9 ways to engage youth in agriculture

ID-10083575In Africa over 200 million people are aged between 15 and 24, the youngest population in the world. This age group according to the African Economic Outlooks is expected to double in number by 2045. Low profitability, poor security of land tenure, and high risks are just some of the reasons Africa’s youth are leaving rural areas to seek jobs in cities, a migration that could see Africa with a shortage of farmers in the future. Given that agriculture is one of the continent’s biggest economic sectors, generating broad economic development and providing much of the population with food, this poses a serious threat to the future of farming and to meeting the demands of a rapidly growing urban population. Growing youth unemployment, ageing farmers and declining crop yields under traditional farming systems mean engaging youth in agriculture should be a priority.

Recent articles highlight this key challenge and suggest solutions for making agriculture more attractive to younger generations.

1)      Link social media to agriculture

The rise of social media and its attraction among young people with access to the appropriate technologies could be a route into agriculture if the two could be linked in some way. Mobile phone use in Africa is growing rapidly and people are now much more connected to sources of information and each other. Utilising these channels to promote agriculture and educate young people could go a long way in engaging new groups of people into the sector.

2)      Improve agriculture’s image

Farming is rarely portrayed in the media as a young person’s game and can be seen as outdated, unprofitable and hard work. Greater awareness of the benefits of agriculture as a career needs to be built amongst young people, in particular opportunities for greater market engagement, innovation and farming as a business. The media, ICT and social media can all be used to help better agriculture’s image across a broad audience and allow for sharing of information and experiences between young people and young farmers.

3)      Strengthen higher education in agriculture

Relatively few students choose to study agriculture, perhaps in part because the quality of agricultural training is mixed. Taught materials need to be linked to advances in technology, facilitate innovation and have greater relevance to a diverse and evolving agricultural sector, with a focus on agribusiness and entrepreneurship. Beyond technical skills, building capacity for management, decision-making, communication and leadership should also be central to higher education. Reforms to agricultural tertiary education should be designed for young people and as such the process requires their direct engagement. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Food prices and poverty reduction in the long run, IFPRI

Is ‘Getting to Zero’ really feasible? The new Chronic Poverty Report, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education 2013/2014 Report from the Field, SARE

Research reveals true value of cover crops to farmers, environment, Penn State

From poverty to prosperity: A conversation with Bill Gates, AEI

Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems, Meridian Institute

Pests worm their way into genetically modified maize, Nature

Scientists sound the alarm on climate, The New York Times

Scale up policies that work to eliminate hunger by 2025 – food expert, Thomson Reuters Foundation

GMOs Should Be Regulated On A National Level In Europe, British Scientists Argue, Huffington Post

Climate change will reduce crop yields sooner than we thought, University of Leeds

Examining the link between food prices and food insecurity: A multi-level analysis of maize price and birthweight in Kenya, Food Policy

GM maize heads for British fields, The Times

Number of Days Without Rain to Dramatically Increase in Some World Regions, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Rethinking Global Food Security

weforum-logo.db90160d8175c5a08cdf6c621e387d18At the World Economic Forum, held in Davos in January 2014, experts on food security, Ellen Kullman, Chair of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of DuPont; Michel M. Liès, Group Chief Executive Officer, Swiss Re; Shenggen Fan, Director-General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj (Farmers’ Forum India) and Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria came together to discuss how we can produce enough healthy food for everyone.

Moderator, Rajiv J. Shah, Administrator, US Agency for International Development (USAID), began the discussion by stating that the global population is at 7 billion, 850 million of which don’t get enough to eat. By 2050 the population will rise to over 9 billion and we need to find ways of producing sufficient food for this enlarged population whilst also coping with environmental changes. Every economy that has developed and reduced poverty significantly has transformed their agricultural sectors. Each speaker began by introducing actions we needs to take to ensure agricultural transformation addresses global food insecurity.

Akinwumi Adesina began by reflecting on the fear of the 1960s, that population growth would outstrip our ability to feed to the world. What we failed to understand then was the power of science and technology in meeting global challenges. So we need to invest in research and development as a matter of priority.

65% of the world’s arable land is in Africa. A major hurdle for Africa in reaching its potential to become the breadbasket of the world is the way agriculture is viewed in the continent. We need to view agriculture not as a development activity but as a business. We need to improve the marketing systems so that they provide safe, healthy and affordable food. We also need to build more resilient agricultural systems that can cope with shocks such as floods and droughts. Finally we need to address malnutrition, which is a huge problem and one that prevents children from reaching their full potential.

Ellen Kullman discussed the importance of a common understanding of food security. Agriculture differs between regions and countries so to create a shared framework of language around food security, DuPont worked with The Economist’s Intelligence Unit to create the Food Security Index. The hope is that by revealing differences between areas industry will be better able to target their work and make programmes more location appropriate, leading to more meaningful outcomes. Programmes such as the USAID’s Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Programme, with which DuPont work, which aims to facilitate hybrid seed distribution to smallholder farmers (over 35,000 to date). DuPont have also signed an MOU with USAID to extend this programmes beyond Ghana and Ethiopia, where it is currently in operation. We need an understanding of what’s happening on the ground to have positive impacts. This starts with understanding the different dimensions of food security and then designing projects for specific locations.

Ajay Vir Jakhar began by discussing some of the problems we face. Food security is like a jigsaw puzzle, he said, but most of the pieces don’t reside on the farm, they reside elsewhere. A lot of people (over 5 to 6 billion) by 2050 will live in cities and it is these people, rather than farmers, that influence food and agricultural policy. Urban populations want lower food prices and governments want to keep urban dwellers happy to be assured of their vote. Ajay gave this as one reason why governments in developed countries don’t even discuss the removal of subsidies, which would increase food prices, civil unrest and perhaps lower their numbers of supporters. But farmers want to (and should) influence policy, so how can this be facilitated?

Farmers also don’t think in terms of global food security but rather in terms of the food security of their household (localised thinking common to us all). If we help small-scale farmers become self-sufficient, we solve 60% of the food insecurity problem (because around 60% of the hungry are small-scale farmers). However, policy makers and others tend to think in terms of global issues despite farming being local. Localised solutions and help from the public and private sectors are needed. As Rajiv Shah agreed, the bulk of farmers may farm small plots of land but they have a critical role as engines of food productivity growth and social development. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

One small change of words – a giant leap in effectiveness!, World Agroforestry Centre

Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims, Nature

Enabling African Farmers to Feed the World, Farming First

Roundtable on Sustainable African Agriculture and CAADP 2014 review, PAEPARD

Agricultural Input Subsidies. The Recent Malawi Experience, Ephraim Chirwa and Andrew Dorward

African Farmers Reap Gains Of Biotech Cotton, CoastWeek

Humans are becoming more carnivorous, Nature

Seeds of hope emerge across the world’s drylands, World Agroforestry Centre

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to examine Food Security, UK Parliament

For sustainable growth, count on agriculture, Thomson Reuters Foundation [Read more…]

CAADP turns 10

caadp-logoThe Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) has its 10th anniversary this month. Here we discuss the development of CAADP and its achievements so far.

Food insecurity is a substantial barrier to Africa’s development and in acknowledgement of this African heads of state at the African Union’s second Ordinary Assembly held in Maputo, Mozambique in 2003 ratified a new initiative, CAADP. The program is part of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and has the aim to transform agricultural institutions and policy.

The explicit goal of CAADP is to “eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through agriculture”. To do so African governments agreed to the setting of two targets:

  • To achieve 6% annual growth in agricultural productivity by 2015
  • To increase the allocation of national budgets directed to the agricultural sector by at least 10%

The program also has four objectives or pillars:

Pillar 1 – Extending the area under sustainable land and water management

Pillar 2 – Improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access

Pillar 3 – Increasing food supply and reducing hunger

Pillar 4 – Agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption

At the national level, countries were tasked with:

  1. Performing a stock-taking exercise of the current agricultural sector;
  2. Holding roundtable discussions to discuss challenges and solutions;
  3. Signing a CAADP Compact, “an agreement of consensually identified priorities and a roadmap to implement the country’s strategy for agricultural development” and;
  4. Preparing and implementing a country investment plan.

The process allows for countries to set their own priorities and pathways within the CAADP pillars. Africa’s Regional Economic Communities are also tasked with developing a Compact and investment plan for the region. These and the NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency and various meetings allow for knowledge sharing across the whole continent.

Progress to date

As of June 2012, 40 countries have been involved, 30 have signed Compacts, 23 have finalised investment plans and some 9 to 15 countries have received significant funding. With regards to the two targets progress has been less substantial. As of 2011, only 10 countries have exceeded the 6% agricultural production growth target and only 8 have exceeded the 10% national budget allocation to agriculture. But this is not to say that progress hasn’t been made where targets have not yet been reached. [Read more…]

Food security and agriculture information at our fingertips

ID-100125038This week we’ve been thinking about information. Specifically the type of information on agriculture and rural development that is available, how useful it is and to who. A lot of data and statistics went into the writing of One Billion Hungry and some was hard to find, out of date or non-existent. Indeed statistics, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) estimate of the number of chronically hungry people in the world, are often challenged because there are so few rigorous and comparable data sets available on food security and agriculture.

Yet policymakers often base investments in international development around evidence and farmers too must have access to clear and credible information in order to be competitive in the market. Ensuring information is timely, relevant and reliable, therefore is an important challenge. A recent paper by researchers at Tulane University investigated the impact of Food and Nutrition Security Information (FNSI) and its shortcomings concluding that while more conventional forms of data must be expanded in coverage, greater types and sources of data that come with increased connectivity must also be utilised.

Greater access to information can also help solve global challenges. As discussed in Chapter 1, we face the threat of repeated food price spikes, of which we have seen three since 2007. In 2011, the G20, in response to increased food price volatility, established the Agricultural Market Information System, with the idea that if information on the production, trade, use and storage of four globally important crops, wheat, rice, maize and soybean, is more transparent then policy action in response to market uncertainty can be coordinated and potentially dangerous and inaccurate speculation can be avoided. The coordination of policies and development of common strategies is undertaken by the Rapid Response Forum, whose second meeting is to take place on 20th February 2013. [Read more…]