Focus on youth to reverse Africa’s economic misery, says Heifer VP
Ahead of the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2021 holding in September, Senior Vice President for Africa Programes at Heifer International, Adesuwa Ifedi, spoke with GEOFF IYATSE on the role of youth and women in driving sustainable economic recovery of the continent and mitigating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are your thoughts and expectations on this year’s forum and what sort of outcomes should we look forward to?
Vulnerability, fragility, recovery, resilience, sustainability and partnerships should be the keywords for participants and thought leaders going into the AGRF 2021. I say this because it is important not to dismiss or understate the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy of African nations. Countries, businesses and farming communities in the global south were hit hard not so much by infection cases and deaths from the coronavirus but also by the inertia and disconnect that the pandemic brought on global trade and investment flows.
So, to that extent, agriculture value chains across Africa continue to contend with the aftereffects of the COVID-19 outbreak. The resilience of smallholder farmers in rural communities has, however, shone through. In the face of harsh domestic realities, Africa’s farm holdings and agri-businesses have become recognised, and rightly so too, as essential to their respective economies.
The pandemic has reinforced the urgency and necessity of food. The theme of AGRF 2021 is therefore appropriate and timely.
I expect participants to come away with innovative ideas around agricultural transformation and developing regional value chains for strategic agricultural commodities. I would also love to see business, political and policy thought leaders at this year’s forum coming up with an ‘urgent agenda’ for African agriculture, an agenda that fast tracks the pathway towards a stronger and more inclusive ecosystem. In a nutshell, a post-pandemic agriculture revival plans, leveraging technology and Africa’s youth population to evolve climate-smart agricultural practices.
AGRF events are known for bringing together business and political leaders in the agriculture value chain. There seems to be a focus on youth and women this year. What informs the decision?
To expand on the theme of the forum, the pathways to recovery and resilient food systems will be paved with youth, many of them female farmers and entrepreneurs. The AGRF secretariat recognizes this and has ensured that the youth are not just spectators but participate actively in this year’s event. The forum will convene a youth town hall meeting, which will be led by the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta. Heifer International will also be hosting a virtual session for young farmers and innovators on the sidelines of the forum, to discuss our latest research which examines the expanding role of technology and youth in agriculture. The research report highlights the fact that capital, innovation and technology could transform African agriculture, enabling African youth now turning away from agriculture to reconsider opportunities in the sector.
This is important if we are to generate jobs and repair food systems battered by the pandemic.
What are your views on how the AGRF has evolved since its first event held in 2006 in Norway? How well has the platform served economic aspirations and interests?
For as long as I can remember, Africa’s rural areas have been mostly zones of economic misery. And most Africans have grown up perceiving agriculture in welfare and charity terms – and these perceptions shaped their reality – despite the sector’s massive social and economic footprint. But the AGRF has helped to shake up these long-held misgivings and mindsets about agriculture.
Agriculture in Africa can be a lucrative sector. And what happens to agriculture in Africa may very well determine the future of food globally. The African Development Bank estimates that agribusiness in sub-Sahara Africa could develop into a $1 trillion industry by 2030, offering opportunities to potential investors. We must begin to realize this potential as quickly as possible.
But what do we need to do to alter the current scenario where Africa, which produces close to 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans, receives only two per cent of the revenue of global sales of chocolate?
How can investors and financial institutions looking towards agriculture investments better appreciate, and help mitigate, the risks associated with the production, distribution and sales of livestock, fisheries and crops? These are some of the questions AGRF has provided answers to since its inception. As a platform for conceptual and practical initiatives, it galvanizes state and non-state actors including research institutions and multilateral financial institutions towards fulfilling the commitments made in the Comprehensive Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) for agricultural transformation, wealth creation and food security. African governments are showing a growing commitment to the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods. This is all due to the AGRF’s convening powers and influence.
What is the significance of Heifer International’s participation in AGRF 2021?
Heifer International is an AGRF partner. We collaborate with the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the AGRF’s parent body. We are members of the AGRF Partners Group – a group of 26 leading actors in African agriculture all focused on putting farmers at the center of the continent’s growing economies. Working with AGRF partners, our collective desire is to revive and strengthen Africa’s agriculture value chains, transforming them and placing them at the center of economic and social development.
Heifer International is known for promoting health, prosperity and peace through our farm animals’ gifts programs where we provide ducks, chickens, cows and goats to those that need those most. The 2021 Nairobi AGRF will provide us a platform to showcase our progressive ethos and ecosystem capabilities, especially our capacity to support farmers and agribusinesses with access to patient and innovative capital, infrastructure, and advanced technologies such as payment systems, artificial intelligence, geographic information software and drone technology. Working with other partners, we will shape the discourse on youth employment, women in agriculture, agricultural technology and digitalisation.
We are poised to support the AGRF Secretariat to ensure a successful outing.