During the 32nd FAO Regional Conference for Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the African Union Commission (AUC) released new guidelines for scaling up investments for and with youth in agrifood systems in Africa.
Throughout all phases of the investment programme cycle, the Investment Guidelines for Youth in Agrifood Systems in Africa gives practical “how to” guidelines for developing youth-focused and youth-sensitive investment programmes that regard youth as participants in rural development. Governments, financial and technical partners, the commercial sector, civic society, and young women and men themselves are all encouraged to use the recommendations when creating and implementing agrifood investment programmes.
“These guidelines are timely, and we need you to take ownership. We need localized ownership,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said at the launch in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Director-General Qu also urged countries to join the FAO’s One Country, One Priority Product initiative, which involves agricultural producers identifying a product, adopting international standards, increasing competitiveness, and lowering costs, while countries develop enabling policies to encourage young people to participate. He used the example of papaya, which is sold inexpensively in nations like Equatorial Guinea but might make a lot of money if sold to developed countries that don’t have the environment to grow tropical fruits.
“Although political momentum and proclamations to mobilize youth-inclusive investment programmes and interventions are necessary, they are insufficient. We make an urgent call for concrete operational action – the Investment Guidelines for Youth in Agrifood Systems in Africa has great potential to drive this process and bring investments in youth-focused agrifood systems initiatives to scale,” said H.E. Amb. Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment of the African Union Commission.
A continent of young people
Africa as a region has the highest percentage of youth in the world, estimated at 420 million people between the ages of 15 and 35. This is an enormous resource for future prosperity, but the challenges these young people face are many.
“Young people are twice as likely as adults to be unemployed. The majority of working youth are poor and employed in vulnerable, low-quality jobs in the informal sector. In 2019, almost two-thirds (63%) of young workers lived in poverty in Africa compared to half (51%) of adults. Youth are also overrepresented among the extremely poor. On top of this, young women, especially in rural areas, face gender-biased social norms, laws and practices that limit their involvement in gainful work and seizing development opportunities,” Dongyu said.
Agrifood systems transformation can address these challenges, opening up vast employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for young women and men in agricultural value chains and across food systems.
Youth are key to building sustainable agrifood systems
Climate change, chronic and developing conflicts, and the consequences of COVID-19 are all putting pressure on agrifood systems, making it more difficult for them to provide healthy and cheap food to everyone. Youth, on the other hand, are resilient and inventive. It is critical to invest differently and involve them as fundamental drivers of agrifood system reform. Expanding automation, digital technologies, and the green economy are all examples of this. Young people bring new ideas, solutions, products and services, new business models, collaborations, and networks to the table. Failure to invest in youth could have economic and social consequences, as well as jeopardise the sustainability of agrifood systems.