President Paul Kagame has said that African youth must challenge themselves and reflect on their contribution to the future of food in their communities, underscoring the need for innovation to advance the continent's agriculture sector.
Kagame made the observations on Thursday, September 10, 2020, while participating in a youth town hall meeting which was held under the theme "Africa's Food System of the Future."
The session which was held virtually, is part of the 10th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) Summit which started on September 8 and concludes on September 11.
He said that the potential of agriculture on the African continent is vast.
"We need to invest more and get more out of the investments we have already made. This includes public infrastructure and value chains, particularly for the growing urban food markets that underpin prosperity in rural areas," he remarked.
"What we need from you is the corresponding focus and innovative spirit so that agriculture can serve as the basis of Africa's economic transformation," the President told the youth.
Reducing Africa's food imports
Neema Matunzi, a delegate from Kenya said that Africa's food is key to feeding its growing population, especially in cities, as well as the rest of the world.
"This means that most (African) countries should move from being net food importers, as it is currently the reality, to net exporters. So, Mister President, what is your vision for the future of food systems," she asked President Kagame.
A net importer of food is a country or region whose food imports outweigh its exports.
Statistics from the African Development Bank (AfDB) indicated that Africa had an estimated net food import bill of US $35.4 billion in 2015, with about 15 food chains accounting for most imports, including 5 staple commodities such as wheat, sugar, rice, beef, and soybeans.
The Bank said that increased food demand and changing consumption habits are leading to rapidly rising net food imports, which are expected to grow from US $35 billion in 2015 to over US $110 billion by 2025, if the situation does not change.
Replying to the above question, President Kagame said that "in our vision, we want to transform agriculture from mostly subsistence to a modern, knowledge-based sector that ensures both food and nutrition security, and also creates value and contributes to our economy."
"This means therefore, a stronger role for the private sector including farmers with the government acting as a market enabler, rather than dominating the market," he said.
According to the Head of State, increased profits will come from higher yields and higher value agricultural commodities such as horticulture, poultry, pork and fisheries, among others.
The President said that besides enabling good policy, the Government of Rwanda is working to provide the required infrastructure and to support research.
"And, you will find that this is across the whole continent; each country is focused on a number of things, but these are the common ones."
He observed that Rwanda has partnered with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to establish Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) which is educating a new generation of agriculture entrepreneurs in the latest sustainable farming practices.
Rwanda also facilitated the establishment of a youth platform - the Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum - which targets opportunities in the agriculture sector domestically and regionally, the President added.
"African youth has not yet fully realised agriculture as a profitable opportunity for livelihoods. You can challenge this notion if you like," he said pointing out that commercial agriculture, technology-driven agriculture is the best way to entice young people to engage in the farms.
Agriculture to create 350 jobs
Hailemariam Desalegn, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Chair of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said that by 2035, within the coming 15 years, Africa should generate 350 million new jobs, according to the World Bank estimates, yet, the fact is that most African youths are not employed.
However, Yunike Phiri, Founder of Zambia Young Emerging Farmers Association said that one major challenge that she has seen in the agriculture value chain, especially for us young people, is access to finance.
"We are asked to provide loan collateral for us to get mine from the banks. But the majority of smallholder farmers, especially young people, are just graduates who don't really have collateral. So for me, access to finance is something that should be addressed for the youth to sustainably engage in agriculture," she said.