#YALI4Ag: Youth Innovating for Resilient Agriculture International Youth Day Event
Event Summary: #YALI4Ag: Youth Innovating for Resilient Agriculture
On August 12, 2021, the U.S. Department of State, in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Africa Program, hosted the all-virtual #YALI4Ag: Youth Innovating for Resilient Agriculture Livestream – An International Youth Day event.
Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economic development goals and is central to achieving food security for its citizens. While progress has made since independence, many countries have struggled with transforming their agricultural sectors from being predominantly subsistence to commercial; building agricultural sectors that are resilient to environmental and climate changes; creating healthy food systems that meet the needs of their population; and engaging youth and women in agribusiness to create employment opportunities and enhance livelihoods. Properly supported, the sector can boost the continent’s ability to feed itself, develop continent-wide supply chains, increase Africa’s share of global trade, and boost the continent’s development. In order to achieve these goals, African countries must rapidly transform their agricultural sectors, ensuring that African youth play a more central role.
Specifically, the #YALI4Ag event:
- Explored challenges, opportunities, and best practices for transforming Africa’s agricultural sector and food systems, including anticipating and building inclusive agricultural and food systems resilient to climate change and addressing the barriers that prevent African youth from engaging in agriculture and agribusiness;
- Highlighted YALI innovations and achievements in the agricultural sector and broader food system; and
- Provided practical ideas and recommendations for boosting Africa’s agricultural sector to achieve food security and youth engagement in the face of climate change.
The event was attended by 892 participants, including YALI alumni, U.S., and African practitioners, experts, and other YALI stakeholders.
Ms. Brenda Soya, Director, Africa Regional Services, U.S Department of State gave opening remarks, followed by a keynote address from Mr. Thione Niang, Founder of JeufZone Farm; Founder and President of Give1Project; and Co-Founder of Akon Lighting Africa. The keynote address was followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Dr. Monde Muyangwa, Director, Wilson Center Africa Program.
Ms. Soya’s opening remarks underscored the United States’ commitment to Africa’s youth and to addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity on the continent, including conflict, climate change, and COVID-19. Ms. Soya highlighted the exponential growth of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) network, which has grown to over 750,000 people since its inception ten years ago. She spoke to YALI’s goals of strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and promoting peace and security and noted that each of these goals could not be achieved without strong agricultural sectors and food security. She further noted that the challenges confronting Africa’s agricultural sectors could be alleviated by strong efforts to tie agriculture, agribusiness and youth. She closed by reiterating the resolve of the United States to work with Africa and with Africa’s youth to resolve these challenges to Build Back Better.
Keynote Address by Mr. Thione Niang, Founder, JeufZone
In his keynote address, Mr. Niang, thanked the U.S. State Department and acknowledged the YALI 10th anniversary milestone. Mr. Niang spoke of how his realization that his home country, Senegal, imported most of its jollof rice from Malaysia and Indonesia, cooking oil from Ukraine, and vegetables from neighboring countries, compelled him to go into agribusiness. He lamented the fact that Africa relies on food imports despite its vast endowment of natural resources, including arable land. He noted that Africa could feed the world if it were to harness its abundance of arable land and its large youth population to develop its agribusiness sector. His frustration with the continent's reliance on food imports, led him to establish Jeufzone, an organization that fosters agricultural and economic development on the continent. He noted that the many challenges confronting the agricultural sector in Africa, including the lack of electricity, poor infrastructure, lack of trained labor, as well as the lack of access to markets were not insolvable. To address these challenges, Africans at all levels – governments, the private sector, and youth – need to commit themselves to taking action. In this regard, he spoke of Jeufzone Institute, an initiative he founded to teach a new generation of young Africans the fundamentals of farming and agriculture including the incorporating digital technologies, while also creating jobs and giving Africans control of what they eat. He urged African governments to invest more in their youth instead of waiting for international partners to be the primary investors. Mr. Niang provided recommendations for governments and international partners, highlighting the importance of policies to foster private sector investment to reduce barriers to accessing markets and financing. In closing, Mr. Niang encouraged African youth to rise to the challenge of creating the Africa they want with a sense of urgency, including by taking advantage of the many opportunities for technological and agricultural innovation.
Dr. Muyangwa closed by reiterating some of the key messages from the keynote and opening remarks including: the call to young Africans to proactively address the challenges related to the development of Africa’s agricultural sector, and the importance of developing public-private partnerships. She emphasized the point that Africans have to take the lead for developing Africa and for transforming the agricultural sector as international partners can only add value to African efforts. Finally, she stressed how, ultimately, young Africans must have a sense of ownership in advancing food security and economic development for the continent, and in identifying and accessing advancements in technology to facilitate and amplify the transformation of the sector at large.
Panel 1: #YALI4Ag for Resilient Agriculture – Policy Perspectives
The first panel, “#YALI4Ag for Resilient Agriculture: Policy Perspectives,” explored the policy perspectives and challenges, opportunities, and best practices for transforming Africa’s agricultural and food systems
. Dr. Monde Muyangwa, Director, Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars moderated the session that featured three YALI alumni: Dr. Benjamin Aboagye Danso, Director of Research and Training Projects, Kumasi Institute of Tropical Agriculture (KITA), (Republic of Ghana); Dr. Peace Musonge, Founder, Bakatoa (The Republic of Uganda); and Mr. Jacob Hamutenya, Regional Manager: Ongwediva FPBH, Agro-Marketing & Trade Agency (Republic of Namibia).
Dr. Muyangwa welcomed the participants, introduced the speakers, and shared the goals and objectives of the session: to assess the state of the continent's agricultural and agribusiness sector, and to highlight policies that can be developed to best address the barriers of entry that confront youth wishing to engage in the sector.
Dr. Danso offered remarks on the challenges, opportunities, and recommendations related to the current state of Africa’s agricultural sector and youth inclusion. The key challenges highlighted included the impact of climate change on the region, the lack of skilled labor, insufficient educational and policy vision to propel capacity building for the sector, weak regional institutions, poor access to technology, the lack of research that is informed by local data sources, and the lack of farmers insurance. Regarding opportunities, Dr. Danso mentioned the commitment made by some African governments to modernize their country’s food systems, the implementation of industry-wide quality standards across the continent, and the potential to leverage the agribusiness value chain for economic development. He also highlighted the importance of focusing on technology and innovation in order to make the sector less dependent on external partners. Dr. Danso offered several recommendations for advancing the transformation of the agricultural sector including: investing in agricultural capacity building; development of agricultural policies that are intentionally inclusive of women and young people; and a bottom-up approach that includes stakeholders at the grassroots level in agriculture-related policy development by regional and local governments. For international partners, he urged more attention toward supporting and developing youth to take advantage of opportunities in the agriculture sector.
Dr. Musonge spoke to the strengths of Africa’s agricultural sector based on the continent’s diverse agricultural ecosystem, including its fishing sector; the recent investments in science and research by African governments due to COVID-19; the African Union’s efforts to build sustainable food systems across the continent, and the recent launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). She noted the need for more robust data collection with a focus on data originating from within the African context as well as good governance to foster transparency and stability. Dr. Musonge recommended a hybrid approach to farming that incorporates both traditional and modern methods, an increase in opportunities for access to land ownership for women, and the commercialization of research through tax credits and the development of research centers through public-private partnerships for the development of a sustainable agricultural sector that is resilient to climate change. She also recommended embedding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and entrepreneurship skills to provide a pathway for youth to enter the scientific field.
Mr. Hamutenya spoke of the opportunities related to the increased interest of youth in the agricultural sector in southern Africa and the potential for economic development through the AfCFTA. He stressed the importance of leveraging financial technologies such as cryptocurrency and blockchain to transfer money and capital. The challenges related to youth inclusion included the barriers to market access is due to a lack of capital and capacity. Mr. Hamutenya recommended that African governments enable youth entrepreneurship through incentivizing private investment and fostering peace and stability through good governance, developing the infrastructure for digitization, while ensuring sector efficiency and the reduction of waste. He also recommended that African governments work to modernize infrastructure, provide tax incentives and guarantees to allow local farmers to support public institutions while ensuring market access. Finally, Mr. Hamutenya urged African governments to focus on the development and application of policies that facilitate more inclusive value chains.
The speakers engaged in audience question-and-answer session with the audience during which they addressed questions on the role of women in the development of the sector, how to make the sector more efficient, how to create value for smallholder farmers, how to build capacity through enhancing skills for problem-solving and innovation, and how the creative sector might help reshape the narrative of Africa’s agricultural sector to drive youth inclusion.
The panel concluded with words of encouragement and inspiration for Africa’s youth from each of the speakers. Mr. Hamutenya encouraged young Africans to invest their time and energy into the issues that matter most to them and to utilize their skills and talents to work together toward change; Dr. Danso pushed young Africans to view challenges as opportunities to create innovative enterprises, to build skills in emerging sectors, and to change the narrative around agriculture; Dr. Musonge encouraged African youth to invest in their own professional development and to utilize their energy to gain technological and communication skills that can transform the agricultural sector.
The first panel was followed by a break featuring a video compilation of YALI social innovators working in the agricultural sector. Ms. Hope Mapheto, Executive Director at My Tomorrow Academy, shared how her love of community inspired her to engage the local rural population through employment and capacity-building opportunities to make a difference in their lives. Mr. Dysmus Kisilu, the founder of Solar Freeze, a Kenya-based technology company that uses renewable energy to help rural smallholder farmers reduce postharvest losses, illustrated the power of leveraging technology to address the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Africa. Ms. Mojisola Ojebode shared how she leveraged her educational background in biochemistry to develop effective and environment-friendly plant-based pesticides for rural African farmers. Ms. Ojebode’s innovation exemplifies the power of a single idea to change the agricultural sector and the world.
Panel 2: #YALI4Ag for Resilient Agriculture – Practitioners’ Perspectives
The second panel, “#YALI4Ag for Resilient Agriculture: Practitioners' Perspectives,” explored the contribution of YALI alumni in the agriculture sector from a practitioner perspective. The session provided concrete ideas, lessons learned, and recommendations for boosting Africa’s agricultural sector and developing more inclusive, healthier, and climate-friendly food systems in the African context. Mr. Michael Bittrick, Senior Advisor, Global Food Security, U.S. Department of State moderated the session featuring three YALI alumni: Ms. Atim Mbah, Founder and Project Coordinator, Green Farmlands (Republic of Cameroon): Mr. Mathin Sahr Torto, Founder, Compost-Tech Liberia; CEO, Gbezohn Food Snack (The Republic of Liberia); and Ms. Mercy Chatyoka, Business Development & Innovation Executive, Armlead Private Limited (Republic of Zimbabwe).
Mr. Bittrick welcomed the participants, introduced the speakers, and framed the goals and objectives of the session: explore challenges, opportunities, and best practices for transforming Africa’s agricultural sector, including anticipating and building agricultural and food systems resilient to climate change and addressing the barriers that prevent African youth from engaging in agriculture and agribusiness. Mr. Bittrick underlined the deep commitment of the United States government to address food insecurity in Africa, caused in part by climate change and conflict, while building more sustainable food systems with the support of the United Nations and the African Union.
Ms. Mbah’s remarks focused on the need to identify the opportunities, not just the challenges. One opportunity that was highlighted included scaling up adoption of principles of the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods (the Malabo Declaration), spearheaded by the African Union in 2014 to provide a blueprint to transform the agricultural sector in Africa for the period 2015-2025. She also highlighted the opportunities for the African agriculture sector provided by Africa’s growing population and income trends, advising sector stakeholders to develop innovative approaches to foster sustainability and address the challenges related to climate change. She highlighted her practical experiences working with smallholder farmers on food security by providing nutrition programs for children in light of the challenges due to conflict in the region. She noted the impact of conflict on prohibiting her from working closely with the targeted communities, thus minimizing the on-the-ground impact of her organization. She also spoke to the challenges and opportunities related to the overall perception of the sector, specifically the perception that the sector is for the elderly. Ms. Mbah recommended that practitioners share the stories of their successes to encourage youth participation in the agricultural sector while seeking opportunities to partner with institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement capacity-building programs aimed at youth to drive interest. Finally, the speaker spoke of the need for a collective effort from all sector stakeholders to collaborate on improving value and supply chains and encouraged the broader YALI community to lead these efforts.
Mr. Torto provided remarks on the challenges in investing in youth farmers and the need to form public-private partnerships to create sustainability and the use of technology to support the development of the value chains. Mr. Torto shared insights on the need for more capacity building programs to provide farmers with the data and information to address climate change and food insecurity in practice and the need for greater internet accessibility. To address these challenges, Mr. Torto proposed investment by African governments in capacity building technology to support product storage and preservation. He highlighted the need for youth-led farming cooperatives to foster the development of sustainable farms. Finally, he noted that to build on the potential of Africa’s growing population and market size there is a need to focus on seed quality and market access for economic development, and that international partners can play a role in developing policies to foster a collaborative effort to drive solutions for capacity building on the continent.
Ms. Chatyoka shared her perspective on the challenges related to the development of the African agricultural sector, highlighting a lack of institutional support through industry standards and gender disparities in accessing land and financing. She also remarked on the opportunities related to the fact that Africa contains 60 percent of the world's arable land but remains a net exporter of food products. Ms. Chatyoka offered recommendations to address the challenges including providing agripreneurs with access to land, financing, and institutional support through the development of industry-wide standards across the continent to promote food safety and the improvement of community harvests. She also recommended production hubs to increase access to markets, particularly for youth and women farmers. Other recommendations included telling stories that highlight youth participation in the sector and provided the example of the Minister of Agriculture in Zimbabwe, who is one of the youngest on the continent and has created mechanisms within his department to foster youth inclusion. She mentioned the role of international partners in providing capacity development for governments related to effective policy development and financial support to the sector at large. She also urged the adoption of advanced and climate-resilient technologies to harness the energy of youth, use of learning platforms to bridge the capacity gap, and a push to provide innovative and flexible finance options while also ensuring that youth were part of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The speakers then engaged in a question-and-answer session with the audience during which they addressed questions on topics including how to use technology to foster youth participation, and how government support and education might unlock more financing for the agricultural sector.
Mr. Bittrick summarized the discussion by highlighting the lucrative opportunities that exist in the agricultural sector as compared to other sectors and encouraging both public and private global investment in the sector. He also highlighted the point that age should not be a barrier to entering the agricultural sector and stressed the importance of providing youth with resources and financing to participate in the sector. He emphasized the need for agriculture to be a part of public education so that African youth can build the necessary skills for agricultural transformation in specific areas such as water scarcity. He noted that Internet-friendly agricultural extension programs through U.S. land grant universities could yield returns on investments. He also noted that Africa’s agricultural and food systems are ready for both public and private financing which would allow the continent and its people to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, including ending hunger, improving health, alleviating poverty, and reducing greenhouse gas and the environmental footprint.
The session ended with words of inspiration and encouragement from each speaker. Ms. Mbah spoke.to the importance of focusing on Africa’s opportunities and not only its challenges; Mr. Torto stressed the many opportunities that the agricultural sector holds for youth to engage in what interests them in order to create change; and Ms. Chatyoka encouraged young people to become part of the agricultural revolution by getting involved in resilient and inclusive food systems, to tap into the potential of women, and to change the narrative around agriculture.
The event concluded with a video showcasing cultural content from artists across Africa and the United States. International recording artists, Wordsmith and D.J. Invisible, narrated the segment and introduced the artist. Ms. Grace Jerry, a 2015 Washington Mandela Fellow, was lauded for her work as a disability advocate and composer of the YALI anthem; the segment featured a rendition of the anthem. Mr. Douglass Ogutu, a 2021 Washington Mandela Fellow, works to support artists living in low-income communities through the YALI transformation fund, was also featured. He leads an effort to foster collaboration among artists, and his song, Pambazuko, was highlighted during the segment. The segment also included Mr. Kaweesi Mark (Washington Mandela Fellow 2016), who empowers youth through artistic expressions. The video featured the annual cultural festival organized by Mr. Mark called Breakfast Jam. Ms. Catharine Mbenge (Washington Mandela Fellow 2019) rendered her prize-winning poem The Shy Girl Who Refuses to Die Shy. Lastly, the segment featured Lamboginny, the co-convener of the Say No to Crime movement and the advocate of S.A.L.T (Saving All Lives Together), a prison reform program. Lamboginny closed out the event with a rendition of his song, I Believe in Africa.
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