Despite being arguably the biggest and richest continent on the planet, Africa does not enjoy the involvement of its strongest force in agriculture – the youth.
Agribusiness experts recently converged on the Rwandan capital city, Kigali, to deliberate on what ails Africa’s smallholder agriculture and the need to listen to the farmer.
The experts said the continent’s great potential is hampered by the ageing population of smallholders working on their fragmented holdings while the youth move to towns, cities and western countries.
The conference was sponsored by TrustAfrica, an advocacy organisation. In his opening remarks, TrustAfrica executive secretary Ebrima Sall stressed the importance of transforming agriculture to make it lucrative and globally competitive.
Describing Africa as the continent of paradoxes, Sall said a shared ambition to transform agriculture would be the only way to stem the tide of Africa’s dependence on imports, now standing at 87 per cent.
He added that the future of food security and sufficiency in the world depends principally on what Africa does with its agriculture and especially with the involvement of its young people.
TrustAfrica agriculture programme officer Bethule Nyamambi said there is need to strengthen advocacy for smallholder farming on the continent.
She reiterated the need to reconfigure and recast agriculture such that it becomes attractive to the youth.
In this regard, Nyamambi noted: “It is imperative to engage citizens in their own development agenda and thereby enhance agency and accountability, especially as far as agriculture is concerned.”
Agriculture, Nyamambi told the summit, has the greatest potential to gainfully employ the ever-increasing and restless army of jobless young people on the world’s poorest continent.
Apart from the limited participation of the youth in agriculture, the delegates outlined and discussed a number of other reasons farming tends to stagnate in Africa.
These include inadequate models for smallholder agriculture, limited participation of small holders in policy, uneven commodity markets and limited technological infrastructure and innovation.
In order to fix the challenges confronting agriculture on the continent, the experts recommended collaboration between state and non-state actors — including the smallholder farmers — in formulating and implementing relevant policies.
Moreover, African governments have to speak with one voice when negotiating with the rich nations of the world for markets and subsidies that would put the African farmer at par with that of the developed world.