Agriculture will create jobs for youth in Africa

Thuletho Zwane

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has identified agriculture as key for the acceleration of economic growth and the reduction of unemployment in Africa.

Speaking to media from different countries on the continent, the Director for Communications and Media Relations at the bank, Dr. Victor Oladokun, said it was paradoxical that even though 65% of agricultural land was right here in Africa, 85% of food consumed in Africa was imported.

Olakodun said this was the reason the bank decided to invest in agriculture and agri-trepreneurs.

“There is no reason for Africa to be a net food importing region, spending $35 billion annually on food imports. This is especially so because the continent has 65% of the uncultivated arable land left in the world to feed 9 billion people by 2050. What we do with African agriculture today will determine the future of food in the world,” said Oladokun at the AfDB headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Media across Africa was invited in an attempt to showcase the success of development projects implemented by the bank in different African countries.

Oladokun said media was considered a major development partner of the bank.

He said it was important to capture the true story of Africa. That among challenges, there were many projects on the continent contributing to the betterment of African lives, yet conversations on the global scale were still largely negative.

“I have the greatest respect for the youth of Africa. Despite challenges, they are doing amazing creative work. We need to encourage them to see agriculture as attractive. We must change the mentality of people so that they take their own destiny into their hands,” said Oladokun.

He said agricultural transformation will help to revitalise rural areas, turning them from zones of economic misery today, to zones of economic prosperity.

Oladokun said the bank recognised that this will require significant investments in raising agricultural productivity, development of rural infrastructure, provision of affordable finance, as well as incentives for the private sector to establish food processing and Agro-allied industries in rural areas.

Statistics show that Africa has more undeveloped arable land than any other region globally. The continent’s arable land is equivalent to 25% of the world’s fertile land, yet food insecurity and malnutrition are persistent.

In 2015, 24.6% of the population was at risk of food insecurity.

AfDB’s Development Effectiveness Review of 2016 shows that a significant number of Africa’s farmers also work fragile soils in rain-fed areas, using little or no fertiliser, pesticide, irrigation or machinery.

“African farmers lack infrastructure, financial systems, scientific innovation and access to markets. This is reflected in low levels of agricultural productivity that trap millions of farmers in poverty and act as a brake on growth,” said Oladokun.

The bank recognises that agriculture could be a major source of income in Africa. However, untapped agricultural potential has contributed to persistent poverty and deteriorating food security.

This is how the development of the Feed Africa Strategy came to be.

Feed Africa is a renewed and determined effort to transform African Agriculture into a globally competitive, inclusive and business-oriented sector that creates wealth, generates gainful employment and improves quality of life.

The African Development Bank, through its Feed Africa Strategy, will invest $24 billion over the next ten years in support of African agricultural transformation.

The bank’s goal is to help to end extreme poverty, eliminate malnutrition, end dependency on food imports and move Africa to the top of the value chains in areas of its comparative advantage.

Oladokun explained why this project was close to his heart.

“My grandfather was a cocoa farmer. But in all through his life, he never tasted a chocolate bar. Many years later, we are challenged with putting value on our food.”

“Every dollar used on imported products is a dollar taken away from Africa forever. We need local value addition.”

The other issue is that of youth unemployment.

Africa has the world’s youngest population, with more than 200 million people between 15 and 24. According to a Mckinsey Global Institute (2010) report, young people in Africa will double by 2045.

Between 2000 and 2008, Africa’s working age population (15-64 years) grew from 443 to 550 million; an increase of 25%. In annual terms this is a growth of 13 million, or 2.7% per year. If this trend continues, the continent labour force will be a billion strong by 2040, making it the largest in the world, surpassing both China and India.

This is why the bank makes the case for African youth to be involved in agriculture as a business.

Director for Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development Oley Dibba-Wadda said the Enable Youth Programme will provide access to capital and capacity to Agri-preneurs to create about 300,000 agribusinesses and 1.5 million jobs in 30 countries across Africa, with an estimated investment of $15 billion over the next five years.

“We recently approved a Rural Enterprises Project in Madagascar aimed at reducing food insecurity and fragility, and increasing youth employment in agriculture. The project will enhance agribusiness by supporting young rural enterprises and entrepreneurs in the agriculture and agroindustry sector, developing agricultural investment zones (including construction of irrigation networks, and building up processing and marketing infrastructure) and facilitating access to financial and non-financial services,” said Dibba-Wadda.

Dibba-Wadda added that AfDB aims to make Africa self-sufficient in food by transforming the agriculture sector from one of subsistence to one that is a creator of jobs, wealth and growth.

“The Bank is bringing agriculture into Africa’s transformational agenda; it is one of the top five priorities established by the Bank’s — “High 5s” — in order to deliver real changes in the lives and livelihoods of Africans,” she said.

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