Africa University 25th Graduation Ceremony
Youths are critical players in food security in Africa

Ruth Butaumocho

African Agenda

The world has been under siege from devastating effects of climate change that have upended lives of millions of people across the globe in recent years.

Natural disasters such as floods, torrential rains and floods have seen an increase in droughts, causing severe food shortages.

This year’s farming season will not be different from previous ones amid revelations that yet another El Niño induced drought is likely to hit most parts of Africa owing to the effects of climate change.

The United Nations estimates that 690 million people — just under nine percent of the world population — is undernourished. 

Severe food shortages are being reported in most parts of Africa, leaving state leaders with no option but to call for an increase in food production.

A renowned human rights activist from Malawi, Ms Emma Kaliya, believes that the future of Africa’s food security lies with the youths.

“Youths have become a vital cog in ensuring food security, not only in Malawi where I come from, but across Africa and the results are there to see,” Ms Kaliya revealed during an interview at the sidelines of the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) 20th anniversary celebrations held in Johannesburg, South Africa recently.

Sharing experiences on how the youths in Malawi were contributing meaningfully towards food security in her country through farming, Ms Kaliya said the practice can be replicated across Africa.

“Youths will need to understand that they will not find formal jobs, all the time and the jobs are simply not there. They would need to innovate around agriculture and feed nations.

“In Malawi, the youths have seen the beauty of farming and are venturing into farming, soon after graduating from universities, though at a small scale.

“We have seen some youths who are committed to farming and are actually making a difference. I know five youths in Malawi who are committed and have done extremely well, in farming and are actually inspiring their peers. One of them an Economics graduate has since started an entrepreneurial hub to train graduates on how best they can run farming as a business,” she said.

Ms Kaliya said while she appreciated efforts by the youths, she urged them to collaborate to maximize on output.

“The youth should join hands, form cooperatives and come up with mega farms, where governments will come up with resources to sponsor these farming projects,” she said.

Ms Kaliya said to support the youths-driven initiative, the government of Malawi have since put-up fund, the National Empowerment Fund which funds groups of youth or women who want to embark on different income generating projects, with farming being one of them.

Involving youths in agriculture is a progressive initiative that can result in a boon in agriculture once it properly set up and supported with the necessary resources and political will.

Once African member states establish proper structures, fund the programmes and offer the necessary technical support, the ripple effects would be good, and these can cascade across the continent to ensure that youths can become the custodians of food security in the continent.

Other African leaders should harness what is happening in Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and some parts of Africa to consolidate the efforts into regional blocs where youths have already shown that they are ready to take farming to another level..

Unlike yesteryear, where farming was regarded as a domain for the less educated people and individuals of lesser means, young savvy university graduates are choosing farming over white-collar jobs.

In Zimbabwe, efforts by the youths are being ably supported by a number of initiatives to prop agriculture in the country as Zimbabwe seeks a return to its breadbasket status.

Statistics show that about 57 percent of Zimbabwean women between ages 20 and 31 and 47 percent of men in the same age bracket are growing fruits such as mangoes, involved in rearing livestock such as the prolific breeders’ Boer goats, and cultivating tobacco, corn and horticulture.

President Mnangagwa has adopted policies to attract the young and educated to farming while at the same time luring back many white farmers who had relocated to Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom following the land reform of their land about two decades ago.

Coming out of the shadows to claim a stake in agriculture, a sector, which traditionally has often been associated by the elderly, the youths should be applauded for rescuing the continental food security sector, which is currently under siege from a litany of challenges.

Climate change, the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and global emerging innovations calls for agility, efficiency and resilience which the youths in their numbers should be able to provide.

The inclusion of the youths in the economic matrix of the African continent, through agriculture should not be a subject of contestation because they are already the majority, looking at the demographics.

According to the United Nations, Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30. 

Such a huge percentage should promote growth in the food industry and supply, whilst also honing the youths’ skills in entrepreneurship, instil in them a sense of ownership and patriotism.

Faced with high unemployment levels in Africa, the agricultural sector can be the nexus that the continent needs to bolster employment. 

The vast and diverse production chain in the agricultural sector can create thousands of jobs if adequate resources are allocated and supported by political will.

The interest being shown by the youths to gravitate towards the agriculture sector, should afford African leaders, civic organisations and communities to reflect on the positive change taking place and make forward-looking commitments to develop further.

Such a positive development also calls for all stakeholders to further sustain the vigour, excitement and enthusiasm being shown by the youths. 

This can be done by providing the much-needed resources, skills and knowledge to equip the youths.

Governments should identify leaders and technocrats who are able to take the youths toward through mega farming projects, utilizing emerging international farming trends for maximum yields.

Good management of such mega farms will improve the food security, which the continent badly needs to cut down serious shortages of food, and malnutrition in some parts of Africa.

For that to happen, resources will need to flow into agricultural science, infrastructure, African knowledge systems on food and on a scale greater than is happening today.  Without such investment and with climate change intensifying, the countries and regions that will house millions of rural young people in 2030 and 2050 will face unmitigated downside risk. 

However, Africa should not allow itself to go down considering that it boasts of millions of young, intelligent, energetic and talented generation.

As the sector moves into a new era of ‘Agriculture 4.0’ where solutions lie in digitalization, artificial intelligence and automation technological savvy youths can be instrumental in transforming the food systems in their nations.

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