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Southern Africa seek innovative ways to get youth back to farming

Youth key to transforming agriculture

Participants at the meeting. © FAO/ Edward Ogolla

10 October 2017, Harare - Countries in Southern Africa have emphasized the need to seek innovative ways to involve youth in agriculture and tap into the huge potential possessed by this demographic group to transform the sector.

FAO Representatives from the region, at a meeting with the Permanent Secretaries from the Ministries of Agriculture of the sixteen countries served by the FAO Subregional Office for Southern Africa, agreed that youths could play a more pronounced role in the sector and accelerate employment creation, improve productivity and enhance economic growth.

David Phiri, the FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, underpinned the importance of a coordinated and coherent approach to programme delivery in the region.

“This meeting provides a platform for FAO and the governments to coalesce and exchange practical experiences on lessons learned, innovative ideas and knowledge on FAO programmes as well as provide direction and devise strategies to achieve our mandate in the region,” he said.

Africa is the world’s youngest continent, as the proportion of youth among the region’s total population is higher than in any other continent. Almost 200 million people are aged between 15 and 24, representing a large potential reservoir for the growth of the agriculture sector.

Commercialization and mechanization to attract youth

Commercialisation of agriculture, the delegates agreed, would attract youths to the sector and in the process address the issue of youth unemployment.

“Commercialisation of the sector ensures that the young people take farming as a business and this addresses the issue of low productivity,” said Boipolelo Khumomathlare, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Botswana.

The meeting also observed that youths often shun agriculture because of “the drudgery” it entails.

They recommended that the mechanisation of the agriculture sector should focus on both the youth and women and ensure that it gains luster.

Renewed focus on youth

Focus on the role of youths in agriculture continues to gain momentum with the Africa Union declaring 2017 as the year of “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in youth”. An FAO flagship report - The State of Food and Agriculture 2017 - argues that millions of young people in developing countries who are poised to enter the labour force in the coming decades need not flee rural areas to escape poverty.

A young farmer from Plumtree District in Zimbabwe is testimony to the role that agriculture plays in reversing movement of youth to neighbouring countries. Crossman Ndlovu tried working in neighbouring South Africa but gave up after promises of a good job turned out to be a mirage and he ended up living in squalor. Upon his return, Crossman took to farming. “I have a thriving garden, where I grow a variety of vegetables. We consume the vegetables and sell the surplus. I also have ten cattle and 15 goats. Farming is my employment and I love it”, he says.

Climate change, transboundary pests and diseases shape priorities

Other issues discussed during the meeting include the need to prioritise climate-smart agriculture and post-harvest handling in the face of intermittent rains experienced in the region, which is attributed to climate change. Delegates also deliberated on how to improve or to build resilience among smallholder farmers in the region as shocks, including droughts and floods, continue to hit Southern Africa.

The discussion also focused on ensuring food and nutrition security in the region, especially against a backdrop of the emergence of transboundary animal and plant pests and diseases such as fall armyworm and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

The meeting presented an opportunity to review progress since the last FAO Regional Conference for Africa held in 2016 and plan for the next Regional Conference for Africa, to be held in Khartoum in February 2018.

Participants at the meeting (3 – 6 October 2017) included Permanent Secretaries and other senior government officials in the Ministries of Agriculture, as well as experts from SADC, Academia and FAO.

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