posted by www.equatorialguineaonline.com
August 1, 2011
BY DR NAMANGA NGONGI
Recently, African leaders and Heads of State gathered in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo, to discuss the state of affairs in Africa and the role of young people and their contribution to long-term development in Africa.
Given the youthful face driving the so-called “Arab Spring,” the focus on young people at the annual summit of Africa’s leaders is both timely and fitting. There are more young people in Africa than ever before – over two-thirds of Africa’s one billion people are under the age of 30.
Seven out of ten Africans earn their living by farming. The market for African staple foods like maize, milk, meat, banana, sorghum, rice and millet is estimated at over $150 billion (Sh13.6 trillion) a year. This market is far larger than the export market for internationally traded African cash crops like coffee, tea and flowers.
Yet, even at this critical time of high unemployment, farming is not receiving the attention it needs to create and sustain jobs. Agriculture remains a small-scale, rain-fed, low-tech, low-input and low-output enterprise. Farming practices haven’t changed in generations. Lack of support to improve productivity and bring innovation into the sector has pushed young people away from business opportunities in agriculture and into sectors like information and communication technology or finance.
The on-going ICT and mobile phone revolution occurring across Africa, and the millions of jobs and employment opportunities that opened up as a result of these industries, highlight the transformative role that the continent’s young people can play in development.
To make agriculture attractive to the young, it needs greater resources – for education, for infrastructure, for improving the business environment for agriculture in ways that will raise incomes and expand the agricultural value chain.
The viability of African agriculture relies on the action of people at all levels. But Africa’s leaders should do more to spur private-sector participation in farms of different sizes as well as in agro-processing and support services such as finance and machinery-rental services. It is not tenable that agriculture that employs 70 per cent of Africa’s population, accounts for some 35 per cent of GDP and 40-50 per cent of exports receives barely 2 per cent of commercial bank lending. African governments should do everything possible to provide adequate budgetary resources and put in place financial mechanisms that will mobilise internal resources and direct them to this important sector of the economy.
One key need is investment in higher education – not just for the agricultural sciences, but for training in business, marketing, finance, policy-making and engineering, to create new generations of professionals who can build Africa’s agro-industrial capacity. We must also invest in transport and ICT infrastructure to enhance the competitiveness of African agriculture. At present it is often cheaper to import from faraway continents than neighbouring countries. However, non-tariff trade barriers have slowed regional trade within Africa even as the continent imports a growing percentage of its food from the rest of the world. These have to be removed. The feeding of Africa is a huge market opportunity; one that can create millions of jobs.
African leaders should also start looking at agriculture as a business and farmers as small businessmen (and businesswomen). By creating greater land tenure security and clarifying property rights, especially for women, African countries can encourage smallholder farmers to invest in technologies and practices that enhance the productivity of their land. All this will be possible only if African governments put in place policies, regulations and create a macroeconomic environment to improve the business for more private sector participation in the agriculture.
African leaders have an opportunity to set forth a new vision and plan of action for young people’s involvement in agriculture across the continent. By investing in our own farmers, land and future, the question will no longer be who benefits, but how to manage those benefits to ensure broad-based economic growth, good jobs and food security for all Africans. Sometimes solutions are right before us: the farmers on the ground.
Dr Namanga Ngongi is president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.