Time is running out to transform African agriculture
"Africa has some 200 million youth in need of employment, its food and beverage markets have the potential to be worth $1tn-kwesi Atta-Krah
By 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will be the only region where extreme poverty is predicted to persist in large numbers. Climate change and disease outbreaks, and recognising the yet untapped potential of youth for realising agricultural development, are critical factors to reverse this gloomy prediction.
CGIAR's global network of research centres is already working on a number of programmes to make this happen.
For example, in Benin, researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are helping farmers adopt two parasitic wasps to fight pod borers, a pest, in cowpea crops.
About 96 percent, or 4.9 million tonnes, of highly nutritious cowpeas are produced in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
Reducing damage caused by these pests by 50 percent through biological control will bring potential financial gains of $1.5bn. This figure does not take into account the additional savings it could bring by reducing pesticide needs for farmers, and related health and environmental costs.
However one of the biggest problems is that farming is fast becoming an ageing profession. The average age of farmers around the world is between 50 to 60 years old. The sector needs a makeover to attract young people. Africa has some 200 million youth in need of employment, and its food and beverage markets have the potential to be worth $1tn by 2030. Investment in training and equipment is needed to make regional and local production, processing and marketing of these foods an attractive choice for entrepreneurs.
Several initiatives are emerging. The Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) initiative being implemented in various countries around the world and the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative launched in 2012 in Nigeria are examples.
This programme aims to expose young people to the opportunities in agriculture for job creation. It also encourages them to explore the various channels that are open to business, such as producing quality seeds, fisheries or value addition through processing. The IYA initiative has already been replicated in five countries-DRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia-with more countries on the horizon.
' Science-based public-private partnerships are also essential to de-risk agriculture, and make it a viable business proposition. In Cote d'Ivoire, a partnership between the Ivorian government and chocolate company Mars Inc. is seeking to address the problem of low productivity of cocoa.
The programme conducts research into different cocoa cultivars, rehabilitation of old orchards by grafting, the effect of fertiliser application and other management practices. It also set up a network of Cocoa Development Centres that help 150,000 farmers boost their production and profits from the cocoa they farm, an initiative that will expand to impact millions of cocoa farmers across west Africa.
Time-is running out to transform African agriculture. We know that sudden shocks such as natural disasters and pest outbreaks can cripple production. The impact El Nino induced drought on farmers across southern Africa is a stark reminder. Relevant science, focused on building resilience to future shocks and involving youth in agriculture, can rewrite this story.
Public, private and civil partners need to find new ways of bringing together finance and capacity development. These must be embedded in wider development investments and operate through community-driven, nationally-led and regionally and internationally-supported mechanisms.
This is how we will realise a new future for Africa.
Kwesi Atta-Krah is director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics.