An anti-poverty advocacy organization says the solution to come of Africa's largest economic threats is to make agriculture a promising career choice for the mushrooming population of young Africans and to make credit available to women who do much of the continent's farming.
The ONE campaign recently launched a project called Do Agric, It Pays, to urge African governments to keep their commitment to spend at least 10 percent of their national budgets on agricultural investment. The campaign's launch in Addis Ababa coincided with the African Union Summit which opened January 30 and has declared 2014 the Year of Agriculture in Africa.
Dr. Sipho Moyo, Africa director of ONE, said their campaign presses African leaders to implement agriculture policies that will have a positive impact on the livelihoods of Africans and African economies.
More than 400 million Africans are living in extreme poverty, and most of them live in rural areas that depend on food production. Moyo believes the solution for raising their living standards is to boost agriculture.
"In 2003, African countries signed a declaration in Maputo agreeing to invest 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture, she says. "Ten years on, fewer than ten countries have actually met that commitment. In the meantime, we know that agriculture is where the potential really lies in terms of just feeding the continent, creating jobs, and social-economic transformation."
Seventy percent of the continent's population live off the land, yet many families can hardly sustain themselves.
Examining the youth demographic
"We're looking at the current situation in Africa and the current challenges... " Moyo says. She looks at the math and demographics of the continent. "Seventy percent of the population is under 34. Ten million young Africans enter the job market every year. So, where are the jobs going to come from? Agriculture. This is where the answer lies. It's the single source of inclusive growth that you can find ... So investing in agriculture - if it's done properly - will actually have promising outcomes."
Moyo argues that African leaders need to increase public investment in agriculture and encourage private sector participation in agriculture development. She cited a recent Food and Agriculture Organization study that showed the multiplier effect of growth in agriculture is greater than the multiplier effect in other sectors.
"Specifically, it is 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector, including mining."
ONE's Africa director says demographic changes in the last 10 years demand that government create jobs that will productively engage the rapidly growing youth population. But, she points out, there is more to it than just investing money.
"More importantly we are asking that they focus on smart policy interventions that are very targeted at the small-holder farmers - at the women farmers," she says, "making sure they have access to all of the necessary conditions and inputs that they require. Particularly, access to credit; security of tenure on their land; access to infrastructures, things like transportation; irrigation; electrification," she highlighted.
Give women farmers more credit
Moyo said to realize agriculture's full potential, policymakers and experts must focus on the entire value chain. Adding that means increasing the productivity of small-holder farmers -- who in Africa are mostly women.
"The value chain includes so many different activities-you know packaging for
goods for export or for trading, or even just for putting in the super market. So you can see the potential for creating jobs, for creating business. And that's what we want to do, to be able to demonstrate if these governments invest adequately in agriculture, first it will catalyze private sector investment, but also you want young people to begin to see agriculture as a viable option for employment or business," Moyo explains.
New policies need to address young peoples' views on agriculture, she says. They now think only of impoverished farmers using rudimentary tools to produce food. She calls for a more appealing vision that shows opportunities for innovation using science and technology that can build economies.
But, this can only happen, say experts, if the private sector is encouraged by African leaders to invest in agriculture.