[Column] Dickson Naftali: Amplifying youth voices to grow a food secure future
Hungry eyes are on Africa’s resources. The world sees Africa and its large tracts of unexploited land as an important resource to feed the planet. But, Africa’s most abundant and most valuable resource is not our finite arable land, or the mineral wealth hidden beneath the surface. It is the youth of our continent.
From a labour-force perspective, 11 million young people enter the job market every year, but only 3.7 million jobs are created to accommodate them. In Sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment fuels a myriad of additional social problems, including rebel movements and persistent gender inequality, according to the Cities Alliance.
What the youth of Africa crave, more than anything, is opportunity.
And with food systems change on the forefront of the global sustainability agenda, agribusiness is that opportunity. Agribusiness has evolved into an industry of choice where individual aspirations and interests are readily accommodated.
Why youth cannot see the opportunities in the agrifood industry
Unfortunately, first-hand experience of outdated legacy farming practices and the uncertain toil of subsistence farming means the youth are not interested in agriculture as a career. The biggest block is that young people, especially rural youth, have ingrained social prejudices, with farming conjuring images of back-breaking labour in the unrelenting sun.
As long as the prejudice remains, the agrifood industry will miss out on the transformative energy, imagination and creativity of Africa’s youth. Food insecurity and malnutrition will persist. Poverty and gender inequality will remain. And communities will struggle with resilience to climate shocks and vulnerabilities.
How do we change the youth’s perceptions?
Generation Africa was created to connect the youth to agribusiness opportunities, to create awareness, and to enable their success by strengthening the ecosystem supporting young agripreneurs.
As the brainchild of billionaire philanthropist and Econet Chairman Strive Masiyiwa and his long-time friend, CEO and President of Yara International Svein Tore Holsether, Generation Africa has grown rapidly in the few short years since its inception. The other founder, who joined the two principals on this noble initiative, is Dr Agnes Kalibata, the President of the continent’s preeminent institution working for agricultural transformation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), who are also the host of the Generation Africa secretariat. With continued support from AGRA, Generation Africa has expanded to include the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, Corteva Agriscience, USAID, SACAU, NORAD and Heifer International.
From their deep experience and active participation in agriculture, information and communication technology, policy advancement, and grassroots development, these influential founders and partners unanimously agree that a thriving, climate-smart and youth-led agrifood industry is the best chance Africa has to shed the yoke of poverty.
Generation Africa is leveraging the experience and resources of its founders to design youth focussed incentives, entrepreneurial communities, and support programmes like the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition and Pitch AgriHack.
To achieve the mandate of youth empowerment and inspire food systems change on the continent, the youth must be heard. Generation Africa has identified three areas where we must amplify the voices of the youth to succeed. If any one area is ignored, the chances of a successful outcome become tenuous.
1. YOUTH INSPIRING YOUTH: Amplifying stories of success to generate awareness of opportunities in agripreneurship.
The young agripreneurs of Africa are doing amazing things. Dynamic problem-solvers across the continent are building successful agribusinesses around the needs they see in their communities.
Their stories are powerful. They have the potential to inspire other entrepreneurial youth to stake their claim in a burgeoning African agrifood industry and demonstrate that there are viable futures in the agriculture and food value chains.
Unfortunately, while many of these agripreneurs gain local renown, their stories remain shrouded in obscurity.
Generation Africa uses the annual GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition and Pitch AgriHack to identify these stories and elevate innovative agribusinesses and their young founders to a pan-African stage. By amplifying the voices of young agripreneurs, they become role models and mentors to their peers.
The Gogettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition is focussed on businesses across the entire agrifood value chain while Pitch AgriHack looks, specifically, at agritech. Both competitions showcase and support a vast variety of agriculture businesses beyond the “hard-labour in the burning sun”.
Youth see that they can help Africa achieve food security and that “farm work” encompasses attractive, modern opportunities in home delivery logistics, web design, data analytics, mechanical engineering, financial services, education and training, environmental resource management, and even robotics.
In the end, even the dreaded primary production part becomes interesting. The youth realise they do not have to do the work themselves when they discover an array of other existing service providers along the value chain. By collaborating with other providers, all the services they require to run an agribusiness is on hand, some even provided by fellow youth agripreneurs. Land leasing brokerage, land tilling and planting services, soil fertility management services, drone crop protection, harvesting and off-taking services, and more, are all available to take the brunt of the physical work off the table, so an agripreneur can concern themselves with running their business.
2. YOUTH ENGAGING POLICYMAKERS: Amplifying youth voices in multi-generational policy discussions to influence future-looking government policies.
When Generation Africa was first designed, our landscape research study was quite clear. Good intentions and pretty wishes cannot change the food system. Public-Private sector collaboration and significant revisions of policies governing the agriculture and food industries are crucial.
Many government policies, legal frameworks, and tax guidelines have not kept up with the fast-paced responses needed to tackle food system sustainability, climate uncertainties, and food insecurity on the continent.
Ensuring that the youth are part of critical discussions with governments was built into the DNA of Generation Africa.
Youth Town Halls with both government stakeholders and young entrepreneurs at the table allow the youth to discuss their challenges and evolving needs directly with presidents and ministers. During the 2021 AGRF, one such Youth Town Hall session was organized by the Gender and Inclusivity Team at AGRA with support from Generation Africa. The session allowed the youth to pose questions to H.E. HON Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya; Hon. Rosemary Mbabazi, Minister for Youth in Rwanda; and Hon. Yaw Frimpong-Addo, Deputy Minister for Food and Agriculture in Ghana.
Through yearly surveys, Generation Africa gathers information from agripreneurs across Africa regarding their challenges, physical and psychological strains, and the roadblocks that are keeping them from successful participation in the food system.
Every year, the Generation Africa Ambassadors, comprised of industry leaders, young agribusiness owners, and influencers in the agriculture and food industries, use the annual surveys to create a call-to-action to guide and influence policymakers and industry players to prioritise and support youth endeavours.
Another incredibly exciting policy-shaping programme currently being rolled out is the Youth in Agriculture Ecosystem Development Framework (Y-EDF). With a successful case study completed in Senegal, Generation Africa will soon implement the Y-EDF in Rwanda. AGRA is ready to start championing reforms of policy that shall be specifically highlighted in the Y-EDF Country Youth Opportunity Reports and Mapping Report. From the Y-EDF an Investment Plan, also viewed as a Flagship Report, shall also be realised. The Government of Rwanda shall then use these recommendations to bring stakeholders together to channel resources to critical technical gaps. At the end, the framework approach will ensure a collaborative and well-coordinated approach towards youth support. The right structure, where all important value chain actors are talking to each other, will be the foundation to create sustainable youth opportunities and jobs at the country level.
How does it end?
Without empowering the youth of Africa to take advantage of the opportunities in the food system, the continent is doomed. There is a lot at stake. 333 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Almost a billion people in Africa are under the age of 35. The choices they make and the opportunities they embrace will determine whether hundreds of millions of human beings will have food to eat as climate uncertainties increase.
The youth of Africa represent the creativity and energy that is sorely needed to end hunger, poverty, and inequality.
By amplifying youth voices, they can inspire each other. By allowing youth input at the policy table we can build a resilient policy environment for agribusinesses to thrive into the future. And by designing holistic support programmes with youth in mind, we can ensure that they have all the tools they need to succeed.