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Agriculture: The Heart of Africa

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The Young Africa Works Summit took place in Cape Town South Africa on October 29-30th 2015. I had the privilege to represent The MasterCard Foundation Youth Think Tank Team of 2015/16.

During the Summit, I rubbed shoulders with very intelligent and inspiring youth delegates who are passionate about agriculture and changing people’s lives in their respective communities. The Summit brought together representatives from NGOs in Africa and the rest of the world, academia, MasterCard Foundation Scholars, media and independent researchers. The Summit was an eye-opener and changed my perspective on agriculture. I can see now that agriculture is not a punishment, but it instead provides employment opportunities for both rural and urban people.

Before the Summit , we visited the Harambee Employment Accelerator. Harambee connects employers with first-time job-seekers who are locked out of the formal economy. The Accelerator addresses the demand-supply mismatch by sourcing from a labour pool which is not easily accessible to employers through assessments and work readiness programs for candidates.

The first day of the Young Africa Works Summit started with a speech from the Deputy Minister of The Presidency of South Africa, Buti Kgwaridi Manamela. President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, Reeta Roy, spoke on the transformation of the agricultural sector in Africa  as a source of employment for young people and key to sustainable development.

I was expecting to see older agronomy professors, government officials or other experts giving the keynote addresses, but instead, the keynotes were presented by young people with impressive backgrounds who are passionate about agriculture.  First, Awadh Milasi, Country Project Manager for SNV’s Opportunities for Youth Employment Program, talked about demand-driven skills development in agriculture. Next, Leticia Mukungu, Founder of Africa Rabbit Centre presented on mixed livelihoods in agricultural value chains and Rita Kimani, Co-founder and CEO FarmDrive talked about technology and agricultural services for rural farmers. The youth keynote speakers all alluded to the importance of being involved in agriculture to change their communities.

The sessions I attended included: the youth livelihoods diaries research project, the debate on whether agriculture can lead to significant development in Africa and a breakout session on youth employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture.  One breakout sessions examined mixed livelihoods, where  youth try to make ends meet through formal and informal approaches, and another focused on demand driven-skills for livelihoods, which showed how youth can be more productive and actively engaged in their communities.

On day one of the Summit, the sessions were all eye-opening and gave me answers to the many questions I had about agriculture being a source of employment for young people, especially in Uganda. As Sulley Gariba, Ghana’s High Commissioner to Canada pointed out, agriculture is Africa’s goldmine.

On day two of the Summit, I was still in disbelief that young people my age believe in and embrace agriculture as Africa’s key to success. Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade, author of The Bright Continent, gave a thrilling address that shows how Africa’s development is dynamic by making strong remarks like, “if necessity is the mother to innovation then Africa is the mother to necessity.”  She also cited the sectors that are holding Africa’s development flag, which include engineering, urbanism, technology, retail and agriculture.

The policy and partnerships session gave us insights on the systematic factors affecting youth in agriculture. Economist Louise Fox shared why agriculture matters because it has a high percentage of new jobs, there is high demand for African food and the agro-processing industry has a great need for inputs. She also went ahead and explained why youth don’t want to engage in agriculture because most young people want quick money, don’t want to live in rural areas, lack access to land and find it difficult to access credit. Since every constraint has a solution, rural education, consideration of gender issues and the development of extension program in agriculture can increase youth involvement in agriculture.

Finally, the session on demand-driven skills shared insights into the Harambee model that showed the economic opportunities in agriculture that youth can be engaged in, both educated and uneducated young people.

All sessions really stood out for me because they were so informative and inspirational. They gave me the drive to advocate for agriculture as a key sector for Africa’s maturity and development. As a take-home, I aim to conduct motivational talks for youth that are in the early stages of their careers in the rural and urban communities. I will also develop demonstrations for my ginger gardens and conduct more research on agricultural ventures that can benefit my whole community. I learned that a rabbit farm can change the lives of more than 400 people, could a ginger farm do the same?  Indeed agriculture is the heart to the body of Africa because every sector needs agriculture to function.

Hilda Namakula
From Uganda, Hilda Namakula is a 2015-2016 MasterCard Foundation Youth Think Tank Member.
Young Africa Works 2015

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