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Tapping the Potential: Youth to Drive Africa’s Agricultural Transformation

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by H.E Olusegun Obasanjo

There is a deepening consensus among economic experts in Africa and around the world that agriculture is Africa’s golden ticket to prosperity. To cite one example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) contends that growth in the agricultural sector is 11 times as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors in sub-Saharan Africa. Ironically, African youth, who stand to gain the most from a prosperous continent, hold a diverging view about the potential of agriculture.

If you were to conduct a survey to determine the attitudes of African youth towards agriculture, you would be surprised to learn that many youth believe agriculture is anything but lucrative. This is illustrated by the fact that the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is 60, despite the fact that 60 per cent of Africa’s population is Under 24 years of age, according to UN data.

Most young Africans think of farming as backbreaking labour that pays peanuts. This view, though largely inaccurate, is to some extent understandable. There are many negative perceptions about farming in Africa that discourage the youth from going to the farms. It is public knowledge, for instance, that smallholder farmers are the image of African poverty in the public imagination. This is a view that has for decades been perpetuated and reinforced in the press and in African literature.

Admittedly, African farmers were historically disadvantaged, particularly during and the immediate post-colonial era. Furthermore, poverty among peasant farmers is still an issue today in many parts of the continent.
Nevertheless, a growing number of farmers are turning around their fortunes by embracing improved seeds and inputs, value addition and plugging into global value chains. Farmers are increasingly viewing farming as a business and not just a way to subsist.

Agribusiness, which is the business of agriculture and all aspects of agriculture and food production, is gaining momentum and we need to bring the youth onboard by promoting this narrative at every turn. Agribusiness must be made to be seen as a profitable, glamourous and dignifying business just like many other businesses.

If the youth, who comprise an estimated 65 per cent of Africa’s population, don’t venture into agribusiness, then there is little chance that agriculture will have a transformative impact on the continent’s fortunes.

The youth need to view agriculture from an entrepreneurial perspective. They need to proactively identify and create markets for fresh produce and processed food products. For instance, many young Africans are excited by the cultural, economic and political transformation that the prevailing wave of urbanisation has brought about. But are they also excited by the opportunity that urbanisation presents for those willing to roll up their sleeves and work in the farms? They should be. This is because urban areas are one of the key drivers of demand for food products.

The World Bank estimates that by 2030, demand for food in our rapidly growing urban areas will create a market worth US $1 trillion. This underlines the opportunity for youth in areas like value addition and agro-processing.

Furthermore, youth who get into value addition and agro-processing will ultimately plug into global value chains and access key markets in continents like Europe and North America. Presently, most of our agricultural exports are raw produce, which essentially means that we are exporting food processing jobs abroad. These are jobs that, if kept in Africa through local food processing, would have mitigated the escalating youth unemployment rate in Africa.

Evidently, agriculture is an area that could transform the fortunes of African youth. We therefore need to encourage them to appreciate the reality that the farm is also a viable route to wealth and prosperity.
However, it is important to note that the buck does not stop with the youth. African governments also have a role to play. Budgetary support for agriculture to the tune of at least 10 per cent of GDP, as required by the 2003 Maputo Declaration, is of great importance. Many African governments are yet to meet this target.

Equally important is the need for African governments to reach out to private sector and civil society to forge partnerships that can benefit farmers in Africa. Platforms such as the annual African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) are providing opportunities for such. For example, the 2016 AGRF secured commitments worth US $30 billion from private sector, governments and donors towards Africa’s agricultural sector.

Even as we speak about the challenges in Africa’s agricultural sector, it is equally important that we highlight the success stories and, in a special way, the people and institutions behind them. Recognizing and rewarding trailblazers in Africa’s agricultural sector will prompt more meaningful contributions to Africa’s agricultural sector.

In this regard, the Africa Food Prize, whose selection committee I chair, has been instrumental in rewarding individuals who have positively contributed to making African farms more productive, profitable and resilient. The US $100,000 prize celebrates Africans who are taking control of Africa’s agriculture agenda. It also puts a spotlight on bold initiatives and technical innovations in individual African countries that can be replicated across the continent to create a new era of food security and economic opportunity for all Africans.

Going forward, I believe it would be refreshing to see young Africans winning the Africa Food Prize due to their initiatives in agriculture. Such a development will undoubtedly encourage more young people to step up to the plate and take charge of the Africa agriculture agenda.

H.E. Obasanjo is the Chair of the Africa Food Prize Committee and Former President of Nigeria

 

Source: AGRA May 2017

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