ATTRACTING AFRICA YOUTHS TO AGRICULTURE: THE WAY FORWARD
The President of Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr. Namaga Ngongi, was at the recently held international conference on 'Young People, Farming & Food: the future of the Agrifood sector in Africa,' in Accra, Ghana.
In his paper on the role of Young People in Africa's Agriculture revolution, Dr. Ngongi spoke extensively on measures that will make agriculture attractive to the youths.
After the presentation, he spoke with journalists, Jimoh Babatunde, who was there captures his thoughts.
On the conference
This conference is both important and timely. Agriculture is the backbone of sub-Saharan Africa's rural economies. Yet, the vast majority of human assets and capital of Africa remains locked out of this economic sector across the entire agricultural value chain - from farming to research, innovation, product development and market participation.
Recent statistics indicate that young people make up approximately 30 per cent of the total population in Africa.
With nearly 60 per cent of Africa's population residing in rural areas and the large majority made up of youth, half of them being young women and girls, the poor participation of young people in farming and the agricultural economy must be seen as a matter of grave concern to all; indeed it directly threatens the future of agriculture and rural economic transformation on the continent.
If young people living in rural areas do not find enough incentives, profitable economic opportunities and attractive environments in which to live and work, they will continue to migrate to cities in large numbers and the opportunity to attract a steady flow of investments to transform Africa's agricultural sector will be missed.
This trend would not only contribute to the mega urbanisation and growing urban unemployment that is already under way, but could also affect global food production. Who will then feed the global population that is projected to reach 9.2 billion people by 2050?
On why the youths are not taking to agriculture
For the most part, farming practices in African agriculture have not changed in generations. Lack of support to improve productivity and bring innovation into the sector has in many ways pushed our young people away from business opportunities in agriculture and into more attractive sectors like information and communication technology (ICT) or finance.
Given agriculture's major role in the rural economy, it has significant potential to provide solutions to the current problems of youth unemployment on the continent and slow the pace of rural-urban migration.
On what to do to attract the youth to agriculture
Clearly, there is an urgent task at hand. As leaders in agricultural development, policymakers and professionals, we must articulate new visions of agriculture that can be attractive to young people and align with their aspirations and interests.
The vision of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a deeply exciting one. It is of an agricultural renaissance, a vision of a food secure and economically prosperous Africa, marshaling the capacities of a new generation of agricultural scientists, extension professionals and entrepreneurs across the food/ agricultural value chain.
In this effort, AGRA recognises the potential of young men and women as active agents in the transformation of Africa's agriculture and poverty reduction. But the evidence is compelling that young people encounter significant constraints and disadvantages in their attempt to engage in agriculture.
On the constraints identified by AGRA
Amongst these constraints, the following stand out: Young people in rural areas, especially the women, are often disadvantaged with low levels of education and literacy. They often have fewer opportunities for gainful employment in farming and non-farming rural agricultural livelihoods.
Young people have fewer chances to obtain capital or credit and assets: Access to credit in rural financial institutions is often tied to availability of collateral (usually land) that young people do not have.
Others are access to extension and vocational training; access to agricultural/rural market and exclusion in policy discussions and instituted policies as National policies rarely feature the concerns or issues of young people on the future of food, farming and development.
Today, there is a growing realisation that young people have enormous potential for innovation and risk-taking that is often at the core of growth and development in rural areas. The youth response to the ICT innovation and the opportunities that stem from ICT stands as a powerful testament of the capabilities of Africa's young men and women.
The challenge that we must take up, as leaders, facilitators, and policymakers in Africa's agricultural development is to build the capacities of young people - male and female, and equip them to address the emerging requirements of an attractive agricultural and non-farm rural economy that offers prospects for viable incomes and good quality of life.
To make agriculture attractive to the young, we must invest in education at all levels, support agricultural innovation, build market infrastructure and improve the business environment in ways that will raise incomes and expand the agricultural value chain.