opinionBy Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (PhD)
Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) are meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, this week, to reinforce their commitment to moving Africa towards integration and prosperity through the transformation of agriculture.
Meeting on the theme: "Transforming Africa's agriculture for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods through harnessing opportunities for inclusive growth and sustainable development", this summit is significant, as it is being held in 2014 - the AU declared Year of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security. During the Summit, African leaders are expected to recommit to the principles and values of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) to sustain the growth momentum and fundamentally transform agricultural and rural economies by unleashing the potential of inclusive agro-industries and agribusiness development, among other things.
Africa's leaders are requested to commit to bold new targets to be achieved by the year 2025. These will include: eliminating hunger and improving nutrition; doubling agricultural productivity; reducing poverty by half through agriculture; creating job opportunities for Africa's youth and women through inclusive value-chain development and improving resilience of households. It will also include practical steps to empower Africa's mainly female agricultural workforce, through access to land, extension services, markets and infrastructure.
But even though their collective pledge is important, it is now more imperative than ever to act bolder and faster. Ten years after the CAADP's adoption, and despite strong economic growth in Africa for more than a decade, the agricultural annual growth in most countries is still below their six percent target.
Accelerated growth is essential if African citizens at all levels are to achieve the AU's aspiration of prosperity. Investments in agriculture will ensure much more than the feedingof two billion Africans by 2050 - a crucial goal in its own right. It will also provide employment and generate economic growth - jobs and income - for Africa's citizens. Appropriate public spending will also accelerate investment by the private sector. It is intended to significantly and sustainably improve nutrition on the continent by 2025.
The critical importance of agriculture for economic growth, the eradication of poverty and food and nutrition security is uncontested. It accounts for over one-third of the continent's gross domestic product (GDP) and export earnings, and employs over 60 percent of the population.
It is still the single most important productive sector in most low-income countries, both due to its share of GDP and the number of people it employs. It also has the potential to be the continent's solution to long-term social and economic development concerns, including youth unemployment, gender inequality and climate change adaptation - major issues facing every African country.
Unfortunately, youth participation in this sector is actually declining, despite the fact that they account for 60pc of all Africans unemployed - a staggeringly high rate. By 2025, it is estimated that 330 million young Africans will have entered the labour market, and will be looking for jobs.
This bulging population of increasingly educated youth, including young women, is eager to engage in innovative and gainful entrepreneurship and employment. The onus is on all African leaders and stakeholders to show them that modernised agriculture is an attractive and gainful career choice - one through which both they and their communities will benefit.
Africa can and must be transformed from a continent reliant upon food imports to one that can feed itself and export a surplus to help feed a growing world population. This means new investments across the entire value chain - from the smallholder farms to agro-processing facilities, and from railways, transport systems and storage to finance, trade and market infrastructure.
All African citizens have a duty to work to determine our future, with governments leading the way by creating conditions for agriculture to thrive. It is time to put agriculture at the top of our national development agendas by stepping up and spending up to ensure a rapid, steady path to development for their people.
We must all be accountable for commitments we make. We must all believe and embrace the fact that it is in our hands.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (PhD) She Is the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC).