World Food Prize Recipient: Make Agriculture Cool Again

This week’s Development Agriculture Wednesday shares some insights from this year’s World Food Prize recipient Akinwumi Adesina on how making agriculture cool for Africa’s youth can lift millions out of poverty and food insecurity.

The idea of an agrarian economy, or Banana republic, has long been associated with the third world. But, whilst agrarian economies dominated by a large number of small-hold farmers is a characteristic of many developing countries, it is by no means a source of causality. If anything – as Akinwumi Adesina, this year’s World Food Prize recipient believes – a strong agricultural sector is the pathway out of underdevelopment.

According to Adesina, the key to unlocking the potential of agriculture in developing countries is making Agriculture cool for young people.

With such high rates of youth unemployment across many parts of Africa (particularly in rural areas), it is no wonder there are such large flows of young migrants from the continent to search for work in Europe. As Adesina himself has said, this is not surprising, “even insects migrate from where it is dark to where there is light”.

On the plus side, Africa has the most youthful population in the world, with over 20% of the population aged between 15-24 years, and 40% under 15 years. Youth make up 36% of the total working age population. If the lead of Adesina can be followed, and agriculture can become a cool industry for youth, this then hosts enormous potential for the region. This is particularly important, given over 70% of Africa’s youth live in rural areas, and young people are more likely than any other age group to migrate from rural to urban areas. “We must turn rural areas from zones of economic misery to zones of economic prosperity” says Adesina.

The Problem

The facts really speak for themselves here:

  1. $35 billion every year is spent on food imports into Africa.
  2. Around 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa.
  3. Around 30% of the world’s food insecure live in Africa, according to the UNFAO.

Clearly there is much room for the agricultural sector to grow and expand. There is hope that African agriculture can expand into a net-exporter of food. This growth potential also includes vertical expansions into value-added industries of manufactured and finished goods which have less volatile prices, and could provide long term stable economic growth.

But this may be easier said than done. Rural parts of Africa are also some of the poorest parts of the world, and lack the infrastructure and economic conditions for such a large expansion.  

How do we do it?

According to Adesina , “this requires new agricultural innovations and transforming agriculture into a sector for creating wealth. We must make agriculture a really cool choice for young people. The future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will come initially from agriculture”. To do this, the region must focus on attracting investment to grow the industry. Not only will this allow the sector to expand, but it will enable the industry to become more industrialized, high-tech, and profitable.

“The key is to make agriculture a business. Agriculture is not a way of life, is not a development activity, it’s a business.”

Money is already being directed towards expanding the sector. Last year the AfDB invested $800 million in supporting young agro-entrepreneurs across 8 countries. They are also aiming to invest $12 billion into the energy sector, and is seeking a further $50 billion from the private sector.

Grassroots movements are also underway which utilise new technologies like mobile phones and apps to make agriculture and farming know-how more accessible. See our earlier articles on HelloTractor or Icow for example.

To sum up with the wise words of Adesina: “The future of African young people lies in a more prosperous and inclusive Africa, and there is no other sector that has greater power to create growth than the agricultural sector.”

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