While African nations such as Nigeria, Angola, Libya and Egypt have relied heavily on revenue accruing from oil sale, a key hidden treasure greatly untapped by the African populace is agriculture. It is perhaps the oldest and one of the most profitable economic sectors – capable of feeding billions of people around the world, yet Africa has failed to harness the potentials abound on the continent.
The continent is said to hold 60 percent of the world’s arable land, implying that if properly exploited, it could become the world’s food basket. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), agricultural growth is 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors like mining and utilities.
Africa has the opportunity to be the world supplier of organically grown crops and the market for agriculture exists with the present burgeoning population. With its vast amount of arable land and favourable weather conditions, Africa, half of whose population is under 25 is expected to help half hunger by the year 2025.
However despite the potentials this industry has to offer, it is still one of the most neglected and the number of young people venturing into agribusiness remains minimal.
Ironically, the African Economic Outlook reported that 40 million young people in Africa are unemployed while about 53 million of 200 million youths between the ages of 15 and 24 are in unstable employment. The report also noted that while 18 million of them are looking for a job, 22 million have already given up.
In considering agriculture as a profession; most youths, especially the educated ones regard agriculture as a dirty and boring job that cannot meet all their material needs. The very few educated agriculturist available have not really been actively involved in the practical aspect of the job – that is going into the field. Most of them are often in the business as researchers or consultants. They have been more of “book agriculturist” than “practicing agriculturist.”
To cap it all, most African countries till now are incapable of feeding themselves and many people continue to die of hunger while many children especially in war-ridden parts of Africa remain staunchly mal-nourished.
Just last week, it was reported that many desperate South Sudan residents who are trying to escape the fighting across the country are resorting to eating grass and roots to survive, because food is in such short supply. In fact one refugee family told U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres that they had been eating roots – which must be boiled for days to remove poisons — because they have no other food.
It is to this end that African youths must venture into the path not often taken -Agriculture.
Not only should they see this as a means to provide them employment, but also as an avenue in helping to end the chains of hunger and poverty that remains prevalent in most of their countries.
More young people in the business of farming can also help to create a local market that could spur the export of agricultural produce to other countries like China who has become a major trader in Africa.
José Graziano da Silva Director-General of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) buttressed this during the agency’s 28th Regional Conference for Africa, in Tunis last month saying “Agriculture, rural development and youth can help improve nutritional and economic well-being in the years to come.”
Therefore, Unless the younger generation ventures more into agribusiness, Africa may not be able to meet up with the demand of feeding its growing population and achieving food security by the year 2025 as stipulated in the “Africa’s Renewed Initiative for Stunting Elimination” (ARISE 2025).
Already some African youths are rising up to the challenge and even celebrities from the region are lending their voice to support this cause.
Recently Nigerian Artiste, Dapo Oyebanjo, a.k.a D’banj, through his organisation, ONE.org launched one of the continent’s biggest musical collaborations ever, ‘Cocoa na Chocolate’, to boost investments in agriculture.
However, it is important to note that agripreneurs like other entrepreneurs need opportunity to start a viable business.
Governments could help by investing in dedicated training centers where young people can get training and education to hone their farming skills. They can also help by providing infrastructural facilities (good roads, electricity) for agribusiness expansion, offering affordable credit services, subdising farm inputs and educating young farmers on post harvest management and marketing.
African governments should also adopt better agricultural policies by scaling up public investments in agriculture and honor the MAPUTO 2003 Agreement which mandates them to commit 10 percent of national budgets on effective agriculture investments.
With these in place, financial institutions will have the more confidence to give out loans to help young farmers in building their business and consequently this will boost agribusiness, increase productivity and profits, create more jobs, and help lift millions of Africans out of extreme poverty.