Lusaka, Zambia, Nov 24 2015 (IPS) – Are you young, energetic, creative, ambitious and need a job? Africa’s agriculture sector needs you!
This is a potential sales pitch to Africa’s “youth dividend” to make a living from agriculture, considered a less attractive sector for a career but the mainstay of a number of economies on the continent.
Agriculture is keeping more than 1.1 billion Africans fed but those who produce the food are not young, well resourced, and technologically savvy or with the convincing image to boot. There is growing concern that family farming may fail to keep food on Africa’s tables for long.
Development researchers say unless young people – aged 14 to 24 – are attracted to farming, any financial and technological investments into agriculture will not guarantee food security in Africa.
Young farmers like Beauty Manake, from Botswana, have taken the challenge head on and have found success. Africa needs more farmers like her.
Manake left a career job at 25 and started farming. Today she runs horticulture and a livestock farms, two agriculture enterprises, she says are the best business investments she has ever made.
“The initial motivation for me to go into farming was to make money very fast and in the shortest period of time but now my passion for nurturing a plant from a seedling to a sellable product has surpassed that financial outlook,” Manake told IPS. “I have faced a lot of pressure as young farmer as Africa is faced with ageing farmers, I have to ensure that we intensify the way we farm to fill this gap as the food basket is at risk.”
The quest to end global hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture is the basis for the new Sustainable Development Goal 2 agreed to by global leaders at the United Nations in New York last September. This goal will be fruitless unless agriculture in Africa is improved to create jobs and attract young farmers.
Hunger, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are key development challenges in Africa. Agriculture employs more than 60 per cent of the population and is a major contributor to the GDP of many African countries as well as keeping entire communities fed.
Catching them young
African farmers, many of whom are smallholders cultivate an average of two hectares of land, are not getting younger to keep pace with the demands of farming.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the average age of farmers in Africa is over 60, bad news for agricultural production given that family farmers who cultivate more than 80 per cent of the arable land are responsible for the bulk of food production on the continent.
But are aging farmers and youth disinterest in farming the real obstacles to food security in Africa?
Jim Sumberg, Agriculturalist and Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, thinks otherwise.
By Busani Bafana