Young people of Africa, you need to engage and grow a vibrant agricultural sector – for the sake of sustainable food security on our continent.
A strong call to action came from South African agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza today. She was joined by Grace Obeda, principal youth employment officer at the African Development Bank, in opening Food For Mzansi’s Pan-African Summit on Youth in Sustainable Agriculture.
The summit marks three years since the award-winning Food For Mzansi – sister publication of FoodForAfrika.com – was established, and is currently underway in Pretoria and virtually. Guests and speakers from at least 15 countries across Africa are attending.
As keynote speaker, Obeda said that agriculture remains the backbone of Africa’s economic development. “The best way to transform it, is through raising productivity.”
She talked about the need for Africa to up its game in creating job opportunities for young people. Africa’s most valuable asset and sustainable competitive advantage is not its oil, gas and minerals, she said, but its demographically dominant youth.
“70% of Africans are under 35. This is according to statistics, in 2019, of the African Development Bank. They are projected to reach 850 million by 2050 and will constitute half of the 2 billion working-age population by 2063,” said Obeda.
Before the arrival of Covid-19, Africa’s employment has been lagging and African countries needed to create an average of 1.7 million jobs per month from 2013 to 2063 just to meet the current employment bids. And about 54 million African youth are not in employment, education or training. “Where are these young people?” asked Obeda.
The effects of Covid-19 on youth employment
In just about a year and a half now, the pandemic has devastated the livelihoods of millions of young people globally, said Obeda.
“This increase in unemployment… is expected to exceed the employment rates from the 2009 global financial crisis.” Most skills training opportunities for youth have also been interrupted, creating long-term implications for post-Covid recovery.
Adding to the challenges, Africa’s private sector, which provides most of the employment, is not growing fast enough. Africa must therefore harness its young demographic by equipping it with skills and tools to create jobs.
“Fortunately, even with this [being] vulnerable, opportunities for youth are presenting themselves so much more prominently in the digital space. Why? Because young people have a competitive advantage over their older counterparts when it comes to the application of technology. In fact, centres with a high level of digitalisation seem to have weathered the storm.”
Obeda added, “We know that agriculture remains the backbone of Africa’s economic development and the best way to transform it is through raising productivity. And this could be productivity from farm level all the way to the market.”
Supporting young people, especially in agriculture, will be one of Africa’s winning strategies to creating sustainable jobs. “So, I guess that’s why we are here today, talking about the role that you can play in transforming Africa’s food systems. Because agriculture is a sector with endless possibilities if properly diversified.”
Reigniting the spirit of Pan-Africanism
Didiza congratulated Food For Mzansi on what she called the wonderful work that the publication was doing in the agricultural sector.
“Food for Mzansi, in its three years, has done so much to profile the agricultural sector in our country. It has ensured that diverse and critical views are heard. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has fed the sector with information and regulations that impacted our agriculture and agribusiness.”
Didiza also touched on the issue of climate change that has affected rural smallholders in agriculture, saying more needs to be done to fight the effects of climate change and save jobs.
“We have come together as young people where we are reigniting the spirit of Pan-Africanism. This is important as we seek to uplift our engagement and collaboration for the future.”