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Home-Grown Innovation: Endogenous solutions to climate change can offer more effective and scalable solutions, particularly in developing countries. How can we encourage more of them to flourish?

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Article by Ruka Sanusi, Executive Director of Ghana Climate Innovation Centre (GCIC), as published in the Climate Change Strategies 2020, a Climate Technology Centre & Network publication.

There is a quote that speaks bold and loud on the Inspirational Wall at the entrance of GCIC’s offices at Ashesi University in Berekuso. The quote, from TT Williams, states: “The eyes of the future are looking back at us – and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.” At the GCIC, we believe that a categorical truth of our times is that in climate change we are facing one of the world’s greatest threats – a man-made disaster at a global scale.

Without exception, every country in the world is experiencing the devastating effects of climate change. According to the UN Refugee Agency, on average, 21.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather-related events each year since 2008. Climate change directly impacts agricultural yields, as it does the world’s food security. According to the UN Environment Programme, by 2030 climate adaptation costs will range from between $140 billion and $300 billion per year. If left unchecked, climate change will reverse the progress made over the past years in development – and undermine efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Like many countries in Africa, Ghana is highly vulnerable to global climate change. It ranks 114 out of 181 countries in the climate vulnerability index.

Climate change is projected to affect Ghana’s water resources, energy supplies, crop production and food security. The country’s vulnerability is largely due to its dependence on the production of crops that are sensitive to climate change, including cassava and cocoa, and by a lack of agricultural diversification. The rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life.

Conventional manufacturing and consumer patterns are making our planet warmer. Our manufacturing processes involve the use of plastic, steel and cement – all of which contribute to climate change. The refrigerant inside the air-conditioning units that cool our homes and offices is a greenhouse gas. Conventional agricultural production patterns and deforestation remove the trees that pull CO2 out of the air. When the trees are burned, they release carbon back into the atmosphere. Making and washing one pair of jeans emits the same CO2 as driving 69 miles. These kind of manufacturing and consumer patterns beg for climate innovation and breakthroughs in what we eat, and how we live, make things, fuel our cars and power our homes.

The truth is that we can choose to at least slow down – if not reverse – the global disaster that is climate change. We can choose to make a difference – for the world won’t get better if we take no action.

At GCIC, our work is at the nexus of climate change, private enterprise, and economic and ecological prosperity. We work with entrepreneurs and enterprises in the small and growing business sector across Ghana, incubating them to start, operate and grow their green enterprises with unusual intent. We proffer a different approach to commercial activity and a different premise in innovation. This is a premise that pays attention to enterprise agility. It prioritises climate-smart innovation, clean technology, circularity, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Endogenous solutions

Here are just some of the endogenous solutions being developed by our climate innovators.

Neat Eco Feeds: this award-winning enterprise from GCIC’s ‘Cohort 2’ of entrepreneurs produces maggot feed for fish and poultry farmers from organic waste (faecal matter). It operates in Zebilla in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Demand for poultry in Ghana is growing by 13.9 per cent a year. However, the imported poultry sector is benefiting most from this demand, as local poultry costs four times more to produce. This is attributed to the cost of feed, which makes up about 60 to 70 per cent of the total cost of production.

The rise of fishmeal and soymeal production is causing global issues such as overfishing and deforestation. With the global population estimated to be nine billion by 2020, demand for animal protein is only set to rise. This will also increase the amount of organic waste going into landfill. So, meeting the growing demand for protein to feed farm animals requires an alternative source of protein.

Neat Eco Feeds produces alternative protein animal feed from maggots. It uses waste sourced from Neat Meat Company Limited, which produces about 200–300 kg of waste weekly. The maggots are produced in 175 substrate tanks measuring 0.75 by 0.75 metres. Each tank goes through 10 cycles per month yielding 150 kg of waste from 50 kg of organic waste, totalling 26 tons of maggot feed every month. The products are sold to smallholder farmers in the poultry and fish farming sector. This provides them with an affordable alternative to costly protein feed such as fishmeal. Neat Eco Feeds has the potential to improve the Ghanaian fish and poultry market and become a global player that will compete with industrial global feed manufacturers.

Translight Solar is based in Accra and is one of GCIC’s ‘Cohort 1’ businesses. The company sells solar systems to predominantly urban residential customers on a monthly lease. While the leasing or pay as you go (PAYG) model is not new, the business model has two important benefits.

First, it reduces consumer electricity wastage. Translight Solar’s solution provides a facility that allows consumers to manage their energy use remotely from their cell phones – switching on certain high-energy-consuming appliances such as a washing machine during the peak hours of sunlight, and (for instance) switching off other appliances that could serve as a distraction to children when they should be doing their homework after school.

Second, it allows Translight to switch off the electricity remotely if the customer does not pay. This reduces the risk to financiers who offer credit services to consumers to lease the solar systems.

Another of Translight Solar’s key innovations lies in taking the model to larger urban homes. Currently, solar home systems supplied by PAYG companies have less than 100 W capacity, which can only power a few small appliances. Translight Solar’s smallest offering uses a 1,000W panel, with the largest having a panel size of over 5,000W. This is significant for urban middle-class consumers, especially given Ghana’s hot and humid weather.

BioGreen Energy manufactures and distributes a climate-smart and reliable ethanol fuel gel called Adepa EcoGel. This is an alternative cooking fuel made from molasses, sugarcane bagasse and other agro-waste. In Ghana today, over 70 per cent of households continue to use wood and charcoal as their main source of cooking fuel. This impacts not only the climate through deforestation, but also has negative effects on the health of the population. BioGreen, a company in GCIC’s ‘Cohort 4’, is employing indigenous crops to produce a clean and efficient cooking fuel that positively impacts the climate, health and gender equality.

Allowing endogenous technologies to flourish

Endogenous solutions like these are important when considering climate action in developing countries. They can provide more effective and more scalable solutions than those adopted from elsewhere. The social, cultural and economic landscape in each country – even different regions within a country – are different. So we need to proffer responsive solutions. If Africa uses more than half of its energy in cooking fuel – mostly firewood – then we need endogenous solutions to resolve this. We expect that in Ghana at least half of climate-smart innovation and solutions will depend on home-grown technology, inputs and practices that respond to market needs.

Yet many barriers prevent the growth of climate-smart enterprises, especially for the small and growing businesses that GCIC typically serves. These barriers include market entry (start-up costs, and regulatory and administrative hurdles, for example), consumer reach (through the high price of green goods and services), socio-cultural exclusion (class, location, consumer patterns), unjust power relations (big business having more influence than SMEs), access to funding and government policy.

The drivers of transformative change are the socio-cultural norms, and the economic, financial and institutional structures that shape people’s preferences, behaviours and ideals. When many of these are skewed, fractured or informed by the norms of ‘business as usual’, then climate action and sustainable development in the private sector (particularly for SMEs) is slowed. This means that, in turn, green growth is slowed. Then we become more vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change inaction.


Photo Credit: © Mwangi Kirubi – A Farmerline rep demonstrates their mobile service to a farmer in Kumasi, Ghana. The platform provides information on weather, market prices and farming advice, in their native language. Founded by Ghanaian entrepreneurs, the company aims to improve security for millions of hard to reach smallholders in Africa.