08 Jul African agriculture: A gem yet to be tapped.
July 2019 – Today many African governments have identified the youth bulge from two perspectives – potential asset and/or liability. What side of that dice is cast up depends on how new economic opportunities are availed to the youth. It is equally now accepted that enhancing agricultural value chains will be key for the stimulation of youth employment and the widening of the said economic opportunities. This is because of the state of the sector and its medium-term development prospects; we know Africa has significant untapped agricultural potential. While the continent accounts for 60% of the world’s arable land, it only contributes 4% of total output, and this could further decrease should governments fail to lure young people to the sector through innovative approaches.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has drawn everyone’s attention to the unpleasant reality that the average age of African farmers is 60. Generally, farmers across the continent are failing to convince their children to take over when they ‘retire’. Low incomes and the inherent difficulties of farming are pushing many young people to move to urban centres to find jobs exacerbating the rural-urban divide, inequalities and social exclusion making the need for greater cohesion more urgent (https://t20japan.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/t20-japan-tf6-8-urban-rural-divide-regionally-growth-digital-age.pdf). More importantly, the twin scourges of unemployment and poverty among Africa’s youth are causing a real crisis for transition into adulthood.
The African Development Bank estimates that only about 3.1 million new jobs are created annually — equivalent to about a quarter of the 12 million young people entering the workforce every year in Africa. The continent has the youngest population in the world, with an estimated 60% of the population under the age of 25. It is now known that unemployment and underpaid jobs are driving millions of youth into poverty and desperation, pushing some to take significant risks to migrate to Europe. There are needs to devise innovative approaches and rethink public policy to create the new jobs (https://am.afdb.org/sites/default/files/AfDB18-16_Jobs_English.pdf).
The key challenge to creating these new jobs is linked to convincing Africa’s youth to stay in their countries, and the rural areas in particular. One approach to resolving this conundrum is to have governments and the private sector turn to new technology to attract youth to the agricultural sector.
Equally important is the demands of climate change and the need for communities to adapt and mitigate through climate smart technologies. Innovations will play a major role in that objective. Currently, ICT is increasingly being used in Africa’s agriculture sector, often through smart or precision farming. Mobile phones are bringing market information closer to farms cutting significant transaction coasts. New technology such as the usage of drones could be an effective way to lure young people towards the sector and making it interesting. Indeed, upon the adoption of precision farming, mobile apps and drones, governments and others in agriculture should expect the sector to experience a surge in profitability as well as enhanced sustainability and attractiveness as a profession for young people in particular.
The FAO and OECD reported in the Agricultural Outlook 2018/2027 that a coherent and integrated approach that focuses on addressing the existing obstacles in agriculture is necessary. Whereby resolution of these obstacles related to “education, land access and tenure, access to financial services, access to markets, access to green jobs and involvement in policy dialogue has the potential to make the agriculture sector more attractive to young people, providing the additional push that may be needed for them to enter the sector.” However, removal of these obstacles requires significant investments in agriculture. The first step is for African governments to meet the Malabo Declaration Commitments including investing at least 10% of annual public expenditure in agriculture and creating job opportunities for at least 30% of the youth in agricultural value chains. In short, if the sector’s most notable challenges are addressed, agriculture could play an even larger part in transforming African economies and ensuring improving the quality of lives of millions of citizens.