African Ministers of Agriculture rose from the 28th Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) regional conference, held recently in Tunis, with a recommendation that member countries should allocate dedicated financial resources to boost youth employment in agriculture.
The conference, with the theme ‘Youth in Agriculture and Rural Development’ as reported by the FAO indicated that half of Africa’s population is below 25 years, and estimated that in the next decade, 11 million people are expected to enter its labour market every year.
Against this background, FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, told participants at the conference that getting more African youths involved in agriculture, would boost food security and economic growth with a side event at the conference, dedicated to ‘Youth and Development of Aquaculture and Livestock’.
Graziano da Silva said it would be impossible to speak of a sustainable and inclusive growth for Africa without speaking of youth and agriculture.
He said it had become imperative to fashion out incentives for youths to engage in rural activities, in farming, and especially in livestock production and aquaculture.
Mr Bukar Tijani, the FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Coordinator for Africa, corroborated his Director-General’s position when he said that evolving fiscal policies that would allow youths access to finance, was the best way to attract them to agriculture.
“It is not the government in Nigeria or other governments in Africa that will employ the youths directly. It is the jobs that will be available in the agriculture sector which include the crops sector, horticulture, livestock, and fishery (aquaculture) and forest products.’’
According to him, ICT can also be deployed in the agriculture sector which contributes about 40 per cent of the GDP in many African countries, as people are looking for information, research, and market price kiosks, where best prices are and best technologies they can use.
He advised youths clamouring for government jobs to have a re-think, saying, “The jobs are not in government but outside the government.”
Nigeria and many other African countries have embarked on robust transformation programmes since the 2008 flooding that destroyed farmlands in Asia and other countries in order to avoid food shortages.
These reforms, observers say, have yielded positive results in the agriculture sector.
For instance, the 2012 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report, stated that Africa is 41 per cent “off” the first MDG poverty target, as against 25 per cent in South Asia and 6.1 per cent in Latin America.
Furthermore, 11 African countries, including Nigeria, have already met the first MDG hunger target to reduce by half the proportion of hungry people between 1990 and 2015.
In addition, three countries; Djibouti, Ghana, and São Tomé and Príncipe, have also met the even more ambitious 1996 World Food Summit goal to reduce by half the total number of hungry people.
However, Africa, according to the FAO, still remains the world’s most food insecured continent, with relatively low levels of agricultural productivity, low rural incomes, and high rates of malnutrition.
Tijani noted that Africa has recorded steady economic growth since 1999. “Africa has recorded continuous economic growth since 1999, accompanied by improved governance and human development indicators.
“Currently, seven out of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world are situated in Africa, and the International Monetary Fund estimates that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa will be 6.1 per cent in 2014.
“Africa’s annual total GDP grew on average by 4.8 per cent in 2000-2010, up from 2.1 per cent in the previous decade, and the agricultural sector’s growth rates in the same period were 3.2 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.
“The continent has achieved a series of agricultural successes in major areas, including the intensification of staple food production, improved varieties of banana in eastern and central Africa, high-yielding varieties of maize in east and southern Africa, and productivity gains in cotton production in Burkina Faso and Mali and in tea and floriculture in East Africa.
“The question is how African leaders can build on this progress by providing stable agriculture and fiscal policies that encourage investment, as committed 10 years ago in the Maputo Declaration, and strengthen governance and accountability mechanisms that contribute to more systemic implementation of policies and programmes.”
According to Tijani, “these actions are critical to triggering a transformation in the capacity of countries to deliver sustained and broad-based agricultural growth and development.”
In their final declaration at the Tunis conference, the ministers expressed concern that 25 per cent of Africa’s population was still malnourished.
They reaffirmed their commitment to work closely with FAO towards the achievement of the common goals and objectives in Africa, especially, the 2025 `Zero Hunger’ target.
The zero hunger target is an initiative of UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, which African leaders will formally adopt at the AU Summit in July.
The UN General Assembly in 2013 declared 2014 as the Year of Family Farming, while the African Union declared 2014 as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security
Experts believe that the AU Year of Agriculture and Food Security which coincides with the UN International Year of Family Farming will lead to new impetus in the efforts at transforming subsistence farming.
Mr Modibo Traore, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to the AU and ECA, explains the reason behind this declaration.
He said, “The Year of Agriculture is aimed at consolidating commitments towards new priorities, strategies, and targets for achieving results and impacts, with special focus on sustained Africa-led growth, propelled by stronger private sector investments and public-private partnerships.”
Accordingly, three priority areas of actions were discussed at the conference as key to accelerating agricultural transformation and eradicating hunger in Africa.
It include enhancing the enabling environment for investment by the domestic private sector, including smallholder farmers; investing in the enhancement of agricultural productivity and constructive engagement of youths, smallholder farmers and family farming.
Also discussed was determining how the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), could contribute to building systemic capacity for monitoring and evaluation.
Three priority regional initiatives were also identified and endorsed by the ministers at the conference. They include renewed partnership for a ‘Unified Approach to End Hunger in Africa by 2025’ under the framework of the CAADP; sustainable production, intensification and commercialisation through integrated management of agricultural landscapes, and building resilience in dry lands of Africa.
The FAO director-general urged African leaders to adequately fund agriculture in order to boost food security on the continent.
He commended the establishment of the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund for Food Security.
The fund is an Africa-led innovative mechanism of mobilising resources from Africa for Africa, which currently has 40 million dollars in its kitty.
Six countries; Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Niger and South Sudan, signed agreements at the conference with the FAO, the administrator of the fund, for the implementation of various projects.
The fund’s contributors so far are Equatorial Guinea and Angola, with 30 million dollars and 10 million dollars contributions respectively.
Graziano da Silva reminded participants at the conference that the African Year of Agriculture and Food Security is “a golden opportunity to further advance in the direction of the hunger free future wanted for Africa.” (NAN)