African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina has urged African youth to get involved in agriculture, saying that the Bank has invested massively in jobs for youth in rural areas and that the sector offers enormous potential.
Adesina was speaking Saturday 6 April as a member of a panel discussing Africa's youth population, jobs and migration, during the Ibrahim Governance Weekend organised in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. The panel was chaired by former UN diplomat Valerie Amos and included Hailemairam Desalegn, former prime minister of Ethiopia, Abdourahmane Cisse, Energy minister, Côte d'Ivoire, Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist of the Human Development practice group in the World Bank, and Natasha Kimani, head of programmes at communications firm Well Told Story.
"What Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world ... Who drinks oil, who smokes gas? But you all had breakfast this morning...The food business is a big business but we have to make it a cool business for youth. Young people have to get into agriculture and treat it as a professional career, not as a way of life, and not as a developmental activity," Adesina said.
It was not enough to talk about Africa's potential, such as the oft-cited figures about the continent's burgeoning youth market: the potential has to be transformed into outcomes, Adesina said.
The Bank had launched the $374 million ENABLE Youth programme in 2017, which aims ultimately to support over 300,000 youth-owned businesses. Six projects with ENABLE Youth components have been approved for a total of $774 million, and 15 ENABLE Youth projects are included in the Bank's 2017-2019 project pipeline.
Agriculture is just one of the areas where the Bank was investing in young people. It had also initiated funds worth more than $200 million to support high-risk enterprises, fin-techs and other youth-owned businesses.
65% of the world's uncultivated arable land is in Africa and the sector could generate a market of $1 trillion by 2030. "You want to be a billionaire? You want to be a millionaire? Get into agriculture," said Adesina.
Desalegn agreed with Adesina that agriculture could cure many economic ills.
"We need smart agriculture ... Agriculture can take most of our people into the economy. We need digital as well. We need to have IT as well as digital infrastructure," said Desalegn.
In her remarks, Natasha Kimani called on young people to demand more of their governments and hold them accountable. "Ask the tough questions," she said.
Young people's ambitions were often dismissed, Kimani said. "We need to change how we talk about young people; how we talk to young people."
Adesina said the fate of young and old were bound up together. He said if young people did not prosper, they could not contribute as taxpayers, potentially restricting pension funding for their elders." We must invest in hope. The young people, they are the hope of the continent. And that is not a conversation for tomorrow. It's a conversation for today," said Adesina. Over the weekend, Adesina also held bilateral meetings with former South African and Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel, chair of the Graca Machel Trust and various other officials to discuss future and ongoing partnerships with the African Development Bank.
The Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend brings together some of Africa's most influential political, business and thought leaders, civil society, and multilateral institutions. This year's event focused on African migration, one of the major factors to affect the continent over the next decade.
The Foundation is the creation of Mohammed Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British businessman.