The larger part of sub-Saharan Africa’s population lives in rural areas where poverty and low human development indices are most severe. Since most rural households are agrarian in nature, and given the sector’s large contribution to the overall economy, boosting agriculture provides the double advantage of eradicating poverty in those regions as well as enhancing access to food and nutrition security.
Given that agriculture accounts for up to 65% of the continent’s employment and 75% of its domestic trade, it is logical to hone-in every support for the sector. Widespread rural poverty in Africa therefore presents an opportunity to replicate and the success of Asia’s Green Revolution that was based on agriculture as a key sector for socio economic development.
Although there are diverse rural livelihood opportunities from agriculture, many young people unfortunately, find it unattractive and regard it as employment of the last resort. Two main reasons account for this. First, because many of the youth have a mindset that perceive agriculture as not glamorous, lucrative, or not of “snub appeal”. Second, because there is lack of proper facilities and institutions such as markets and financial options and policies which promote agriculture in the rural areas. The result is that agriculture remained undesired and unattractive to the youth, rural urban migration increases and poverty rises. This scenario threatens food security and possible breakdown of rural economies which are mostly agriculture dependent. Consequently, average age of farmers is on the rise and there is less prospect for younger generation to replace the ageing farmers resulting in what is referred to as “generation gap” in food production. In Ghana for instance, the average age of cocoa farmers is estimated at 55 years and the picture is the same in many other African countries (Financial Times, 2015). As a result, productivity continues to be low compared to other parts of the world and best practices. For instance in Cote d’Ivoire, which is the largest producer of cocoa in the world, cocoa productivity is currently 300-400 kg/Ha compared to more than 1 MT/Ha obtainable in Indonesia.
The reason behind generation gap in agriculture is that many of the youth prefer to move to cities and towns in search of white collar jobs because of the negative perception they have about agriculture. This creates a challenge for the technological advancement of agriculture as older generations are less familiar with new innovations. Younger generations were born and raised in a technological era where they are surrounded by technologies such smartphones, software programs, and other devices that are used everywhere in the world
Despite these challenges, there is an opportunity to make agriculture attractive to the youth. Africa has the largest share of the world’s uncultivated land and therefore offers the opportunity for expansion. With growing population, technological advancement such as ICT, and infrastructural development in many African countries, agriculture can be made attractive to the younger generation in a sustainable way through mechanization, markets access arising from regional integration, business opportunities, roads and general rural development.
Recommendation for the way forward
Improving the use of technologies in agriculture will help to smooth the transition of agricultural management to the next generation. Apart from motivating the new generation to get involved in agriculture, it will also help them to transition into new generation of farmers. Secondly, there is the need to transform agricultural raw materials into industrial products and this will depend increasingly on the capacity of African entrepreneurs to participate and compete in global, regional and local value chains. To do this there will be the need to promote entrepreneurship development platforms to provide support to start-ups of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in agriculture. This will address the market and financial needs that prevent the young people from engaging in the agriculture value chain. One approach in this direction would include business incubation services which will support young agribusiness entrepreneurs through provision of guidance in areas such as business planning, providing R&D infrastructure facilities, prototype development and testing, product validation, business development, and facilitating financial assistance through debt and equity. This is in line with the UN which reiterated that “that Africa needs to embrace economic diversification, but also needs to focus on agribusiness to lift the continent out of poverty and put it on the path to prosperity”
At the policy level, there is the need to re-emphasize on the role of youth in the agricultural development agenda on the continent such as CAADP processes. This will provide the basis to strategize on how to further mainstream gender into agricultural development processes on the continent in order to enhance commitment from policy makers.
Although initiatives such as the FARA- UniBRain, TEAM Africa, AWARD, RUFORUM and YPARD are making efforts to address the imbalance, there is the need to identify the key success factors and devise strategies to scale them. With the recent rolling out of the Science Agenda for Africa Agriculture (S3A), which outlines the guiding principles to help Africa take charge of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), to transform its agriculture within the context of CAADP, FARA is actively pursuing means of aligning its implementation through consolidation of existing programs on youth empowerment and forging news ones. Click here to download a copy of the digest.
This is our third issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our RUFORUM AGM Digests. You can get more details about the meeting at http://www.ruforum.org/AGM2017/ and more information about RUFORUM at www.ruforum.org. You many also join us online using Social Media for real time updates. Our Official hashtag is #Visioning2030