Agriculture must become the engine for growth that Africa needs to eradicate hunger and boost sustainable food production, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said.
He said the challenge for Africa is to make this economic growth more inclusive by targeting agricultural and rural development, women and young people.
"Some 75 per cent of Africans are 25 years old and under and the population is expected to remain largely rural for the next 35 years, with women heading up many households. Agriculture is the only sector of the economy capable of absorbing this workforce. There is no inclusive and sustainable way forward for Africa without women, youth and agriculture," the director-general said.
Governments will have the opportunity to renew their support for agricultural development during the 2014 African Year of Agriculture and Food Security, which was launched during the African Union Summit recently.
"The launch of the African Year of Agriculture and Food Security is an important step towards a hunger-free and sustainable Africa that the late South African leader Nelson Mandela and many others have dreamed of and fought for," Graziano da Silva said.
He noted that the African Year will build on the efforts of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme launched in 2003.
The African Year of Agriculture and Food Security is being observed in parallel with the United Nations' International Year of Family Farming also celebrated in 2014.
"For many years and in many parts of the world, small-scale farmers, pastoralist families and fisher folk were viewed as part of the problem of hunger. That could not be further from the truth. Family farmers are already the main food producers in most countries, and they can do even more with the right kind of support," da Silva said.
Improving access to financial services, training, mechanisation and technology can transform subsistence farmers into efficient producers.
"Through methods that increase production while preserving natural resources, family farming also provides a sustainable alternative to input-intensive technologies that have resulted in damage to soil quality, land, water and biodiversity," he added.