We are grateful that you all made it here at 7 :30am. You are the early birds. And early birds always wake up everyone to action!
When I was an adolescent growing up in Nigeria, my father encouraged me to move as far away from agriculture as possible. A poor farmer himself--and a typical Nigerian parent, I might add--he insisted that I become a doctor.
But Fate has this uncanny way of upsetting the best laid plans. In secondary school, my scores just fell slightly short of the subjects that my father would have me pursue. So, you could say that, despite stumbling into agriculture, it has actually enabled me to forge ahead.
Advancing agricultural technologies and working directly with African farmers--both young and old--has presented me with some of the most rewarding experiences of my professional and personal life.
As I look into the audience at the young people we have supported to grow their agribusinesses, I remain confident that the potential of the African Development Bank's ENABLE Youth Initiative is huge. You see, ENABLE Youth attempts to solve a triad of Africa's major challenges: extreme poverty, youth unemployment, and environmental degradation.
In 2015 alone, Africa spent US$35 billion net on food imports. It is estimated that we will spend up to US$110 billion net by 2025 if we do not make a modernised and industrialised agriculture the bedrock of our economies.
Over the next 10 years, 120 million young Africans will be looking for work. Each year, only three million out of the 12 million who enter the labor market actually find jobs. What are these unemployed youth supposed to do?
Unless we create employment opportunities for them, or enable them to create employment for themselves and others, Africa's burgeoning youth will give rise to serious political and socio-economic disruption.
ENABLE Youth has been developed partly in response to these projections. For the ENABLE Youth Initiative farming is neither drudgery, nor backbreaking intensive labour with no financial rewards. For ENABLE Youth, agriculture is hard work, but rewarding and profitable.
Africa's next billionaires are not going to come from oil, gas, or the extractives. ENABLE Youth is about investing in small agribusinesses today so that they can grow into large enterprises tomorrow.
By empowering youth at each stage of the agribusiness value chain, we enable them to establish viable and profitable agribusinesses, jobs and better incomes for themselves and their communities.
This is how we intend to make farming cool.
Over the next five years, we plan to train 10,000 young agripreneurs per country across 30 countries in Africa. That is 300,000 young Agripreneurs. With the support of our regional member countries which have expressed great interest in ENABLE Youth, we have already approved projects in six countries for a total amount of US$774 million.
Africa already has shining examples of successful youth agripreneurs and 9 of them are here with us today in Iowa. Please stand and be recognised.
We have Mahmud Johnson of the multi-award winning J-Palm Liberia, which processes palm kernels into a range of products including Kernel Fresh, an organic moisturiser and hair conditioner made of virgin cold-pressed palm kernel oil. In its short lifespan, Mahmud's company has provided access to improved processing machinery for smallholder oil palm farmers and has created a market for previously wasted palm kernels, helping to increase smallholder incomes by 50 to 80 percent.
Lilian Uwintwali of Rwanda is also here. Her IT firm Mahwi Tech links over 10,000 farmers in Rwanda to markets, banks, insurance companies and extension services. Last year, she was recognised among the top 3 young innovators in agribusiness across East Africa.
There's also Haowa Bello, CEO of Madame Coquette, a line of handcrafted handbags and small leather goods made in Nigeria. Local artisans use traditional tools and techniques to produce a variety of high quality bags and purses, with record sales in Nigeria, North America and Europe. Madame Coquette has been recognised by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria and featured on CNN's African Voices.
Haowa, Lilian, and Mahmud are just 3 examples of the thousands of young agripreneurs whose fascinating stories fill me with a sense of hope and urgency. I encourage you to engage with them meaningfully about how they do what they do, and what we can do to better support them.
These young people have already proven that when we enable youth, we enable progress. When we enable youth, we enable innovation. When we enable youth, we therefore enable Africa's agricultural transformation.
Please join me in this bold and beautiful initiative to make farming cooler than cool--for the young African agripreneurs in this room and the generations who are sure to follow.
I thank you.