LOOKING AT THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY WITH A DIFFERENT LENS: UNLOCKING ITS POTENTIAL FOR PROMOTING GREEN JOBS
December 27, 2022
Unemployment in Cameroon remains a challenging development problem with a youth unemployment rate which stands at 6.65% according to 2021 National Statistics, higher than the global national unemployment rate 3.87%. As times change, coupled with the complexities facing the world today be it on Climate, COVID, or Conflict, engaging into meaningful and decent activities, in the absence of an easily accessible job market is prime for young people in Cameroon communities today. After observing that the youth unemployment rate has witnessed a significant drop from 2002 to 2007 and has only been on a rise since then without significant drop, exploring other channels for job creation could be useful.
Besides exploring new spaces for job creation for young people, the UNDP Cameroon Accelerator Lab is exploring young peoples’ potential for creating and promoting green job opportunities in diverse areas such as renewable energy, waste management, textile and even agriculture. Based on the Country context and in partnership with the Cameroon Country office Rapid Financing Facility Project, the Lab leveraged expert co-creation to identify and map out public and private sector actors, innovators, lead users, associations, development organizations and more, operating on green initiatives, and the types of initiatives.
Soukaïna Bouba Dalil is one such young person. She is an engineer in renewable energy. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she vowed to change the narrative of Fulani Women and Girls in her community whose place is considered to be only in the household. After an educational journey which is not common for every Fulani girl in her community, she believes that being educated is only successful when it leads to a felt or seen impact. Soukaïna sometimes does door to door visits in her community and other neighbouring communities, targeting households rearing animals on a small scale, or businesspeople who keep animals for commercial purposes to raise their awareness on valorising animal waste. Livestock farming is a principal activity in Soukaina’s community but managing the waste from these animals is a big challenge to the farmers, with huge consequences on the environment. Soukaïna feels empowered as she generates revenue by assisting animal farmers to manage their animal waste through canalization, compost and then cooking fuel. “Besides wanting to empower myself by what I do, it is awful to see an environment with poorly managed animal waste… the smell is unbearable, and it breeds mosquitoes, flies, and other insects,” Soukaïna said.
The Accelerator Lab interviewed Mr. Toko Emmanuel who is a livestock farmer and a businessman identified as one of the lead users benefiting from Soukaïna Bouba’s renewable energy techniques. To him, local initiatives such as this one, especially coming from young people, should be encouraged. “Thanks to this initiative, there is sufficient cooking gas in my compound. We will not need to buy gas anymore and even the employees will have cooking gas connected directly to their kitchen,” Mr. Emmanuel said. “Moreso, this solution will serve as great relief in heating up the poultry and pig farms, preventing the animals from dying as they used to before.”
Soukaïna’s story and that of other young people in her community, like Saadio Momegni who developed a mobile biogas kit for his community in the Far North Region, motivate the Accelerator Lab to sense and explore the circular economy space on what works and what does not from different perspectives like renewable energy.
Saadio is a young man living in Maroua, located in the Far North Region of Cameroon. Inspired by the mass cow dung abandoned in cattle ranches, while bearing in mind the low living standards of inhabitants, he recycles metals that he then develops into a mobile biogas kit. “Many people in my community live in rented apartments and could barely afford a home-built biogas system. However, with my mobile biogas kit, I target families who are not stable and who have the tendency to move often. It is made with locally available raw materials, and it is cheaper and easier to move compared to the pre-built systems which are expensive and difficult to maintain,” Saadio said.
Soukaina and Saadio are demonstrating their talent and ingenuity in renewable energy as they work tirelessly to reveal the potential of biomass in responding to the energy gaps in their communities. – It should be noted that despite the Country’s substantial renewable energy potential, renewable energy besides hydro, contributes less than 1% to Cameroon’s energy mix currently, whereas the country aims for a 25% share by 2035. As these innovators continue to leverage the existence of local and natural resources for social and environmental change, the enormous biomass in their communities derived from living or dead organisms has contributed to making them change makers. Cameroon being a tropical region is blessed with enormous biomass energy potential , evaluated at around 21 million hectares and the country is ranked the 3rd largest biomass potential in sub-Saharan Africa.
Current status-quo towards a circular economy transition at a national level
In Cameroon, one of the main actions which has been taken by government geared towards a circular economy approach has been to put in place regulations (laws, decrees, and orders) governing actions of actors. However, several ministerial departments have mandates to implement the same or related sectors like solid waste management regulations for example, which impacts on coordination, follow-up and concrete actions taken within the waste management sector. To some extent, most, if not all of these regulations remain outdated, with little or no action taken to pursue set goals.
“After the country’s first ever National Forum on Waste in 2016, with a strong recommendation to create a National Waste Stock Exchange Market, a second forum is yet to be organized, and the above-mentioned recommendation is yet to be implemented,” said Mboh Hyacinth, Head of Department for Standard and Control in the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development during an exploratory workshop on circular economy organized by the Accelerator Lab with a diversity of stakeholders. Cumbersome bureaucratic procedures tend to hinder not only community or individual aspirations, but equally those of the government in terms of efficiently sustaining circular value chains as part of the government’s own way of contributing towards the country’s smooth circular economy transition.
Making sense of the need to transition towards a circular economy in Cameroon
The concept of a circular economy is one which is receiving increasing attention worldwide, and it matters how every actor inside and outside of this space looks at it! In September 2020, Cameroon created a parliamentary network to promote circular economy in Cameroon (PANCEC); the establishment of this network was related to heavy floods during which poorly disposed-of waste blocked drainages. The potential of this space is assessed from different dimensions at continental and national level. As Africa's population is said to triple by 2050 reaching 1.34 billion people, Cameroon's population on a more specific note is predicted to increase by 50 million people in same year. Such population growth confirms an expansion of the built environment, resource consumption and increased pollution in urban areas.
The UNDP Cameroon Accelerator Lab is questioning the existing myths and realities surrounding this concept. How do we look beyond the perceptions of groups, communities, and individuals towards circular economy to strike a balance between emerging trends, potential and reality? Haven been recognized as a sector with high capacity for job creation, what does this mean for our communities, youth and most especially decision makers?
We are taking the opportunity to shift the circular economy focus away from sustainable development terms like nature, climate, environment, etc., to that of youth economic empowerment and employment. We want to examine the sustainability of its application through a youth development and empowerment lens. The Accelerator Lab is taking a deep dive into context needs for a smooth circular economy transition and is deriving strategies to explore available opportunities which provide a conducive atmosphere for young people operating as lead actors in this space. Despite the unavailability of data to demonstrate with exactitude the category and number of persons acting or engaging in this space from government, private sector, civil society and even at an individual level, we have observed within our innovation and small business ecosystem communities some growing interest amongst youth -- either as individuals, associations, or groups -- as activists within the circular economy milieu.
The Lab mobilized young entrepreneurs and start-ups operating in renewable energy, textile, agribusiness to come together with government actors from the ministries of innovation, environment, small and medium enterprises, including private corporates and development organizations, just to name a few, to rethink a circular model adapted to our context. We undertook a curious adventure in a workshop setting to use foresight and participative design to understand the challenges and opportunities surrounding the circular economy space in Cameroonian communities and to know if there is hope for a future circular economy. We aimed to find out where we are in aligning with national and international objectives. Participants took a step back to examine the efforts made and the mechanisms of government already in place, alongside those of the private sector and civil society. The objective was to redesign a model which positions youths at the centre.
During the workshop, the insights generated flagged other areas of concern related to promoting circular initiatives, which revealed the importance of such platforms for continuous circular economy-centred discussions, which participants considered timely, to enable them gain in-depth understanding of the concept and to connect the dots in identifying their individual roles as part of a system of change makers collaborating to facilitate a smooth circular economy transition. Representation from the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) and the circular economy lead Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development motivated further in-depth attention on related areas such as green finance, the need to address informality in waste management space, capturing relevant data of who gets involved and how, the role played by local councils in promoting circular businesses from waste, the validation of youth innovations in this space, and more.
All through the working sessions, reality set in during discussions on our society’s use of a “linear lens to explore a circular concept…,” which could be a possible cause of the complex challenges faced in this space at institutional, community and individual level. Certainly, or unconsciously, the conviction of development actors deploying “linear thought strategies” to address issues around the circular economy space triggered in-depth discussions. Are current actions like advocating for enabling policies, sensitizing communities on behaviour change for sustainable production and consumption, and supporting micro/macro projects in this space sufficient to lead us towards the kind of circular future we envisage? A future where circular approaches will be embedded in every system and process? How do our actions favour a future where production units become conscious of responsible actions? How best can societal consciousness be developed to ensure optimal use of resources becomes a duty for all and passes on from one generation to another?
From the moment we have answers and can find our way around all the puzzles, we can then be confident that our thoughts are guided towards realizing a sustainable vision, that of a circular economy transition championed by young people engaging in this space. Unlocking green finance mechanisms or packages within development institutions is critical to facilitate access to funds required for scaling solutions developed and led by youth in this space. As development actors, it is time to review some of our conditions around accessing green finance which are mostly stringent and not flexible enough for young people operating on green initiatives to benefit from. Addressing informality in a space considered predominantly occupied by youth is more than necessary for creating safe and secure job opportunities for young people. However, some of the constraints flagged which prevented youth from benefiting from these green initiatives included then fact that context wise, these concepts appeared relatively new, with low public interest, and limited financing from donors. Also, information on such opportunities which are by the way limited, is not very accessible to youth and even when available, funding initiatives for example remain limited.
Rethinking the Circular Economy Concept…
The African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) presents a circular economy as an “alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible, maximum value is extracted from them whilst in use, then materials are recovered, and products are regenerated at the end of each life.”
The UNDP Cameroon Accelerator Lab has observed that extracting value and recovering reusable goods from “waste products,” besides being a common area of interest for women and youths today, has potential for strengthening resilience and improving livelihoods. The value of “re-use” cannot and should not be undermined after experiences shared from other African Countries on its job creation impact. In Rwanda for example, collection centres of some waste have created over 1000 jobs, while the recycling and dismantling facilities have created at least 300 green jobs. Thomas Tjaback, a 51-year-old, has a passion for culture and innovation. He mobilizes talents from women and youth to stimulate creativity by developing in them the potential to add value to old or used products, including waste from tree plants, paper and more.
“Africa’s development should be focused on what the Africans themselves can do. The resources are available and so all that is required is a willpower and little knowledge. Innovation is the foundation for a modern economy, and so if we do not innovate, we will perish!” Thomas said. “Innovation brings empowerment and autonomy even to the least educated people,” he added. However, Thomas’s creativity and eagerness to transform lives and his community is challenged by societal hardships. Some of his challenges include limited access to markets, responding to demand, and sometimes running capital to maintain his employees and training facility.
Integrating his knowledge and skills like others of his kind within the waste recycling sector is challenging in a not-so-enabling environment where certain opportunities like green financing are new, limited or do not exist, and policy regulations or processes for solution uptake are slow. All these create room for increased informality in the circular economy space, accompanied by low visibility on work done in this sector.
Rabiatou works in the Likalo training centre in Yaoundé where she has learned to transform maize peels into flowers for decoration and other plastic waste objects into flower vases. “The little revenue generated from what I do helps me contribute to food rations in my household,” she said.
Such emerging and disruptive circular technologies originating from local community groups or individuals are an indication of the influence current development challenges are having on our growing youth-dominated communities. Therefore, there is a need to entrust sustainability of the planet to young men and women who will live the future that current development actors are defining. If present day development actors are defining strategies and patterns according to current dynamics and emerging trends, it is necessary for an inclusive space factor, to be integrated in all policy design and engagement arenas to provide an inclusive space for tomorrow’s generation. They will be responsible for developing future strategies and patterns on a comparative analysis model of past and future experiences to perfect what works and exploring opportunities around what does not.
The UNDP Cameroon Accelerator Lab is curious to understand the circular economy space as a potential niche for revenue generation and stable employment opportunities for young men and women. The Lab has engaged on steps which will connect the dots on emerging trends, existing mechanisms, policies, and actions in place to demonstrate the critical need for a road map towards a smooth transition to a circular economy with young men and women at the forefront.
According to the ACEN, Africa has been using circular principles for generations. So, as new business models and technologies emerge, the opportunities for agriculture, manufacturing and waste management can be harnessed to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty.
Therefore, given the business models emerging and the disruptive technologies observed from youth, we have an indication that the future could be transformed easily to what we want and how we perceive it. But first we must give a chance to the young generation of today, providing them with an enabling environment with appropriate and actionable policies, including regulatory frameworks that guide youth-led operations in this space.
Reimagining a model which will promote green jobs for young people, with a focus on which sectors or sector to leverage was at the centre of the exploration and sensemaking exercise organized by the Lab in April 2022. Drawing inspiration from the five big bets (food systems, packaging, fashion and textile, construction and electronics) for a transition to a circular economy for African economies identified by the African Union, participants did a prioritized reclassification, by identifying sectors adapted to Cameroonian context where decision makers needed to focus their attention on:
Participants noted that government and development actors will need to leverage food systems, the energy sector, natural resources (forest, textile), electronics and the construction sector to promote a smooth circular economy transition. Promoting circular approaches was considered vital for efficient resource management, job creation and reducing the impact of economic development on the environment. Drawing analysis from traditional cooking energy sources like wood fuel used by 75% of households in Cameroon, annual urban demand for wood fuel based on a 2012 data was estimated at 2.2 million tons of firewood and 356,530 tons of charcoal. Thus, revealing the urgency of action required for alternative and eco-friendly sources of energy to limit the 73% estimate of wood fuel production derived from the Country’s total timber harvest attributed to the growing population in cities. On another note, Cameroon’s economy is dependent on agriculture as it engages an estimated 70% of the economically active population, provides 1/3 of foreign exchange earnings and 15% of the Country’s budgetary resources. Besides, food waste remains the first major constituent of municipal and industrial waste in Cameroon. Moreso, waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is said to increase every passing day, allegedly underestimated at 43% from the public sector and 57% from the private sector, with evolving technology which makes WEEE a major concern if not well managed at national level. Reasons which all add up to confirm the need for timely and quick action required to promote circular approaches which go beyond policies. On another note, if the textile industry said to employ 300million people globally is considered of global importance particularly to women, then it is high time, the potential of relevant sectors be harnessed and explored towards accelerating green jobs for young people, focused on sustainable circular value chains. The above-mentioned sectors which stood out during the workshop as resourceful, characterized by a high potential for job creation given their existing recycling and re-use economic opportunities available for youth. However, despite the emerging innovations from young people leveraging the socio-economic opportunities within the above-mentioned sectors, including the availability of raw materials, human and natural resources, the lack of technological and digital capacities remain a barrier to boosting transformative systems change in favour of youth initiatives within the circular economy space. This is particularly true in a context as such whereby transformation processes for reuse are still traditionally done, characterised by the use of local artisanal material which sometimes are not very efficient in terms of time management, and production capacity necessary to meet demand.
Intelligence from the workshop revealed that, waste is at the origin of the circular economy and though all forms of waste are challenging, waste from electronics within the Cameroonian context is even more critical to address due to the lack of technological capacity required to recycle such waste despite increasing dependence on modern technologies that generate E-waste. The growing presence of “brocantes” (flea markets) in urban areas has directly or indirectly rendered them the largest polluters of electronic waste in major cities, with national statistics revealing an estimate of up to 153 900 tonnes of electrical electronic equipment imported in Cameroon between 2006 and 2013, where 60% of the equipment belonged to category 1 ( big household equipment) and the average quantity of WEEE per household in urban centres is estimated at 120kg constituting 97.5% of category 1 equipment.
It was however noted that the absence of a research culture generally mars the evolution of innovations in the waste management space and industrial waste management is particularly challenging as not every enterprise is ready to declare their quantity of waste produced for fear of paying taxes which could then reveal information on the quantity of raw materials used, which is not necessarily an open process for most.
Country Office role as strategic actor to promoting a smooth circular economy transition
As UNDP Cameroon gradually makes a transition from single projects to a portfolio of interventions, the intelligence generated from this workshop will shape future efforts to support the transition to a circular economy. UNDP Cameroon Country office promotes transformative, inclusive, and sustainable growth and will need to consider the following actions:
- Support a national study on the potential of the circular economy
- Support the expansion of a national strategy on a green economy right up to its implementation
- Coordinate the expansion of a collaboration between actors, leveraging existing working groups at the level of the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development.
- Leverage the government’s existing Waste Stock Exchange Market idea, which is an electronic platform and online service to support the coordination of actions around waste value chains, to manage large data sets (demand and supply of waste), and to create opportunities for new and formal jobs
- Leverage young talents and local solutions to support the drive towards a renewable future.
Overview of Insights and Takeaways
Waste management is core to a circular economy. A coordinated network of actors is therefore required within this milieu to minimise the risk of actors working in silos. The Lab noted the critical role of local municipalities in galvanizing coordination of waste value chains from household and community level. If local municipalities enhance coordination efforts for waste collection at the base, informal waste pickers will be mobilized, and organized to identify operational frameworks (who does what, when, and how and for what purpose). This will provide room for informal actors in this space to function efficiently. If bottom-up communication is enhanced from decentralized local municipalities to government, coordinating the management of household waste and industrial waste by these actors will be more efficient, and the actions of young people in this space will be more visible and better taken into consideration.
As young people nowadays continue to take self-employment to another level, through a conscious duty of regenerating natural systems, enhancing capacity-building opportunities is critical, and awareness raising on behavioural change for responsible consumption and waste disposal must be encouraged.
Our Circular Economy model is best defined by priority sectors and mechanisms which are innovative and inclusive for the creation of green jobs, where current needs and capabilities are adapted to context and require improved technologies for expected results. Next steps for the Lab on this will include continuous support to youth initiatives, reinforcement of Country programme efforts to scale initiatives of young entrepreneurs in this space, which promote circular approaches thus generating opportunities for new markets, new sources of revenue and sustainable livelihoods.