Norway’s minister for International Development Anne Beathe Tvinnereim was in Kenya and spoke with Vincent Owino on co-operation to mitigate hunger and invest in climate-smart agriculture.
What are some key takeaways from your Kenyan tour?
We had fruitful discussions with government representatives which hold promise for collaboration between Norway and Kenya. We have history as partners and a key message/takeaway is the enthusiasm of both our private sectors.
A record delegation from the private sector in Norway, examined opportunities especially connected to renewable energy, a field that Norway has expertise. The green transition is high on our government’s agenda and needs to be private sector driven.
Beyond Nairobi, I visited small-scale farmers and cooperatives within the agriculture sector. Food security is extremely high on the international agenda right now meaning we have to think both short- and long-term. As minister of International Development, food security is a top priority.
Africa imports foodstuff worth $60 billion a year, which is a paradox, because the continent is flush with natural resources. Technology to turn this around exists, but the agricultural sector in the region needs investments as well as connecting small-scale farmers to markets.
Your visit was based on the themes of business cooperation, climate and environment and the United Nations; how are these related?
Very closely indeed. The Norwegian Crown Prince, who was also here, is a UNDP goodwill Ambassador and the programmes he is engaged in and those the rest of us did separately relate to the global hunger crisis. Plus, Africa worked hard to put climate adaptation, food security and green transition for the continent on the COP27 conference agenda and succeeded.
Yes, climate change is a huge challenge, but it also presents us with an opportunity to our investments right. Norwegian businesses in my entourage are connected to renewable energy with smart, innovative solutions because renewable energy is crucial for development and a path away from old solutions and fossil fuels. The food crisis needs green technology, smart solutions, and renewable energy. Therein lies the relationship.
The drought ravaging the region and is blamed on climate change. What short term solutions are you and the UN involved in that can alleviate this?
In the short-term, we need humanitarian interventions, of course, in which Norway is a major actor. We also discussed with the UN agencies – WFP, OCHA – this week, on access for humanitarian assistance. But even in the middle of the crisis, we must remember to think long-term and that is my main message and mission. Investments in agriculture, deploying easily available technology, irrigation systems, and fertilisers can increase production in the long term.
Indeed, Norway will soon launch a food security strategy in our development portfolio, focusing on increasing the productivity of small-scale farmers through interventions such as optimising fertilisers, extension services and irrigation, while also connecting them to the markets, because that is key.
Also, in recent years, we have seen how difficult it has been to get the private sector to invest in agriculture because it has been considered a very risky business. That is about to change. One investment tool Norway uses is Norfund to step up renewable energy and agricultural sector projects as its investment priorities. I have also instructed them to invest in Africa and take more risks than other financial institutions would.
You recently announced a donation of 100 million Norwegian Krone ($10 million) to the Africa Development Bank for drought relief. Why are you so passionate about helping Africa?
First, I think it’s unacceptable that people can die of starvation in 2022. It’s the biggest solvable problem in the world, despite its complexity. Second, I truly believe in the agricultural sector as a vehicle for development. We have seen it in my own country, which went through major transformation decades ago.
In Norway, the agricultural sector acted as a vehicle for modernisation and mechanisation and in turn created value chains and many jobs. Yet, here is Africa losing all these opportunities because it imports so much foodstuff.
There has been debate on making businesses comply with mitigation policies to ensure environmental sustainability. Your thoughts please.
This is complicated because there are many answers to it. In Norway, for example, we have the CO2 taxation, which makes it costlier to produce using climate unfriendly means. That’s one way of doing it.
But I see the potential of investing in smart solutions, which would be a huge opportunity for Africa, where there are about 600 million people without access to energy. Just making sure these people leapfrog fossil fuel technology straight to renewable solutions would be a giant gain for the environment. My suggestion is: get the new green technology out there and create businesses modelled on it. Norwegian companies are ready to come and assist.
There are already some Norwegian businesses in the region. What are their thoughts on improving the business environment for them in the region?
They are flourishing and Kenya is a hub for new businesses. However, every country differs since the private sector will almost always point out much-needed improvements to the framework. In Kenya’s case, long-term stability and predictability pretty much determine the parameters any investor needs to work in. And, of course, transparency in those sectors can always be improved.