Make agriculture “sexy” to woo youth was the main message shared at a recent meeting for business and government leaders in Africa and India.
Today, Africa’s youth make up 65% of the continent’s population. Yet, many of them want nothing to do with agriculture, because it is tedious. They see it as a dead-end. To many, agriculture is unsexy. It is for the illiterate and the old.
Such a glaring distaste for agriculture by the youth, even under the projections that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030, should concern all the African agriculture stakeholders, including African governments and the private sector.
To fix this trend, African agriculture requires a re-branding.
African agriculture has to carry that appeal that youth are looking for: A profitable, lucrative business that uses technology and leverages all their skills, as well as an enterprise that uses social media, smart phones, big data and everything in between. It needs to be a field that uses many of the emerging technologies and trends including artificial intelligence, block chain, machine learning, robots and drones, as well as a field that offers multiple opportunities to innovate.
What then will it take to create an African agricultural sector that creates such an appeal for the youth?
To start, youth must see the monetary value in agriculture. To build a profitable agribusiness that leverages the entire available modern-day tech requires financial capital. Without access to finances, African youth will not be able to purchase quality agricultural inputs and make the much-needed investments that are necessary to create the agriculture young people are yearning to partake in. Presently, even though agriculture contributes 20-30% of Africa’s GDP, it attracts less than 5% of lending from financial institutions in Africa, leaving young farmers starved of the capital they need to operate modern-day agribusiness.
Complementing this will be the need to fund programs that brand agriculture not as drudgery but an opportunity to use creativity, earn employment and build strong communities, coupled with supporting new agricultural ventures that use tech, biotech, and rapid exchange of information to make the most out of agriculture.
The good news is that across Africa, the private sector is leading the charge by investing in youth led agricultural technologies startups, which, according to Forbes, have taken up a record $19 million in investment.
Importantly, many of the youth led start-ups are leveraging modern technology and carrying that appeal, taste, and class that today’s African youth are looking for. Kitovu, a Kenyan company, for example, offers soil analysis for farmers and delivers recommended fertilizers according to the local soil conditions. Others include, FarmDrive, Wakati, and Nigeria’s AMIntegrated Aerial Limited and Hello Tractor, companies that are reducing pesticide use by providing drone based sprayers that are more targeted and helping mechanize agriculture, respectively.
In addition to improving the lives of African farmers, these companies are endearing the educated and youthful population to farming. Combining tech and agriculture is not only cool but is also absorbing the incredible talent that is currently unemployed in the cities. As the Agtech matures, it will unlock huge economic gains that might parallel what financial tech such as M-Pesa mobile money, which has lifted more than 194,000 households out of poverty, has done for countries like Kenya.
Indeed, as these African-youth-led agriculture focused start-ups succeed, they are bound to inspire and lure many others.
Transforming the image of African agriculture will require positive press coverage. As such, African countries, especially Departments of Agriculture, should have dedicated webpages to show African youth what is possible once they pursue agriculture. If African Agriculture is the next Africa’s oil, why does not it show in many of the development websites?
The truth is public opinion can shape the careers that young people take. For example, anyone who wants to get into tech in the US needs not to ask where tech is. The press has already informed the public that Silicon Valley is where it is all happening. In a similar fashion, African organizations need to highlight opportunities available in agriculture including: soil testing, fertilizer and alternative fertilizer production and distribution; food storage; food processing; food marketing; monitoring of farming trends, diseases, and demand; biotech; and many other opportunities. All these currently severely underserved areas present numerous opportunities for business and employment.
Rebranding African agriculture will do more than lure the youth to produce food. It will create jobs, wealth, modernize agriculture and bring the much needed agriculture makeover. Time is ripe.
Mwaura is a Plant Biology PhD student at UC Davis