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Accelerating Environmental Sustainability: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities in Climate-Smart Sectors

  • By Lucy Ndumi
  • October 9, 2023

Environmental sustainability is no longer a choice but a necessity. According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, Inger Andersen emphasized that “sustainability is not a matter of political ideology; it is a fundamental concern for long-term survival, intergenerational justice, and equity.”

Kenya’s agribusiness sector faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities. To gain valuable insights into this dynamic landscape, KCV had the privilege of conducting an exclusive interview with Thomas Were. Mr. Were has a strong business and strategic management orientation nurtured over the last 26 years in various capacities, and engagements in both Kenya and Eastern and Southern Africa region. Having worked for international development partners including Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in Kenya  and SNV – Netherlands Development Organization in Kenya and Zambia,  Thomas has over 20 years’ wealth of experience in successfully leading and managing diverse development programmes in areas of private sector led agriculture, agribusiness, food security, value chains and market systems resilience and economic growth development in the region funded by USAID, ECHO, EKN, DGIS, IFAD, FAO, AfDB, GIZ and Mastercard Foundation amongst others.

He has served on various boards steering enterprise development including Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT), the World bank funded Jitihada programme under the Ministry of Industrialization in partnership with Kenya Institute of management and as an External Advisory Board member on the Green to Grow Project, implemented by Etimos Foundation with funding from EU-financed SWITCH Africa Green Programme. Mr. Thomas Were is a Co-founder and Director of Agile Consulting that so far pans African recognition in development consulting and works with institutions to bridge the proficiency gap, and to propel them to new heights of growth and stability. Mr. Were holds a BSc in Agriculture Economics from Egerton University and an MBA in Strategic Management from University of Nairobi.

In this enlightening conversation, Mr. Were shed light on the current state of environmental sustainability within the agribusiness sector, key trends, challenges, and the role of impact investing in driving positive change:

Can you provide an overview of the current state of environmental sustainability in Kenya, particularly within the agribusiness sector?

Environmental sustainability has not been a key focus in the agribusiness sector. Two factors contribute to this. First is the lack of awareness as to what constitutes climate smart agriculture and the impact of the current agricultural practices to the environment. Secondly, food security and commercial focus have superseded any other interests.

What key trends are you observing in climate-smart agriculture and agribusiness practices in Kenya?

Most of the focus in climate smart agriculture has been in climate change mitigation practices like the use of solar water pumps, use of organic inputs etc. and less of climate adaptation practices like planting of drought resistant crops, water efficient technologies etc. Considering that Africa contributes only 3% to global warming, the latter should be the most preferred practice.

Could you highlight some of the major challenges that agribusinesses face when trying to adopt sustainable and climate-resilient practices?

The major challenge is the fact that prices of commodities produced under sustainable and climate-resilient practices are not competitive. In other words, those that have been produced conventionally are often cheaper and attractive to consumers.

What role does impact investing play in advancing environmental sustainability in Kenya, and how has it influenced the agribusiness sector?

Impact investing de-risks and thereby catalyzes innovations and investments in environmentally friendly practices. This has a direct impact in the agriculture sector in that it avails resources and relevant technologies that enhance climate smart practices in agriculture. 

In your opinion, what are the most promising opportunities for climate-smart agribusinesses in Kenya to make a positive impact on the environment and local communities?

Relatively adequate rainfall available in Kenya presents a good opportunity for water harvesting technologies.  Additionally, there is a lot of traditional knowledge around organic farming that needs to be revitalized. Lastly, growing of drought resistant crops has been part and parcel of the agricultural practices for most of the Kenyan communities. All that is needed is the commercialization of these practices.

How important is collaboration between public and private sectors, as well as NGOs, in achieving environmental sustainability goals in agribusiness?

Each of the named actors play a unique role in environmental sustainability. The public sector needs to enhance enabling environment for all environmentally related innovations. Conducive environment spurs investments from the private sector. NGOs and development partners plays an important market facilitation role. They are the objective arbiters, so to speak.

Are there any innovative technologies or approaches that you believe will significantly contribute to climate-smart agriculture and agribusiness in the near future?

With the persistent drought, water technologies and planting of drought resistant crops are vital. Use of inorganic inputs have proved unsustainable, thereby calling for the immediate shift to the use of organic solutions.

What advice would you offer to entrepreneurs and investors looking to support or engage in climate-smart agribusiness ventures in Kenya?

Entrepreneurs need to demonstrate strong commercial sustainability in their solutions. This is the only way they can attract financial support. Investors on the other hand need to exercise patience and flexibility since returns in climate technologies may not be as quick as they expect, some of which cannot be easily monetized.

Finally, what do you envision as the future of agribusiness in Kenya in the context of environmental sustainability, and how can organizations like Kenya Climate Ventures lead the way?

There are high prospects in climate smart agribusiness since consumer awareness with regard to climate change is increasing, and they will soon be quite sensitive on carbon footprints for all that they will be consuming. KCV and like-minded partners should lead the way by communicating success and impact for their interventions to attract further investments in the sector.

The conversation with Mr. Were provides a critical understanding of the state of environmental sustainability within Kenya’s agribusiness sector. It is evident that while challenges exist, opportunities for transformation abound.

As consumer awareness about climate change grows, there is an increasing sensitivity to carbon footprints in consumption choices. The future of agribusiness in Kenya, within the context of environmental sustainability, holds great promise. Organizations like Kenya Climate Ventures (KCV) are leading the way by communicating their success and impact, attracting further investments and fostering a greener, more sustainable agricultural landscape for generations to come. Together, we can build a brighter, more environmentally conscious future.