The head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development says Africa's greatest resource is its people. He calls on leaders to heavily invest in their workforce or risk continent-wide poverty by 2030.
Kanayo Nwanze's comments come in an open letter to the 23rd AU Summit on Agriculture and Food Security. It's being held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea through June 27.
He said, "Someone in my capacity, as an African as well, should be able to speak openly and frankly with our heads of state. I think it's a moral obligation. It's a moral imperative because I believe that Africa again is at the crossroads."
He said that people are Africa's best resource, including the 200 million between the ages of 15 and 24.
"Now that's a very powerful resource base. And when you also realize that that population of 200 million young people - often times unemployed - if we waste their future it's going to be a great loss for the continent. These are the future leaders of Africa. We have to give them hope. We have to give them something to look forward to. I think if we don't sew the seeds for that hope now, we're going to have a very explosive situation in the next decade."
He said if African leaders don't act now the continent will account for 80 percent of the world's poor by 2030. A figure, he said, is supported by data from the World Bank and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
"Africa is the only region in the world where the numbers of the poor have increased," he said.
Nwanze called on African leaders to deliver development now - with the priority on rural people.
"Food does not grow in cities," he said, "Food grows in rural areas. If you do not invest in the youth, particularly in the rural areas - if you do not make agriculture attractive to them - to create jobs - to generate wealth - to give them some sense of dignity - what is going to happen? They will continue to migrate from the rural areas to the urban cities. You end up with what you call the urban bulge."
He warned that could lead to many disenchanted young people living in slums and susceptible to crime.
"When we talk about poverty, when we talk about inequality in Africa, it is basically an inequality between the rural and the urban space."
More than 10 years ago, African leaders committed to the Maputo Declaration. It required that at least 10 percent of national budgets be devoted to agriculture and rural development. The IFAD president says only seven countries have fulfilled that commitment.
Nwanze said such investment is critical on a continent where "20 states are classified as fragile and 28 countries need food assistance."
He had three recommendations for leaders at the AU Summit: Make investment in agriculture and rural development a priority, including infrastructure, energy and roads; second, invest in education, particularly of women; and third, provide social services.