Sub-Saharan Africa and India are projected by World Bank analysts to be the two regions hit hardest globally in economic terms. Latest projections estimate that 26-39 million more people, many of them subsistence farmers, will be pushed into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa this year.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who reacted quickly to impose his country’s lockdown, has warned that some African economies could take “a generation or more” to recover without coordinated intervention.
Agricultural value chains have been badly affected by the impact of lockdowns, and not just food crops are affected. Kenya’s flower industry, for example, has been hit by the closure of markets in developed countries. More than 70,000 farmers have been laid off and it is reported that 50 tons of flowers have had to be dumped each day.
Zoumana BambaIn the near term all this amounts to the twin threat of reduced incomes and serious food shortages, given that households buy around 50 percent of their food even in rural Africa, caused directly or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of this, devastating swarms of desert locusts in East Africa—the worst outbreak in Kenya in 70 years—combined with a year of drought and flooding have put millions of people in that region at risk of hunger and famine.
This most immediate of dangers to Africa’s food security is compounded by the longer-term trends of the fastest population and urban growth rates in the world. Africa’s urban population is projected to nearly triple between 2018 and 2050.
The United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is working with governments and civil society to provide young people with the skills and opportunities they need and to create jobs in the agri-food system in order to safeguard food security, alleviate poverty, and contribute to social and political stability. The challenges are enormous and diverse.
IFAD is increasingly focusing its resources on young people as a priority, as successful rural transformation hinges on their inclusion in the process. It is partnering with the nonprofit International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and is a key funder of a three-year project in sub-Saharan Africa which provides 80 fellowships for young Africans pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree with the focus on research in promoting youth engagement in agriculture.
Known as CARE – Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence – the program combines mentoring with training in methodology, data analysis, and scientific writing with a view to produce research evidence and recommendations for policymakers. Young and authoritative voices are being brought to the table, increasing youth representation in domestic and policy processes.
Policy briefs produced to date illustrate how researchers, including numerous young female professionals, are challenging common narratives and stereotypes. Yes, migration out of rural areas is a seemingly unstoppable trend but many young people are still engaging in the farm sector and the agri-food system, which require considerable investment.
To highlight a few examples of their recent findings:
■ Adewale Ogunmodede of University of Ibadan in Nigeria analyses the shortcomings of the N-Power Agro Programme aimed at improving rural livelihoods and argues that the top-down approach is failing in attracting young people to agriculture.
■ Research by Akinyi Sassi in Tanzania challenges the stereotyped view that women use ICT less than men to access agricultural market information. She finds that the cost of phone use and reliability of information are critical factors.
■ Cynthia Mkong examines the issue of role models, social status, and previous experience in determining why some students are more likely to choose agriculture as their university major in two universities in Cameroon. She says her findings indicate that agriculture will rise in stature both as a field of study and occupation.
■ Grace Chabi looks at why youth engagement in agriculture continues to decline in Benin despite government initiatives. Among her policy recommendations are a call to remove gender biases from land ownership, credit, and employment practices.