In the mind of many youth today, farming is often considered to be an ‘old profession’ – a difficult and intensive activity that does not provide enough income, and even more so does not align with the digitalized and corporate world that is rising today.
However, research shows that Africa’s food security does not just rely on the cultivation of new crops and exports, but also on growing new farmers. The growing industry of agribusiness and climate smart agriculture, which is expected to grow from approximately $9.58 billion in 2017 to $23.14 billion by 2022, is changing the face and image of the ‘farmer’ that we often see – redefining for a lot of people what agriculture is essentially about.
Climate smart agriculture is an approach that interlinks productivity, adaptation, and mitigation to raise food and nutritional security and address issues of climate change and sustainability. A report released by the African Development Bank Group stated that Africa carries 65 percent of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land and an abundance of freshwater, yet in 2017, Africa spent US$ 64.5bn on importing food. To develop Africa’s agriculture sector further, the bank notes that modern agricultural methods can transform the sector “into a business-oriented and commercially viable sector that guarantees the continent’s food self-sufficiency and puts an end to food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Engaging Youth in Agriculture
Promise Amahah, a young farmer, agribusiness expert and development consultant, aims to foster a vibrant farming sector with a next generation of farmers with ‘the Nigerian Young Farmers Network‘. After studying geology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Amahah worked on several agribusiness projects across Nigeria and became a distinguished member of the National Technical Working Group (NTWG) at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
“The Nigeria Young Farmers Network is also all about the paradigm shift,” Amahah tells Egyptian Streets. “One of the greatest challenges to mobilizing young people to get involved in farming is the misconception that it is a job for the poor – a “dirty job” – it is a stereotype that has metamorphosed into a stigma. But with the innovations we bring into agriculture, from mechanized farming, farmer-to-businesses connection, and general moral support structures, we can create a paradigm shift and uplift the glory of the farming occupation.”
The Nigerian Young Farmers Network (NYFM) was brought to life as a result of youth apathy to agriculture, which is driven largely by a huge knowledge gap, according to Amahah. To combat the rising unemployment rate, surging population growth, and growing challenges to food security in Nigeria, Amahah is mobilizing youth, who constitute 60% of the population in Nigeria, to change the narrative and drive modern agriculture for economic development.
“Being an agribusiness development expert myself, with over a decade of experience in the sector, I witnessed firsthand the difficulty and burden to convince young Nigerians to see the opportunities in agriculture that are beyond farming,” he says.
To build the organization, one of the first steps Amahah took was to create a dynamic team and consult relevant stakeholders, before embarking on a nationwide needs assessment to open membership to all youth regardless of their background, educational discipline and social status. “To create an open and inclusive platform, we developed an administrative structure that includes various leadership levels made up of young people from different backgrounds, including farmers from rural to urban areas, as well as representatives from the national-state level to the local and community level.”
Amahah also refers to the knowledge gap as a key barrier that inhibits youth engagement in agriculture. “Across Africa, critical public enlightenment and sensitization is needed especially to address urgent issues like climate change, and this is why we are highly invested in driving public enlightenment and advocacy as the foundation for engagement,” he notes.
Youth can also can get involved in various stages of the agricultural value chain beyond farming, Amahah adds. “We need to first admit that agriculture consists of 90% Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). From primary production to post harvest management, a lot of opportunities are available for young people to take advantage of. For example, Nigeria loses 60% of its annual production to post harvest loses. The post harvest value chain is a goldmine yet untapped,” he adds.
The future of agriculture is also rapidly changing, and agricultural systems have expanded and innovated in response to ever-increasing developments in technology as well as climate change. “With the rapid growth of modern agriculture driven by technology and the challenge of climate change, some new and proven methods are being engaged such climate smart solutions like the greenhouse farms, vertical farming, improved machinery like the combined harvesters, drones for farm mapping and farm input applications, softwares for farm and farmer management, improved yield and soil fertility management,” Amahah states.
From the experience he gained in Nigeria, Amahah is also working on setting up the African Young Farmers Network, which will serve as a robust platform for mobilization, training and equipping young people across Africa to accelerate food security and climate resilience across the continent.
“I’ve seen the impact of raising public awareness. Across Nigeria, there’s a growing awakening among youth, which is a huge success story for us. For the first time ever in Nigeria, young people have started coming on board in their numbers and connecting to various opportunities in agriculture through our network. We have also fostered socio-economic cooperation among young Nigerians through our work, as well as several business linkages as well,” he adds.
NYFM works on four main pillars summarized under ‘GEAR’, which is an acronym for Gather, Equip, Activate, Release. First, it gathers relevant data, people and resources to help farmers make smart decisions and increase their profitability; second, it carries out capacity development through vocational and skills training as well as the provision of modern machinery and tools; third, it facilitates credit access, business linkages, market access, and multi stakeholder engagement, and fourth, it provides support and marketing promotion for its network of young farmers.
Amahah also uses social media to reach young farmers and share success stories and profitability of agriculture. “Sharing pictures and videos of my work in the farm became a major attraction to young people and it created an “adventure” kind of frenzy,” he says.
Urban farming and making agriculture profitable for young people
As more Africans are beginning to live in urban areas, which is expected to double between now and 2050, urban farming helps integrate food growing into the fabric of urban life and destroy the notion that agriculture or farming only happens in rural areas. Egypt is turning to urban agriculture by establishing its first agriculture city that will span an area of 311,400 acres in the southeast part of the Qattara Depression, northwest of the country, under the supervision of the Korean Arab Company for Economic and Cultural Consultancy.
The city will host 50,000 smart greenhouses, seawater desalination and solar power plants, as well as planting of water-saving strategic crops, and the establishment of fish farms and feed factories.
Urban farming has also been growing rapidly in Nigeria and is being embraced by young people. In Abuja, the capital territory of Nigeria, young people have set up urban farms to address the issues of food security. An example being Angel Adelaja, who is a young Nigerian that founded the brand ‘Fresh Direct’ and has been recognized and mentioned in both local and international media for her work on vertical farming. “She has become one of the pioneers of urban farming in Nigeria and it’s attracting a lot of young people to think outside the box,” he says.
Since 2013, the United Nations’ (HAYAT) project has also been helping the youth to find employment opportunities in the agriculture sector. Implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and several other international organizations, the project provides extensive agricultural training in various governorates. The training sessions cover issues such as proper irrigation and land preparation techniques, the adequate use of fertilizers to boost exports as well as environmentally friendly pest control mechanisms.
Yassir El-Shikhawi was only twenty-three years old when he constructed his very own greenhouse in the rural area of El-Edwa city in Egypt and became an entrepreneur, which was facilitated and supported by the HAYAT project. The project is also working to expand the greenhouse model in El-Edwa through two large-scale greenhouse pilot projects.
Through Alfanar’s Life Vision for Development project, agriculture is also made to be profitable for young female farmers like Eman Eed, who attended the farmer field school in her village on best agricultural practices to improve crop yields and increase incomes. The training helped her set up her own enterprise to sell a variety of products, whether it be animals or crops, which she raises for up to 300 EGP each.
Government support and funding challenges
However, what still remains to be a challenge is ensuring that a network of skilled young Africans have access to finance and governmental support to drive growth in farming. “Government support is usually fraught with bureaucratic bottlenecks and red tapes. A typical case study is the processing and disbursement of agricultural credit from government agencies. Most times, the farm credit gets to the farmer at the end of the farming season which is useless to the farmer,” he says.
President Buhari of Nigeria recently launched a National Young Farmers’ Scheme for 774,000 youth, yet Amahah notes that for agriculture to be run as a viable business, the private sector and the youth need to have a much bigger role. “The agency in question quickly put together the scheme without a proper understanding of the issues, an actionable work plan or even a realistic blueprint.”
Amahah believes that young Africans must be on the forefront of the intra-African trade process. “Through the African Young Farmers Network, young Africans across the continent will be able to connect and promote fair trade while creating enough profit. It will provide a one-stop-shop backed by technology for information and seamless access to market,” he says.
“Intra-African trade in agriculture will become the catalyst for Africa’s economic recovery and growth. It will optimally harness human and natural resources across Africa by providing access to verifiable and reliable data.”