In my recent conversations with my brother - a young farmer in rural Kenya - he told me that he had decided he was not going to plant any more crops unless they were on drip irrigation. This was based on his firsthand experience of losing crops to the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns brought about by the changing climate. As much as he wants to fill our family's farm of almost 10 acres with maize, beans, cow peas, cassava and Africa's green leafy vegetables including amaranth greens, he also knows that if the rains stop halfway through the growth cycle and the scorching sun kicks in, all his work will go to waste as crops wither and die. He concluded by letting me know that if he had access to financing, he would invest in a sustainable water source and put all our family land under solar powered drip irrigation.
After our conversations, I could not help but wonder - Can Africa afford to let its youthful population give up on farming because of the hurdles they face?
No, Africa does not have that luxury. Youth under age 35 currently make up 60 percent of Africa's 1.2 billion people. According to a recent report by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, this number is further expected to double by 2050. Clearly, if it doesn't empower its growing ranks of young people, it will be hard for the continent to feed its growing population.
The overwhelming truth is that my brother is not alone. Across Africa, many farmers including the youth face plenty of challenges including lack of access to agricultural land to farm, lack of financing for their agri-business ventures and lack of services such as insurance so that they can survive climate-related disasters that affect their crop cycles. All these hurdles eventually force them to quit agriculture and move to urban areas in search for other meaningful forms of employment.
What then can be done to ensure that Africa's younger generation, especially those living in rural areas stay, and continue to pursue agriculture?
Show Them the Money
One of the major challenges many young African farmers face is the lack of access to financial capital that they can use to acquire the tools to sustain a profitable agribusiness. Agriculture contributes 20-30% to Africa's GDP and provides livelihoods to 60 percent of Africa's population. Yet, it attracts less than 5 percent of lending from financial institutions on the continent, leaving youthful farmers and other agricultural enterprises starved of the capital they need to operate and grow their agribusinesses.
Without access to finances, young people are unable to buy quality agricultural inputs (seeds and fertilizers) and make the much-needed farm investments (e.g. installing drip irrigation) to expand and maintain consistent production and increase yields. This has continued to be an issue even though there are several innovative financial models that have been rolled out to finance and support Africa's young people who are willing to stay in agriculture.
Farm Drive, for example, is helping young farmers to get the credit they need to support their ventures. By using young farmers' digital money usage data together with satellite data, weather data and market figures, this start up creates credit scores for the farmer and makes loan recommendations to financial institutions. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recently launched a $1-millionproject that is aimed at unveiling financial services to youth involved in agriculture in East Africa. The African Development Bank has also been on the frontlines through its Enable Youth program that is working towards creating the enabling environment to allow for the financial support of 300,000 youth-led agribusinesses across Africa.
Clearly, more needs to be done. There is room for more innovative financial models and there is room for scaling up that what works to reach all the rural youth across the African Continent. This must continue to be a priority.
Technical Assistance to Youth
Financial capital without the technical assistance - especially training focused on long-term agri-business planning - is insufficient. To sustain a thriving business, youth farmers must be helped to understand all the components that go into creating thriving, profitable and sustainable agribusiness. From creating a business plan, to creating a production plan that factors all the climate-change associated irregular weather patterns to creating a marketing strategy for their products-youth farmers need rigorous training and continuous support.
One of the possible ways to do so is creating mentoring programs that are exclusively focused young African farmers. There are handful mentoring programs across Africa that are making a good start. The Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) is one organization that provides mentorships for youth that decide to venture into agriculture. Through their initiatives, youth farmers are given the access to mentors who have expertise in agribusiness, agricultural extensions, research and marketing.
But to really move things forward, we should be setting up rural youth agribusiness boot camps to help young farmers sustain their agriculture focused initiatives. The truth is that many of the training efforts now under way happen in cities, which leaves behind the rural youth farmer. This needs to change.
Making a career in agriculture amid a changing climate is a complex and difficult challenge. And for many of Africa's young farmers, the lack of access to capital, technical assistance and hands-on training makes it all but impossible. Africa does not have the luxury of letting let its young people quit agriculture. African governments and their partners must channel new resources into the next generation of agricultural experts. The time to plant, both literally and figuratively, is now.
- Esther Ngumbi PhD is a distinguished postdoctoral researcher, World Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security Fellow
and Clinton Global University Initiative Agriculture Commitments Mentor and Ambassador