The notion that Africa’s economic growth hinges on the modernization of its agricultural sector is not a new one. Academics, economists and practitioners alike have been weighing in on the “green revolution” in Africa since the 1970s.
The need for agricultural transformation on the continent, however, has never been more pressing, with a rapidly growing population, an increasing severity of impacts from climate change and a surge of public and private interest and investment in the sector.
While we are seeing the rapid growth of African economies, the continent has yet to experience the levels of agricultural productivity that have historically paved the way to the modernization and industrialization of middle- and high-income countries. Africa’s agricultural sector still employs 65-75 percent of the labour force, yet only accounts for one quarter of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (International Food Policy and Research Institute, 2012).
At the same time, we are observing another shift: a large, growing youth population that is pushing the modernization of agriculture, in their own ways and with their own ambitions. This illustrates that young people are actively transforming the agricultural sector, working to make it more productive, more profitable, more diversified and more skilled, through their passion, ingenuity and commitment.
At our 2015 Young Africa Works Summit, we led a discussion on practical solutions to youth employment in agriculture. We demonstrated that agricultural sector can be a source of sustainable livelihoods for Africa’s youth, provided that they have access to relevant skills training, financial services and markets. We heard from inspiring young entrepreneurs, such as Rita Kimani, who co-founded FarmDrive, an enterprise that helps farmers build credit profiles in order for them to access digital financial services, and Laetitia Mukungu, who developed a rabbit farming business to improve the livelihoods of women in her community by generating an alternative source of income.
Our 2017 Young Africa Works Summit will focus on youth as drivers of agricultural transformation. This transformation, from subsistence farming to a modern, competitive and diverse sector, is already underway with a more highly educated youth population returning to rural areas to start agribusinesses. They are adopting new technologies, applying modern farming and agribusiness methods and becoming job creators instead of job seekers.
Agricultural transformation in Africa, however, requires an enabling environment. Young people are still facing limited access to technology, skills training and finance. Governments, policy-makers, civil society organizations, financial institutions and businesses cannot work alone on this complex issue – we need collaboration and dialogue across all sectors to create the opportunities and spaces for young agripreneurs to thrive.
Through multiple programs across Africa, the Foundation provides out-of-school, economically disadvantaged young people with transferable and technical skills training, apprenticeships and mentorship, and access to improved farming inputs and equipment. In addition, our programs such as the Fund for Rural Prosperity, emphasize the importance of providing access to financial products and services for anyone working in the agricultural sector. In particular, we focus on smallholder farmers, enabling them to save, borrow and send money easily, cheaply and safely so that they can increase crop yields, augment their income and improve their livelihoods.
Africa’s agricultural transformation also hinges on gender equality, productivity-boosting technology and climate-smart agricultural tools, processes and methods that can build resilience to climate shocks, leading to sustainable growth and food security. Each of these concepts will be explored in-depth at our 2017 Summit.
In her keynote address at the 2015 Young Africa Works Summit, Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), stated, “Sixty-five percent of Africans are young people, and 65 percent of Africans are farmers, but somehow we have been unable to talk about them together.”
On February 16 and 17, 2017, we aim to spark a new way of thinking, one that bridges the divide between the promise of Africa’s growing youth population and the transformation of its agricultural sector.