Op-Ed | Majority of Africa’s agricultural labour force is part of the ageing population. With a boom in the youth population, the future of the industry lies in their hands, to employ more modern and efficient techniques, writes 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 Organisation (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, the African youth, who stand to gain the most from a prosperous continent, hold a diverging view about the potential of agriculture – many youths 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 over 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under 24 years of age.
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.
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 growing. If the youth, who comprise an estimated 65% 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 World Bank says 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 the youth in areas like value addition and agro-processing.
Evidently, agriculture is an area that could transform the fortunes of the African youth. We therefore need to encourage them to appreciate the reality that the farm is also a viable route to wealth and prosperity.
African governments also have a role to play. Budgetary support for agriculture, to the tune of at least 10% of GDP, as required by the 2003 Maputo Declaration, is of great importance. Equally important is the need for African governments to reach out to the 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 $30 billion from the 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. Recognising 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 $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 would undoubtedly encourage more young people to step up to the plate and take charge of the Africa agriculture agenda.
His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair of the Africa Food Prize Committee and former President of Nigeria