– The two-day Second Africa Rural Development Forum concluded Friday with renewed calls to economically empower young people, many of whom are leaving the resource-rich continent and migrating to places like Europe under very risky circumstances.
Opening the conference, the director of programmes implementation and communication at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Estherine Fotabong, reminded delegates that Africa’s high economic growth rates have not translated into high levels of employment and reductions in poverty for youth and those living in rural areas.
Fotabong observed that Africa’s fight against poverty, hunger and unemployment will be won or lost in rural areas, adding that is what frames the rural transformation strategy and agenda for the entire continent.
“This is the experience of all newly wealthy nations, as the most effective means of expanding the domestic market of their own population whose incomes and purchasing power is growing. Without a growing domestic market, in terms of ever-growing numbers of rural and urban people whose income is growing, then it is difficult to escape structural poverty through an outward looking economy,” Fotabong told a jam-packed conference at the Hilton Hotel in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
She added that Africa has deviated from standard processes of structural transformation in that it is experiencing urbanisation without manufacturing jobs.
Urbanisation should typically be a consequence of economic growth, not a lack of it. Unemployment and poverty are structural not temporary — and this is not mostly self-correcting. There is need for “big push policy interventions,” she stressed.
NEPAD’s Chief Executive Officer Ibrahim Assane Mayaki agreed. “Attaining Africa’s Agenda 2063 aspirations and goals to a large extent depends on the transformation of rural areas,” Mayaki told the audience drawn from across the continent.
Immediately after the opening ceremony, a high-level panel discussion moderated by Mayaki zoomed in on challenges regarding demographic growth, pressure on natural resources, employment creation and economic diversification in designing and implementing new development strategies for job creation in rural areas.
Cameroonian Secretary General of Livestock in the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries Jaji Manu Taiga said the government has pumped close to 100 million dollars into his ministry to revitalise the rural sector. Capacity is also being developed among youth in the fisheries sector.
“I am urging Cameroonians that are in the diaspora who wire transfers and invest their money in hotels and apartments to come back and re-think about investing in agriculture and rural development,” Taiga added.
Taiga’s words were corroborated by Ananga Messina Clémentine, Cameroonian minister in charge of rural development. Clémentine forecasted wealth creation generated from agri-business in an ambitious plan where over 5,000 youth are currently being trained in enterprise development. She said there is a ready market in the case of agro-commodities as Cameroon is surrounded by petroleum-producing countries.
“It is time we make agriculture attractive, train and sensitize all demographic groups despite gender so that they know it is profitable. They need to know issues related to market analysis, choices of where to sell their products and building entrepreneurship spirit,” she said.
Clémentine added that in order to make agro products and commodities competitive on the market, there was a need for improved value addition and use of information technology in search of diverse market accessibility. She also stressed that post-harvest losses, currently up to 40 percent, must be brought down to manageable levels, especially in crops such as cassava and cereals. She urged African women to be actively engaged in all those activities, as a part of employment of different jobs within the value chain.
Responding to a comment from the plenary on the effects of climate change on agriculture, Clémentine said that studies have shown that at least 300 hectares of forest are destroyed annually in the Congo basin as a result of bush furrowing, a cultivate and abandon form of farming. She suggested adoption of modern agriculture methods that are less damaging to the environment and to mainstream climate change in African interventions.
Philomena Chege, Deputy Director in the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya, suggested that the time is up to also consider shifting from subsistence farming to mechanization to ensure high productivity and time management on the part of youth.
Project Coordinator of Authentique Memorial Educational Foundation Mme Atim Taniform cited the issue of land ownership rights among women, who are only allowed to use land and not own it.
“There is preference for males over women when it comes to ownership of land which results in young women being marginalized. But also there are issues of startup capital for the youth as well which makes embarking on such initiatives a challenge in most cases,” she said on the sidelines of the meeting.
Koffi Amegbeto, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Senior Policy Officer for West Africa, told IPS that the kind of interventions his office is implementing include support for the formulation and implementation of policies, strategies and programmes that generate decent rural employment, especially for rural youth and women.
“Effective support has been provided to more than twenty countries in the biennium 2014-2015. In particular, FAO is assisting governments in the development of effective public private partnerships fostering youth inclusion in agriculture and in the design of youth-friendly and climate smart methodologies for technical and vocational education and training (e.g. Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) methodology),” Amegbeto told IPS.
Thanks to the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, he added, FAO launched multi-country programmes on youth employment in East and West Africa, while a third programme is geared towards supporting the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency’s Rural Futures Programme.
Secondly, FAO provides policy advice, capacity development and technical support to extend the application of international labour standards in rural areas.
“The main areas of focus have been child labour prevention in agriculture, and occupational safety and health. Four countries (Cambodia, Niger, Malawi, and Tanzania) were supported with programmes to prevent child labour in agriculture with important results in terms of increased awareness and strengthened institutional capacities to prevent child labour,” he said.
Third, FAO provides support to improve information systems and knowledge on decent rural employment at national, regional and global levels.
FAO’s work in the period 2014-2015 included putting in motion the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) in Nigeria, accompanying the Ministry of Youth, Employment and the Promotion of Civic Values in Senegal in developing a national Rural Youth Employment Policy, conducting a youth-focused value chain assessment of the small ruminant value chain in Ethiopia, and entrepreneurship skills training for vulnerable youth in Mali and Zambia.