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By Lindiwe Majele Sibanda
Today's generation of young people is the largest in history. In developing countries, young people, aged 15 to 24 years old, make up on average 20 percent of the global population and represent a huge potential resource to their countries.
Yet ironically, rural areas are not benefiting fully from this resource (Globally, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults). In fact, many rural communities are ageing rapidly precisely because, in the absence of incentives to remain, young women and men are leaving rural areas to seek employment opportunities elsewhere.
In Africa, the demographics are even more pronounced and troubling. Around 44 percent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 16, making it the youngest region in the world.
Most of this over 200 million group is employed in agriculture, yet 40 percent of the total unemployed in Africa are youths, and 70 percent of these live in rural areas, where young people face particular constraints in gaining access to land, credit, training and new technologies.
By 2050, predictions are that 60 percent of people in Africa will be living in cities.
This reality has wide-ranging implications for food production in Africa in that farmers are typically elderly and engage in traditional farming practices. The problem is compounded further by climate change and extreme weather.
Africa contains 25 percent of the world’s total arable land, yet it produces only 10 percent of total agricultural outputs. Labour productivity in some of the poorest countries in Africa is below 10 percent of developed world levels and can even reach as low as one percent.
Meanwhile, soil quality is declining year after year, with Africans using on average 8kg fertilizer per hectare, compared to 101 kg in South Asia and 145 kg in the developed world
So why is more money not being invested into agriculture, wider educational opportunities and access to relevant vocational training programmes for youth? And why are young people not sensing this rare opportunity to transform an entire sector?
Resolving this paradox and responding to the challenges of expanding agricultural productivity and rural economic growth requires a greater effort to engage youth in agricultural production and processing and make them important players in the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
INVESTMENT, INCENTIVES AND TRAINING
This challenge demands at least three things; investment in social and economic infrastructure in rural areas, creation of tailor-made opportunities and economic incentives for young people to engage in agriculture and the rural non-farm economy, and more training for young men and women to build skills in both agronomy and business.
It is for this reason that FANRPAN focused on “Advocating for the active engagement of the youth in the agriculture value chain” at its 2011 Regional Food Security Policy Dialogue, which recently concluded in Swaziland. Approximately 300 delegates explored critical issues, especially changing the mindset that a career in agriculture does not offer possibilities.
One delegate, a 28-year old Malawian named Calvin Kamchacha, who is the executive director of the Farmers Forum for Trade and Social Justice (FAFOTRAJ), summarized the challenge well:
“There is a misconception in African society that agriculture is an activity that should be done after retirement from a ‘white-collar’ career. In order to get young people into agriculture, the sector needs to be re-branded and seen in its totality.
“When you look at the whole agricultural value chain, you discover there (are so many places) one can get involved, from inputs manufacturing and supply, agro-processing, marketing and financing of agricultural products all the way to the production process itself.”
Another youth delegate, Maureen Agena from Uganda, explained how she had been consoled and comforted by her family after being granted a university placement to study agriculture. Her brother, by comparison, had received praise and excitement when entering a degree programme in medicine.
In deal with the problem, FANRPAN has just launched an initiative called “African Youth in Agricultural Policy ” (AYAP), which aims to engage youth in the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme processes, helping them collect evidence and case studies as well as helping them contribute to future policies across Africa.
For Africa to achieve food security, youths must be regarded as critical agricultural players who need and deserve special attention, support and follow-up. With their energy, their passion and their talents, they can help to solve many of the serious problems the world faces today.
But first we must give them the tools they need to drive Africa’s green revolution while also safeguarding the continent’s natural resources and the environment.
In short, youths need to be part of decisions and policy processes for agriculture in Africa as they are the generation that will have to ensure that the continent’s growing population is fed.
Lindiwe Majele Sibanda heads the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).