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The Role of the Youth in Transforming Africa’s Food Systems

Youth and agriculture has become one of the hottest topics in agricultural sciences. Agriculture is facing an aging workforce with most youth losing interest in agriculture and this is a threat to the future of food security. To think about it, if the youth do not learn how to produce food, who is going to feed the world in the next few years? The current discussion is on making ‘Agriculture attractive to the youth’ and ‘Making Agriculture Sexy.’ Several hashtags have since been gracing social media, #makeagriculturesexy, #youthinagriculture, usually accompanied by pictures of youthful faces smiling through their various farming activities.

The average age of a farmer worldwide is almost 60. So how can agriculture be made appealing to the youth? How can we change the way we look at careers in food production? How can we involve more youth in all the stages of food value chains and not just the sales and marketing? What can African governments do to ensure that their food production has a sustainable workforce? How can we make agriculture sexy?

Careers in food production are not regarded as profitable nor intelligent. For the youth interested in agriculture, it is regarded as an investment to make after they retire: A future project. This continues to give agriculture an old face.

No farmers no food
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Solutions proposed have not been the gospel truth, some have lacked clarity, and for most, they lack the financial backup to bring them to reality. Investments in technology and innovation have proven to attract youth to agriculture in the global north. Technology and innovation are indeed a prerequisite for feeding Africa’s population which is projected to double by 2050. The land available for food production continues to shrink due to the effects of land degradation while climate change continues to threaten biodiversity. All these challenges make technology and innovation vital to the survival of food systems in Africa.

But, for countries that are already struggling with feeding the current populations, where can these funds be sourced? What is the solution for them? For African countries lagging behind in technology and innovation, what are their go-to options in making agriculture sexy for the youth?

One of the most appealing discussions I have come across so far is about improving agriculture knowledge among the youth. If there is one thing that is common among the youth, it is their desire to become successful. Given enough knowledge on the profitability of agriculture, I could be certain that most youth would consider venturing into it. Through social media, this has been widely shared as #agribusiness, #nextgenfarmers, and #youngfarmer.

Young farmer
Photo by Reneé Thompson on Unsplash

Low infrastructure development and mechanization make agriculture labour-intensive work and therefore unattractive. The low and slow returns in agriculture reveal gaps that require filling. Indeed the gaps in infrastructure and innovation for better food production give space for African youth to create contextualized solutions for the future of our food systems.

The biggest barriers to youth’s engagement in agriculture are limited access to land, financial resources, and agriculture knowledge. Africa already has over 230 million people facing food insecurity according to the latest State of Food Insecurity (SOFI). Youth engagement in agriculture will require solutions coming from overarching stakeholders from governments, research organizations, financial institutions, and technology companies to create sustainable solutions.

As the youth, we are not leaders of tomorrow, we are the young leaders of today and we need to start training into our roles. Despite the slow movement towards creating opportunities for the youth in agriculture, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, we can start raising our voices on the barriers that we are facing to participating in food production. Let us raise our voices in the right places and to the right people, because only then could we change the policies and investment priorities of governments to favour development that is inclusive. The agriculture sector is the main employer of the African population and therefore has a multiplier effect on development. Agriculture has a role to play in achieving #zerohunger and we are the driving force to get there.

Photo by Violet Chanza Black

Some African governments are supporting youth-led initiatives that encourage youth engagement in Agriculture such as Kenya with its Utoma Youth Farmers Group Initiative, Zambia with its Young Emerging Farmers Initiative (YEFI) and Nigeria with its National Young Farmers Scheme Initiative have already taken further steps in establishing spaces for dialogue and initiatives for getting the youth to participate in agriculture. Growing youth engagement in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is a hope for the future of Africa and its growing population. With a platform to share experiences and tools for increasing youth’s engagement in sustainable food production, Africa has hope of achieving #Zerohunger.

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