Helping Africa To Feed Itself

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It’s a crying shame that Africa, with most of the world’s arable land and a large and growing workforce, spends $35bn a year importing food.

As young African farmers get back to work transforming agriculture and “making farming sexy” this week, many of them will be feeling renewed drive after a conference in Kigali last week that lived up to its promise of putting young people centre stage.

The MasterCard Foundation’s Young Africa Works summit in Kigali, which wrapped up on Friday, promised to ignite new thinking about how Africa’s growing youth population could transform the agricultural sector. The 300 delegates included 50 young people with very diverse experience within the sector giving critical input on their experience and hopes.

The potential of a “Green Revolution”, which has been talked about since the 1970s, shows fresh promise with a growing and increasingly innovative new generation of young farmers, most of whom consider themselves professionals despite the sector’s reputation as a depository for people who have not made it elsewhere.

That there is shame associated with any part of food production in Africa is a scandal in itself. It is widely agreed that the real shame is that Africa, with most of the world’s arable land and a large and growing workforce, spends $35 billion a year importing food. That is the real crisis that the next generation of agriculturalists is under pressure to solve. It is good news for the young people themselves, they say, that they are also chiselling away at the sector’s bad reputation.

Farming already has the weight of critical importance on its side. It is widely seen as the sector with the most potential to defuse Africa’s ticking timebomb of a booming population and a growing unemployment crisis.

Africa has a young workforce in an ageing world, with an estimated 226 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. More than 70 percent of those youngsters are believed to live on less than $2 a day, most of them relying on vulnerable or unpaid employment for their survival.

According to information from the MasterCard Foundation, the agriculture sector is set to create an additional 8 million stable jobs by 2020, a figure that could be significantly increased through increased investment in education, infrastructure, technology and various other support services.

An important shot in the arm is being delivered as scores of young entrepreneurs begin to make headlines as they build healthy and exciting businesses by applying cutting edge innovations and new technologies in a sector known until recently as the most old-fashioned and anti-tech – even, some might say, ancient.