The bane of agriculture in Africa is the disinterest of educated young people in the sector, Ghana’s former President, Mr John Dramani Mahama has said.
According to him, the perception that agriculture is not financially rewarding and not “cool” has made African youth turn their back to the sector.
Delivering a speech on the topic: “Agriculture is Cool: Engaging Africa’s Youth” at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group in India on Monday, May 22, Mr Mahama said there was the need to make agriculture attractive for the African youth to increase their involvement in the sector.
Mr Mahama encouraged young people in Africa to take up agriculture because the occupation can be “cool” and, with support from governments, profitable.
Using his life experience as an example, he said: “using the PF model, we hold up successful farmers to their peers and it encouraged them to follow”.
“When we worked on my dad’s farm, on Mondays to Fridays, we were on the farm ploughing, planting, and doing everything. And on Friday evening, we jump in our car and drive to town. We take off our farm clothes, we dress, we wear shoes and trousers and we hit the disco on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday we are back to the farm village and Monday we are back on the farm again and the young people in town loved it, and, so, they became interested in agriculture,” the ex-president said.
“Unfortunately, that phase in agriculture in Africa passed because of the Economic Recovery Programme and all that and governments were forced to abandon all subsidies to farmers, and, so, farmers were left on their own. Medium-scale farms collapsed and it was back to peasant farming,” the former Ghanaian leader recounted.
Below is the full address
Thank you Lerato for the introduction. Let me also thank the President of the African Development Bank, my good friend Dr. Adesina and his team for the invitation to me and other distinguished African citizens, some of who are on this afternoon’s panel.
I am happy to be part of the quest to find solutions to the agricultural challenge that faces Africa, but which can be transformed into a multi-million-dollar opportunity for the continent and for our youth especially.
As an African leader who just left office, one of the most frustrating growth statistics for me has been that of the agricultural sector. Other sectors have been clipping along at quite a fast pace, and in Ghana the service sector overtook agriculture as the largest contributor to GDP in 2010.
Services now account for some 54.1% of GDP and agriculture stands at 19.0%. While this is normal for a modernizing economy, agriculture and agribusiness still represents the sector that can soak up the pressure we are all feeling from the rapidly expanding African youth bulge.
I felt cool when I noticed I had been requested to make a statement on the theme “Agriculture is cool: Engaging Africa’s Youth.” The bane of African agriculture is the disinterest of our educated young people in the sector.
The perception of most is that agriculture is back breaking, dirty work and is meant for the aged and illiterate rural population.
This is a great pity, because agriculture is a science, it is no longer a way of life, it is a business.
Africa needs its educated youth who can understand the principles of increased agricultural productivity to participate in the sector. If you put in the right factors of agricultural production labour, good seeds, good soil, water, sunshine, plant nutrients, right weed and pest control you will achieve the same result on each occasion – ABUNDANCE.
To achieve that we have to make agriculture cool! And it’s not the cool our generation is familiar with. For the youth or the millennial, cool is not the absence of heat.
It can mean good, pleasant, elegant, fashionable, delicious, and many other things depending on the context in which they use it.
Learning to communicate with this millennial group is a whole subject in itself. For our generation cool is the antonym for heat. Something is cool when it is not hot. If my father should resurrect, he will be totally flabbergasted in his communication with his grandchildren.
For my son when he says ‘Dad your Jacket is cool’ it means my jacket is fashionable or nice. But he can hit you with this one too “Dad you look hot”. It doesn’t mean I am sweating.
Cool- Hot. He might be eating hot food and say “this food is cool”, he means the food is delicious. You don’t need to offer to heat it in the microwave for him. Or my younger son falls of his bike and I ask with concern, “Jesse are you hurt”, “No Dad, I’m cool”. It means he is not
Or “I’m going out for a walk, I’ll be back soon” the answer “cool” here simply means “OK”. And for my daughter Farida “Have you done your homework”? I’m cool simply means “Yes”. In the context in which we are speaking, I believe COOL means attractive. How do we make farming attractive for the young people of Africa? That is what we are talking about today.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Whatever this cool means that is what we need in African agriculture. It is COOL we are having this conversation at this time, at the same time it is sad we are having it at a critical time when the world is grappling with climate change, in addition to other pressing issues that require urgent global attention.
Africa has the youngest population in the world. This represents huge opportunities for the continent and the world if we act promptly in engaging these young people. If we do not in good time fashion out effective, sustainable programmes to engage and put these vibrant, creative young people to work, we could be having a major social problem on our hands, a potentially explosive situation with dire consequences reaching beyond Africa.
But working together, ladies and gentlemen, we can address this menacing continental threat. We have an opportunity to channel the unused and boundless energies of our youth into productive agricultural ventures for the benefit of individual households, the continent of Africa and the world at large.
Let us agree though that for many young people, Agriculture is not their preferred career or business option. This is widely due to the perception that Agriculture is not financially rewarding enough; it is not youth friendly enough; and as I said earlier it is not ‘cool’ enough.
These perceptions and views can change, and are changing through various interventions we are undertaking on the continent. For many years, the agricultural landscape in Africa was characterised by small-sized peasant farmers engaged in subsistence farming basically geared towards feeding their families and providing just enough to exchange for such items as salt, cloth and fish, and whatever they cannot grow on their farms.
Mistakes have been made in the past and it is good to know lessons have been learnt from these mistakes. In Ghana, the dislocation of large to medium scale agriculture occurred in the 1980s. The blame can be laid squarely at the door steps of the international financial institutions.
The Economic Recovery Programme that we implemented specified that subsidies on all social services including agriculture must be removed. Subsidies that we granted to farmers for fertiliser and other agriculture inputs were withdrawn. The poor African farmer was abandoned to compete with the highly subsidised Western farmer and this is such a pity because if we intended at the time to reduce poverty then that was the segment of the population we should have been assisting through subsidies.
For a continent that is ambitiously working towards feeding itself and eradicating malnutrition by 2025 that is a very big challenge. Agriculture is growing in Africa.
In Ghana Agriculture’s contribution to GDP averaged 6.54 billion GHS from 2006 and hit 7.8 billion GHS in 2016. The problem is that this pace of growth is not fast enough. Africa is a continent in a hurry, when it comes to agriculture.
The good news is that, with the right factors in place’ agriculture is a lucrative business for anybody ready to invest. With more than enough arable lands, improved seedlings and livestock breeds, and assured support of institutions like the AfDB and our individual governments, it is among the next phase of business on the continent that can attract and absorb many young people.
I have met a number of promising young farmers, both in and out of Ghana, and from my interactions with them, they are not only thriving but growing their businesses.
My father was a farmer and was among the first to begin large scale private sector commercial agriculture in Ghana. But I must say he and others like him would not have succeeded without the massive support given to them by the Government at the time.
Visiting the farm with my father, I learnt to plough the rice fields and to use various kinds of mechanized agricultural equipment. Only last Saturday, and the Thursday before that, I visited my farm and I am consciously building that interest in my children as well.
We must leave Ahmedabad with a determination to deepen our collaboration to present Agriculture as a lucrative venture for our teeming youth population. I remain excited and quite certain that properly packaged, the concept of AGRIPRENEURSHIP, the new ‘COOL’ will be well
received and embraced by our youth.
Can you imagine the extent of impact that millions of young Africans in Agriculture will make in the world’s fight for food security?
Ladies and gentlemen, We have the future in our hands. We can mould the kind of tomorrow we want today by serving as mentors, advisors and promoters of youth in agricultural development.
I wish to commend President Akin Adesina and the board of AfDB for making increased agricultural productivity in Africa one of the priorities on the Bank’s agenda. We must enhance the collaboration between the Bank and African Governments and enhance assistance to young farmers to make agriculture an integral part of national policy and planning.
In Ghana, we have employed various strategies in addressing first the lack of interest in agriculture while gradually eradicating barriers to success by young people in this sector.
First, we started the Youth in Agriculture Programme, a platform for young people graduating from our colleges to work on our state farms and learn modern techniques such as the use of green houses, the production of local or exotic crops and other modern techniques.
This we believed will and has actually enabled these young graduates learn a few more skills, generate interest that will get them in the long run to choose agriculture as a means of providing an income and becoming successful individuals.
The new government is continuing with the Programme in a rebranded form, and that should see a lot more youth supported and the concept of cooperatives enhanced to increase participation and sustain the interest of the youth.
In the twilight of my administration in November 2016, I introduced the concept of Farmer Services Centres and this was based on an experience I had. Farmers do not need the tractors and the planters. What they need are the service of these equipment. In the past what we had done, thinking we were modernising and mechanising agriculture- and it was a mistake and people should learn from our mistake- was to procure the tractors, subsidise them and give them to the farmers.
We found out that the farmers cannot maintain the tractors and do not have the knowhow to manage the tractors and keep them running. In two, three years, brand new tractors provided break down and are standing on stones.
So, we need to introduce specialisation and that informs the concept of Farmer Services Centres where the agricultural equipment will be available and all the farmer has to do is register and get the service from the Centre. The business of maintaining the equipment is completely that of the Farmer Services Centre. I hope the new government will continue with that programme so that farmers can receive service when they need it.
In Ghana, as in other Africa countries, our land tenure system is a major drawback for young people wishing to venture into agriculture. Acquiring land for agricultural investment can be a hellish experience.
Ladies and gentlemen, One of our most successful interventions was the extension of support from the Export Development and Agriculture Investment Fund (EDAIF) to resource farmers involved in various stages of developing large farms and I will cite a few examples.
Gameli Farms, located in the Northern Region of Ghana, is owned and controlled by a young Ghanaian who at the time he started was about 34 years old. He had a total of 500 acres but due to inadequate resources, started cultivating only 15 acres of his land.
With support of approximately $15,000 in 2012 he was able to dig a borehole, install a small localised irrigation system and expand his mango farm from 15 acres to approximately 60 acres.
He intercrops his mango farm with maize and has expanded his production of maize to cover another 40 acres bringing total production to about 100 acres.
Gameli Hoedoafia, this young farmer, has a Master’s degree in Social Policy and only started farming after a short stint in the UK where he worked within the local government sector. His plan is to expand production to cover the 500 acres under his control.
Kwame Boamah of Nhyira Fruits Enterprise located at Nsawam in the Eastern Region is also a young man, less than 30 years old. Before he got assistance from EDAIF, his total land under cultivation was approximately 20 acres. After a funding support of about $50,000, he increased his acreage to about 84 acres.
The financial assistance he received also allowed him to purchase a juice processing equipment with which he now processes his pineapple produce from the farm into fruit juice for sale. The other advantage he got was that he was introduced to a new variety of pineapple that is of very high demand in Europe and he is considering increasing his acreage in order to access that market.
The third example is the Flowing Streams Enterprise located at Pantang in the Greater Accra Region. The owner of this farm was struggling to survive due to lack of financial resources and also external shocks caused by the damping of imported chicken on the local market.
He received assistance in the form of technical and financial support valued at about $37,500 for him to be able to expand his farm from the previous 2,000-bird capacity to a 10,000-bird capacity farm. The expectation is that gradually he will be assisted to increase to over 100,000 birds in the medium to long term.
These examples show how government can partner young people who have decided to engage in farming. We believe that by helping these farmers to succeed we will sustain their interest and increase the number of young people who will be attracted to come into agriculture.
EDAIF, now converted into Ghana Exim was previously focused on export development only, but because of the interest in promoting agriculture, I promoted a review of the law to include agricultural investment and the results are encouraging.
Ladies and gentlemen, One of the things we have not fully and deliberately considered is the development of technologies to meet the needs of agricultural farmers and workers who are physically challenged.
I also believe that African states have a duty to play not only as regulators but as key stakeholders involved at every stage of the Agricultural production process.
This means that scientific research needs to be conducted on the entire Agricultural value chain– from securing the most fertile land, determining the best produce for the land, through to value addition of the harvested products and securing fair trade among international trading partners.