Agri-business has the potential to create jobs for the millions of African youth who are jobless even after graduating with good degrees, experts said Wednesday during a panel discussion held at the ongoing African Development Bank (AfDB) 50th Annual Meetings in Abidjan.
Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the AfDB Special Envoy on Gender, opened the panel discussion on Wednesday by providing statistics that painted agriculture as the continent's untapped goldmine.
For starters, the continent, it was heard, has about 60 percent arable land with between 60 and 70 percent of its population employed in the agricultural sector, which contributes up to 70 percent of most African countries' Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
It was also heard that at least 17 million young people enter the job market every year and that agri-business has the potential to single-handedly provide them with jobs if only the right policies are put in place by those with the means.
Another key statistic highlighted was that of 70 percent of African women that find themselves employed in agriculture at a survival level. These women, Moleketi said, need to be supported to earn more sustainable livelihoods from their activities.
Joseph Sam Sesay and Isidore Kabwe Longo, Agriculture Ministers of Sierra Leon and Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively; Jean Claude Brou, Ivorian Minister of Industry and Mines; and Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) were on the panel to discuss agri-business potential.
It was agreed that there's a place for the youth in agriculture and Sanginga shared stories from Nigeria where his organisation has experimented and recorded positive results.
According to Sanginga, IITA has created jobs for hundreds of young people in Nigeria using a model where successful young people in agriculture talk to and mentor their counterparts.
The organisation also trains and equips youth with skills in production and processing of various crops including cassava, beans, maize and cowpeas. They also train youth in fish farming.
"And through our efforts, we have transformed young jobless Nigerians who studied different courses at university into accomplished farmers who are now making a decent living off agribusiness," he said.
Because of IITA's success in Nigeria, its youth in agriculture model is now being replicated in other African countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Democratic Republic of Congo's Minister Isidore Kabwe Longo shared his country's story, calling DRC's vast and lucrative mineral deposits, "Africa's mining scandal."
He said his government has started a deliberate shift from mining that the country is most famous for after coming to a realization that, despite having vast natural mineral deposits, these haven't been able to create jobs for everyone and transform the lives of most Congolese.
The Minister said unemployment in his country stands at over 45 percent and the country imports more than 40 percent of its food supplies costing over US $1.5bn every year.
Yet in all this, DR Congo has an estimated 80 million hectares of available arable land, but due to conflict and insecurity, only around 10 percent of this land is currently being used.
So it was concluded that peace and stability is important for Africa to exploit its vast arable resources and that the youth can be attracted into agriculture through the use of technology-enhanced methods of farming to help change mindsets of many young people who regard the sector as for the old and poor.
It was also agreed by the panelists that governments should create the necessary value chains that point the youth towards the opportunities in agriculture.