Friday, 09 October 2015 22:00

Africa’s survival hinges on youth in agric - AGRF Communique

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youth in agric

A communique delivered at the end of the recently-held Alliance for a Green Revolution Forum (AGRF 2015) in Lusaka, Zambia, noted that women are “the backbone of African agriculture” and warned that “Africa’s very survival depends on attracting young people into the agriculture sector”.

The Forum (AGRF) has emerged as Africa’s leading “platform of agriculture platforms”, bringing together a range of critical stakeholders in the African agriculture landscape including African Heads of State, ministers, farmers, private agribusiness firms, financial institutions, NGOs civil society, scientists, as well as international ‘development and technical partners’ of Africa to discuss and develop concrete plans for achieving the green revolution in Africa.

There was a strong consensus at AGRF 2015 that agriculture will not fulfil its potential to create a new era of economic prosperity across the continent unless officials in the public and private sectors focus on increasing the participation of women and youth.

President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and former Agriculture Minister of Rwanda, Dr. Agnes Kalibata said: “In many ways Africa is in an enviable situation. What is clear at AGRF 2015 is that two of Africa’s biggest challenges -- its fight to achieve food security and its urgent need to find employment for its young people -- can be transformed into its biggest assets”.

Youth under the age of 25 now account for 65 percent of the African population. Yet the 2015 Agriculture Status Report (AASR), which was released at the start of the meeting, revealed that both women and youth face significant barriers obtaining the finance, inputs, land and machinery required to take advantage of the business opportunities in Africa’s fast-growing domestic food market.

Sindiso Ngweny, Secretary-General of the Common market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which co-hosted the event with the government of Zambia said: “I would like to implore the participants gathered at AGRF 2015 to develop approaches for increasing access to finance and to lucrative markets that will enable youth and women to engage in agriculture as a business enterprise”.

Overall, the 36 separate events at AGRF 2015 generated a wide array of insights and actions that could allow African women and youth to help lead African agriculture from a focus on subsistence farming that is merely a struggle to survive, to pursuing productive and profitable agriculture businesses that are built to thrive.

The charge to delegates at AGRF 2015 was to “walk the talk” on youth and agriculture -- a reference to the fact that while it’s important to identify key problems, the urgent need today is to follow-up with tangible solutions. The delegates responded by focusing on how to overcome key barriers and take advantage of opportunities in many areas; including finance, land ownership, technology and training.

Mr. Theo de Jager, president of the Pan African Farmers’ Organisation, spoke with rising frustration as he lamented the lack of credit available to African farmers, particularly women and young people. “Nowhere in the history of the world did they succeed in developing agriculture without an abundance of sympathetic, patient capital,” he said.

Jager was particularly troubled by the fact that many African farmers and agribusinesses lack sufficient collateral to satisfy commercial lending requirements. But Michael Sudarkasa, CEO of the Africa Business Group, said finance experts at the meeting noted there are alternatives to traditional forms of collateral. For example, he was particularly intrigued by discussions at AGRF 2015 of what some people call ‘value chain financing’. Value chain financing is an approach to credit in which different actors in the sector --input suppliers, farmers’ warehouse operators, and food businesses -- work as an ensemble to show lenders that together they represent the means of production and a guaranteed purchaser.

“As we are better able to build value chains that show a customer at the end, then there are many instruments that can be utilised to fund this sector,” he said.

Meanwhile, representatives of the African Enterprises Challenge Fund (AECF) -- which is investing almost a quarter of a billion dollars in small businesses across Africa -- said challenge funds could play an important role in attracting financing. AECF is helping young Africans launch agribusiness start-ups, and then working closely with them so they can mature into companies capable of attracting conventional commercial investors.

Dr. Paul Greener, AECF’s Executive Director, said its portfolio of 160 business across Africa represents a ‘pipeline’ of attractive companies for the growing number of investors around the world who are eager to be involved in African agriculture but unsure where to put their money.

Meanwhile, at AGRF 2015, the MasterCard Foundation announced plans to invest US$47million in agricultural finance projects across Africa. The projects include US$15million for a partnership with AGRA that will deliver financial support to 730,000 farming households in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.

The Foundation also launched a new US$25million partnership with the development NGO Mercy Corps, to use information technology for bringing financial services to one million smallholder farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. And it debuted a new US$6.5million initiative to create a Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Laboratory, which will offer financial advice to poor rural communities in Africa wherever agriculture is the dominant activity.

See more at: BFT Online


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