrating and exploring innovation from Africa. Panellists included Hon. Min. Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, Ghana’s Minister for Business Development, Dr Sipho Moyo, Director of Special Projects for the African Development Bank (AfDB), Professor Maggy Momba, Research Professor for the Tshwane University of Technology, Noah Samara, Chairman of Yazmi, and Dr Joe DeVries, VP of Programme Development and Innovation for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Attendees enjoy the afternoon panel

First, Hon. Min. Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, discussed his government’s efforts to make Ghana the most business-friendly nation in the world through investment in skills. He also outlined some major developments that can benefit not only Ghana, but also the whole continent. This included the successful launch of Ghana’s first satellite. Dr Joe DeVries then discussed the role of technologies and markets as catalysts in Africa’s agricultural transformation. He also stressed the importance of developing smallholder farming in Africa as a business. Our third afternoon panellist, Prof Maggy Momba, explored how nanotechnology can be harnessed to tackle water purification and quality issues, a challenge still impacting the daily lives of millions of people on the continent. Following this, in a wonderfully impassioned presentation, Noah Samara argued for the implementation of high-quality science education, as he stressed that ‘studying science builds minds and reasoning skills for all professions’. His company, Yazmi, is currently helping to improve access and opportunity to high-quality educational material, delivered via their satellite network. Last but by no means least, Dr Sipho Moyo, discussed the African Development Bank’s support for local scientific and technological innovation, including its commendable investments in higher education.

Professor Maggy Momba presents her research

From there, our attendees plunged into the second round of interactive workshops. This time, topics ranged from African growth in space science research, to mental health on the continent and how pastoralists are managing the threats of a changing climate. Thanks again to our supporters from organisations including The Cambridge-Africa Programme, WaterAid, iheed and the BBC

To round off the afternoon, PEI trustee, Sir Christopher Edwards, offered his thoughts on the day. He noted that the PEI’s #ScienceAfrica UnConference aimed to challenge the dominant rhetoric around Africa and promoted an impressive range of science and tech innovation. Sir Christopher also stressed the importance of bringing together such a diverse group of people, all passionate about celebrating the wealth of successes coming from the continent and committed to supporting future African innovation.

Thank you to all those who attended our 2017 #ScienceAfrica UnConference and made the day such a success! Thanks, especially, to our Partners, including Banco Valor, for who are helping us build a movement for science in Africa.

]]> 0
Spotlight Seminar: The Future of Public Health in Africa Fri, 28 Apr 2017 06:33:15 +0000 Read More ]]> Africa confronts the world’s most dramatic health crisis. Accounting for 24% of the global disease burden, the challenges the continent faces are many and complex, with growing inequities in access to health services and health outcomes across the region. Whilst significant progress has been made in the treatment and prevention of many infectious diseases, Africa still accounts for 90% of malaria deaths, 70% of all people living with HIV and 26% of all tuberculosis cases. In recent years, the devastating impact of emerging viruses, such as Ebola, have further exposed the fundamental fragility of many health systems.

Given the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as well, resilient health systems are needed now more than ever. The WHO estimates that NCDs are likely to surpass the toll of sickness and death from infectious disease by 2030, with cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart disease the biggest killers. In the case of the latter, hypertension in the African region is the highest in the world, affecting an estimated 46% of adults.

It’s clear that the continent stands on a precipice – the action we take today will determine whether African countries will join the rest of the world in achieving substantial and lasting improvements in public health, or be perpetually left behind.

Whilst there are a great many challenges, there are also a great many opportunities and science and technology must be at the heart of addressing and capitalising on both. With world-leading speakers from across business, academia and policy, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) will be shining a light on those individuals, research groups, academic institutions and commercial organisations making scientific and technological advancements that are of benefit not just to Africa but to the world.

Join us for a day of high-level presentations, panel discussions and Q&A sessions as we explore defining issues impacting public health today and highlight the innovations that will come to define the future of public health in Africa!

Our speakers are:

  • Dr. Wilfred Ndifon, Director of Research, African Institute of Mathematics Global Network
  • Samy Ahmar, Acting Head of Health, Save the Children
  • Max Mallas Secrett, Somaliland Project Manager, Kings College London
  • Dr. Diana Marshall, Publisher, BMC Series Journals
  • Dame Sally Davies FRS FMedSci, Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor, UK Government
  • Dr. Aisha Walcott-Bryant, Research Scientist and Manager, IBM Research-Africa
  • Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for International Development
  • Professor David Ingram, Emeritus Professor of Health Informatics, UCL, President, openEHR Foundation; Trustee, Open Eyes Charity
  • Frances Longley, Chief Executive, Amref Health Africa UK
  • Dr. Manjinder Sandhu, Co-Director, African Partnership for Chronic Disease (APCDR) and the Ugandan Medical Information Centre (UMIC)