By Dolapo Adeyanju
Pretty much every plate of food in Africa comes with the hard work and sweat of a bunch of ageing smallholder farmers stuck in the remote, rural parts of the continent. But what is the fate of the food sector when this generation is gone?
Undoubtedly, an ageing farming population has stern inferences on agricultural development. Aside from the question of – “who carries on the flagship?” – which has become a controversial debate among stakeholders, it compounds the problem of food scarcity and insecurity in the continent.
In response to this old-age and productivity puzzle, the Director-General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Nteranya Sanginga, strongly opined that youth engagement is key to changing the status quo in the agricultural sector.
He said: “Youths bring a mix of energy and innovation which is critical to agricultural transformation. These qualities are best channelled by young Africans themselves, carrying out result-based research in agribusiness.”
Changing narrative about youth engagement in agriculture
Interestingly, young Africans also have their ears on the ground as a new narrative about youth engagement in agriculture is unveiling. The recent trend of young people championing change in agricultural production and research brings a glimpse of hope to the continent.
In terms of research, the IITA CARE Project brought together a diverse team of young researchers from different parts of the continent to conduct practical research on youth engagement in agribusiness, to understand the employment impacts and identify factors influencing youth agripreneurship.
What was striking about their findings was the common narratives that, contrary to the popular opinion that young people detest agriculture, many youths are raising the flag of agriculture despite the limited policy support and perceived negative cultural undertones associated with agricultural employment.
Cynthia Jeh Mkong, one of the scholars noted that “while the new trend may partly be attributed to declining opportunities in the formal sector, it has important implications and insights for scaling food production and breaking the dominance of ageing farming population in the continent.”
To corroborate their findings, a group of young agripreneurs who identify as “youth in agriculture” recently emerged with a unique hashtag (#YouthinAg) on Twitter. This group, comprising of youths from different African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, South Africa, etc, believes that they have what it takes to transform African agriculture.
The true reflection of this statement is seen in the innovative ideas they are bringing into the agricultural space which could potentially solve some of the major challenges faced by aged farmers.
For instance, Samson Ogbole, a member of the network, brought soilless farming – a method which allows him to produce food all-year-round without worrying about land – into the limelight in Nigeria.
He said: “This farming method called aeroponics eliminates the seasonality of agricultural products and makes farming look cooler to young people.”
Young Agripreneurs must be supported
While it is exciting that the current statistics reveal a changing nature of the farming workforce, Adeyeni Adeniran, a member of the youth in agriculture network, opined that it may not yield sustainable outcomes if young agripreneurs are supported.
Niran’s position was echoed by Kennedy Kwithya, one of the organizers of the 2019/2020 Youth Agri Enterprise Award in Kenya who believes that: “Favourable policies must be in place to sustain the high youth influx and the scaled production that comes with it.”
He added that to sustain the influx and encourage more youths to choose agriculture, the economic constraints facing young agripreneurs must be closely examined and addressed, some of which include: lack of credit, technical constraints, and poor market linkages.
Majid Oshole-imodu, a local representative of Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), Nigeria opined that “agro-based contests, with exciting side attractions/prizes, trade fairs/exhibitions, and agricultural training programmes relating to different stages along the value chain should be organized to groom and encourage young agripreneurs.”
He added that “the success stories of young agripreneurs should be celebrated on prominent public platforms as this may attract more youths into agripreneurship and broaden their view to see and choose agriculture as a career”.
In line with the popular phrase that says “youths are the leaders of tomorrow”, the future of Africa’s agriculture is in the hands of its youths. More young minds, digitalization, and improved technology will most certainly transform the agricultural sector.