By Jimoh Babatunde with agency reports
Farmers in Africa are getting older and younger ones are not interested in filling the gap, leaving uncertain future as many farms are concentrated in the hands of older farmers.
Many youths today are said to migrate from the rural areas because they do not find enough incentives, profitable economic opportunities and attractive environments to live and work on the farms. So, youth engagement in agricultural policy dialogue was one critical issue that emerged at the recently held international conference on the future of the Agrifood sector in Africa. Divergent views emerged from discussions on how the youths should be involved in policy formulation processing.
According to Dr. Samuel Kojo Dapaah, a Special Advisor to Ghana’s Minister of Food and Agriculture, the youth should be better off so long as their concerns with agric mechanisation, transportation, water and other basic amenities are provided.
For him, these provisions are more critical than bringing young people to directly engage in policy dialogue and policy formulation.
The view was, however, challenged by Dr. Namanga Ngongi, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), who believes there should be new ways to having youth express their views collectively in policy formulation.
“As leaders in agricultural development, policymakers and professionals, we must articulate new visions of agriculture that can be attractive to young people and align with their aspirations and interests.”
AGRA has an initiative which helps governments build their policy-making capacity and formulate appropriate agricultural policies.
One of its key components is the creation of national policy hubs which bring together analysts, government officials and representatives from farmer groups, civil society and the private sector to define priorities and develop policies that benefit smallholder farmers and other key players along the agriculture value chain.
Dr. Ngongi said such policy hubs should have youth representation to offer them the platform to articulate their opinion in agriculture policy formulation.
The Accra conference on young people, farming and food had as one of its key messages the need for research and policy to take full account of social differences among young people.
In the plenary session, an expert panel discussed problems facing African agriculture, growing populations, job losses and nutrition as well as some of the various solutions being attempted.
Dr. Samuel Kojo Dapaah said increasing productivity is vital to address the problems of hunger and unemployment; he cited statistics on hunger in Africa and youth unemployment.
He posited that there is need to create a strong link between food production and every other bit of the value chains like food processing, packaging and marketing.
Prof. Rahmatu Al-Hassan reminded the participants of the dynamics surrounding agriculture and young people: the rise of urbanisation, mechanisation, food safety standards and climate change.
She added that motivation, encouragement, guidance and training are needed to harness the optimism felt by some young people about a career in agriculture.
Financial confidence and investment was also needed as re-iterated by Dr. Namanga Ngongi who described under-investment in young people as a waste of human resources and talent, adding: “there is a great and palpable momentum towards agriculture in Africa.”
He said that to make agriculture attractive to the young, “we must invest in education at all levels, support agricultural innovation, build market infrastructure and improve the business environment in ways that will raise incomes and expand the agricultural value chain.”
Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamb of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in one of the presentations noted that youth knowledge in ICT and new media can be harnessed for the development of agriculture, especially in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and issues of climate change.
She, however, observed that engaging the youth in policy dialogue will first involve documenting the evidence of youth involvement in agriculture.