A young man from rural Africa is sitting among the powerful policymakers, experts from various stakeholder agencies, such as civil society, private sector, governmental agencies and United Nations agencies in Rome at the Committee on World Food Security session 44 (CFS44).
He is holding a pamphlet in his hand, on it written in bold “Rural Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship and Food and Nutrition Security”. He is sitting there his heart pounding hard in his chest because the title of the discussion at the side event is close to his heart. He is consumed by fear of disappointment that the event will be another talk show; he is also full of joy hoping for concrete steps to be taken which will totally transform the African continent. He is wondering if his dream of inclusive agricultural prosperity and transformation will be elevated or once again it will be elusive.
I have always believed that where there is a problem lies an opportunity. It brought so much joy to me, for the tone and the approach of the side event to be the right one. It all started with a presentation from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) by Rui Benfica, the lead economist. The presentation was titled Rural youth employment: challenges and opportunities. Mr. Benfica demonstrated that it is in the area of agriculture and food security that huge opportunities lie.
Agriculture has a huge potential to solve the problem of poverty, unemployment, hunger, malnutrition and provide a path to industrialization in Africa if a value chain approach is used. According to Mr. Benfica agriculture is still the biggest employer of rural youth in most low and middle-income countries: 80% of all jobs in low income, 30 percent of middle income, and 10% in high-income countries. It is important to note that the majority of youth reside in low-income countries and live in rural areas. According to Mr Benfica 440 million young people will enter the labor market and the question is, can this be turned into demographic dividend?
Since young people have a high propensity to embrace innovative technologies it is an opportunity in itself. New technologies shape how value chains are organized and it is where jobs are created. The call to action to promote growth in the value chain by improving the rural business climate, infrastructure, upgrading of skills to facilitate food systems transformation, agricultural productivity, competition and private sector is made.
Mr. Stefan Schmitz, commissioner of the “ONE World No Hunger Initiative” in the German ministry of economic development argues very passionately that there is huge potential to harness from the area of food security and rural development. Germany, therefore, is investing 1.5 billion euros per year in this area. He puts forward the argument that for rural development and food security to be successful, there must be an investment in modern infrastructures such as roads, clean water systems, and basic amenities such as schools, healthcare and high-speed internet connectivity. This will then provide the incentive for young people to remain in rural areas. He believes that agriculture is a business endeavor and it should then be treated as such. This means a level of high professionalism and innovation is among the tools required to succeed. These tools then bring about efficiency and effectiveness in the market which increases productivity. The German government has invested in initiatives to capacitate smallholder farmers especially in the area of entrepreneurial and technical skills.
Donors also have shifted from a donor-recipient relationship to partnership, where there is give and take. The whole paradigm has changed. Everything has shifted; for example, the question is no longer what can be done, but how it can be done. Agricultural is an investment which has returns and that is the thinking. It is no longer about charity, feeling compassionate for the rural poor.
The case was made by different speakers that opportunities lie in the whole value chain. This will include, among others, production, processing and food services. It was discussed that it is through the partnership between civil society donors, the private sector and governmental agencies and investors that it will be achieved. Just like mining has transformed rural areas into mining towns in Botswana, I would like to see farming transform rural areas to farming towns. Just like there are modern roads and railway lines to mining towns, there must be modern roads and railway lines to farming towns. Just like a mining engineer moved to a mining town, an agricultural engineer should move to a farming town.
The area of food security must not be seen as providing low-end jobs, but also high-end value technical jobs directly or indirectly within the value chain. Directly, it can be in production, distribution or processing. Indirectly, it will be services that support the value chain. This might be an ICT automation technology which supports processing, marketing or logistics services. This is where a lot of jobs will be created and that is where prosperity and transformation is.
Sitting there listening, I said to myself, this is great but the big question still remains: How is it going to be implemented? It is always the challenge especially where I come from (Africa), a challenge of good policies and complex implementation details. Often, there is no umbilical cord between research, policy and on-the-ground implementation.
At the end of it, all the questions of youth employment and entrepreneurship for food and nutrition security is a puzzle with each stakeholder holding a piece. If the dream of inclusive prosperous and transformed Africa is to be achieved, each and every stakeholder has to be on board and bring the piece to complete the puzzle.
This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of the social reporters and represents the author’s views only.
Find the original post by Kenanao Moabi on the CFS blog.