22 October 2017

Africa Rising to Meet Future Population Challenges

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Meetings like the Rebranding Africa Forum bring together some of Africa's most vibrant and innovative young minds to discuss future challenges facing the continent. But when does the talking stop and the action begin?

The lobby of the Management Center Europe (MCE) in Brussels is full of color as African men and women mingle in traditional attire. Laughter can be heard as old acquaintances meet once more in preparation for today's meeting.

The guests of the Rebranding Africa Forum are a mix of CEOs and representatives from diverse regional and international organizations. Their aim is simple: to exchange ideas on how to accelerate Africa's emergence onto the global stage as a strong and dynamic continent.

The fourth edition of the forum kicked off with a highly charged discussion concerning the challenges of African financial systems as they prepare to face the upcoming demographic dividend. This refers to greater economic growth as a result of a sudden increase in the working population. And it's what Africa's future looks like.

A United Nations (UN) World Population Prospects report released this year says Africa will account for more than half of the world's population growth by 2050. However, international forums like this one are already proactively looking at possible solutions and strategies to tackle this projected spurt. Natalia Kanem is the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFP). She is impressed that Africans understand the importance of investing in young people.

"When you have a youthful population like Africa has, it is important to educate a young girl and make sure that a young man has the entrepreneurial ability to look after himself," she told DW.

Kanem added that young people could be better equipped to plan their families and contribute to the development of their nations.

Food security a cause for concern

In many African countries, people are living from hand to mouth. The situation is worsening as weather patterns drastically change, making it even more difficult to put food on the table. Addressing food security for the growing population remains an important issue on the agenda for African governments which are struggling to feed the people they already have.

It is likely that food cultivation will become one of the primary means of livelihood in future African societies. Seed-production companies like Semafort have already taken advantage of the burgeoning agriculture sector. A 2016 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that small-scale farmers hold 80% of farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Semafort co-founder Bruno Tinland, these farmers engaged in subsistence farming by default because they lack access to reliable seeds that have a high yield.

"We are going to look at what the market needs today and create a high-quality segment of seeds in the local companies," Tinland said.

The way forward

So what comes next after food is put on the table? Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, the founder, and CEO of Dakar-based Africa Consulting and Trading (ACT), which works in the fields of finance and communication, told DW the first thing that most African countries need is rebranding. They need to understand their own stories and decide where they are heading and how they are going to get there.

"We need to be extremely pragmatic in making sure that we provide access to finance, expertise, and access to the market for young people so that they can become entrepreneurs as opposed to going to work for the states," said Diong.

What do the young people themselves think about the demographic dividend?

Janice da Grasa from Cape Verde says forums like this one allow her to her exchange different perspectives with other Africans.

"We are here to get a better Africa, and right now we are talking about the Agenda 2030. And I will be alive, and I want to see then the Africa we are planning now. Can we make it? We will see."

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