Youth-Led Innovations and Investments Key to Tackling Climate Change in African Agriculture

Africa stands as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to climate shocks. The heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism in the continent leaves it exposed to the unpredictable effects of climate change. Consequently, the number of hungry Africans has reached 282 million, and this figure is expected to rise to 350 million by 2050. Among the hardest-hit are young individuals who face increasing unemployment due to the failure of farms and other enterprises within the agricultural value chain.

This significant youth population continually enters the labor market, placing pressure on African economies, which are predominantly reliant on agriculture, to swiftly create a large number of jobs. This situation presents economic challenges exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Environmental and agroecological shifts result in reduced crop productivity, increased land scarcity, and heightened risks of extreme weather events.

Undeniably, the youth of today and even the youth of 2050 will bear the brunt of climate change throughout their lives. Climate-induced environmental changes diminish both the quality and quantity of agricultural land, leading to fewer sources of livelihood and a greater likelihood of migration. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has confirmed this, highlighting climate change as a significant multiplier of threats that prompt youth migration, particularly in populations and regions dependent on agriculture, such as those found in Africa.

However, all hope is not lost if urgent action is taken to address and manage the situation, with a focus on engaging and empowering the youth. Working with young people offers numerous advantages as they possess the necessary innovation, motivation, and physical strength to drive impactful action. Many of them are already generating innovative solutions that are gradually shaping the future of agricultural practices on the continent. For instance, Imen Hbiri, the early-stage winner of the 2022 Pitch Agri Hack competition, developed a multispectral disease detector called Robocare. Another notable innovator is Hamis El Gabry from Egypt, whose agri-fintech company, Mozare3, connects small farmers to the agricultural supply chain. Additionally, Dr. Catherine Nakalembe, the winner of the 2020 Africa Food Prize, leads NASA Harvest Africa, a space agency program utilizing satellite remote sensing and machine learning to gather data for agricultural decision-making. Dr. Nakalembe’s achievements exemplify the power of youth and exposure to top-notch training in deriving impactful solutions.

Witnessing such well-conceived and localized solutions emerging from Africa is truly exciting, as they showcase the eagerness of the youth to redefine the state of agriculture on the continent.

However, these exemplary youthful innovators are just a fraction of the millions aspiring to lead transformation at the farm level as producers. Their engagement requires accelerated opportunities for enhancing farm productivity, strengthening agricultural value chains, and participating in value-added processing. This necessitates significant investments in agricultural education at all levels, aimed at shifting the perception that the sector is only for those who have failed to make a living through other means. As emphasized by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, the quote “the next generation of millionaires and billionaires in Africa will be farmers” should be widely reiterated to create a lasting impact.

To drive this message forward, it is crucial to consider the youth strategy outlined by AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), which identifies key actions instrumental in promoting youth participation in agriculture as a crucial element in the fight against climate change. Firstly, governments must support agricultural innovation, enhance market and rural infrastructure, and foster business environments that raise incomes and expand agricultural value chains.

Secondly, there is a need to increase and enhance the capacity of youth to engage profitably in activities along the agricultural value chain through agribusiness training. This includes improving youth employment and business opportunities in inputs (such as seeds, fertilizers, and agrochemicals), mechanization (for planting, spraying, and harvesting), and outputs (including aggregation, value addition and processing, marketing, and finance).

Moreover, it is essential to enhance smallholder farm productivity through irrigation and water management, improve access to markets and financial services through information and communication technology (ICT), mechanization, and other relevant services. Finally, there is an urgent need to improve the policy environment to encourage youth participation in agriculture and agribusiness, along with establishing special funds and credit guarantee schemes to mitigate risks associated with lending to young farmers.

These strategic guidelines lay the foundation for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), which generates multiple benefits, including improved yields, food security, and increased income. CSA encompasses various components such as stress-adapted crop varieties and livestock breeds, improved seeds, crop diversification, conservation agriculture, water management, agroforestry, and integrated soil management. Despite the proven relevance of CSA in agricultural transformation, the adoption of effective technologies and practices by young African farmers remains limited, primarily due to financial constraints. Therefore, appropriate financial, policy, and institutional arrangements are necessary to scale up agricultural technologies and practices.

In the meantime, Africa’s youth in agriculture must take center stage in all advocacy efforts related to climate action. Their voices should be amplified during key events like the annual climate change convention (CoP), gatherings surrounding the annual stocktake of the Paris Agreement, and agricultural conventions such as the Africa Food Systems Forum held in September.

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