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AGRICULTURE: How can African youth deliver transformation

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There are more young people in the world than ever before.

FARMingFIRST.ORG – 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to UN estimates. For some, this presents an unprecedented potential for economic and social progress. For Africa, however, the world’s youngest region and home to over 200 million young people, this could easily be a ticking time bomb.

According to the 2016 Africa Agriculture Status Report, the region’s rapid population growth is due to rising life expectancy, declines in death rates, particularly of children, and more recently to lower fertility rates, especially among educated urban women. While child mortality rates have declined, fertility rates have remained high, leading to the “youth bulge” that the region is now experiencing.

Youth unemployment, vulnerable employment and working poverty levels in Africa are at an all-time high, with little signs of potential recovery, according to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook (2016).  Youth employment has, therefore, become an important policy priority in most countries. There is great interest to identify sources of productive employment and effective strategies to promote job creation and economic growth in Africa.

The agriculture sector in Africa holds tremendous promise for catalyzing growth and creating employment opportunities for the world’s largest youth population. The importance of the agricultural sector as an employer, is likely to grow with continued transformation of food systems and growth in domestic demand for food. African leaders have committed to create job opportunities for at least 30% of the youth in agricultural value chains by 2025.

But this will not happen overnight. Young people wanting to break into the agriculture sector face several challenges that undermine their economic potential and ability to influence existing policy processes. Studies conducted by FANRPAN in 12 East and Southern African countries found that many young people are unable to fulfil their potential because they face constraints in gaining access to land, credit, training, new technologies.

African youth want to engage in policy

Policy makers generally view young people as passive recipients of support, rather than active agents capable of solving problems. As such, they are rarely included in decision-making and policy processes.  Currently very few youths understand how policies are made and how they can engage and use their experiences to contribute to evidence-based policies that address their challenges.

Young people are keen to participate in the decisions and policies that impact their lives and can give practical, valuable advice on how to make youth and employment policies and programs more impactful. A growing body of research from development experts, including the MasterCard Foundation’s 2015-2016 Youth Think Tank Report, confirms that young people want to be engaged at different levels of decision-making on issues that affect them directly. However, they lack the skills and know-how of how to engage effectively once they have access to these channels of decision making.

The MasterCard Foundation recognizes that these challenges can only be addressed if those most affected by the problems are equipped with solutions. They have partnered with FANRPAN to demystify the notion that policy development should be left to government alone. FANRPAN is documenting a policy engagement model that will help young people understand the policy cycle.

Involving the private sector

There are other initiatives focusing on youth in agriculture at regional level in Africa. Of note is the Empowering Novel Agri-Business – Led Employment (ENABLE)  youth program being championed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), with support from prominent African private sector players, Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelu. The program is targeting to help young graduates establish 300,000 agribusinesses in the process create 1.5 Million Jobs for Youth ln the next 5 years. Similarly, the Young Professionals for Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), an international movement that supports young professionals realize their full potential and contribute proactively towards innovative agricultural transformation.

Sindiso Ngwenya, the Secretary General of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), believes young people will indeed lead the transformation that the continent so desperately needs, for the simple reason that young people are fearless, and not afraid to try new things and even fail at them. Speaking at the  Africa 2017 Forum in December, he stressed that for Africa to be part of the 4th Industrial revolution, policy makers and governments should look to the youth of the continent as they are the ones  that are already leading the transformation.

Last year, I met three very impressive young people who are at the forefront of transforming the agriculture sector.

Salif Romano Niang put his PhD studies at Purdue University on hold in 2011 to launch Malô,  a Mali-based social enterprise that enhances food security by milling, fortifying, and selling rice grown by smallholder farmers in West Africa under the brand name Supermalô. His vision is to turn Supermalô into the Uncle Ben’s of Africa—providing everyone with access to affordable and nutritious rice.

Emma Naluyima, is a smallholder pig farmer and private veterinarian focusing on clinical medicine and herd health. She has helped improve the genetics of dairy herds in Uganda through artificial insemination. She also runs the MST Junior Academy, a school she started to educate children about innovative farming techniques.

Lilian Uwintwali is the founder and CEO of MAHWI TECH Ltd.  Her firm provides m-lima, an online and mobile-based platform that links over 10,000 farmers in Rwanda to markets, banks, insurance companies and extension services. Lilian was recently appointed Board Secretary of the Panafrican EYE (Emerging Young Entrepreneur), inspiring a generational shift in the African Agribusiness industry through improved access to technology, innovation, mentorship and finance.

These are just but a few young Africans who are doing their bit to transform the African agriculture landscape.  It is time that policy discussions move from how governments should engage youth in agriculture to how youth can be supported to be drivers of agricultural transformation.

Global Food Security Symposium 2018

By 2050, Africa’s population will double, with 1 billion projected to be under 18 years old, and many others regions are experiencing similar trends. How can we harness the potential of this promising demographic to secure economic growth and stability? Global leaders, innovators, disruptors, and trailblazers are shaping the future of food and agriculture.

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