Focus on women, young people and agribusiness to build the Africa of tomorrow

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How can a real transformation of the agriculture sector in Africa with the full participation of African women and young people occur? A panel discussion at the African Development Bank Annual Meetings in Lusaka during gave rise to exchanges of the highest quality.

On Day 1 of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual Meetings, the problem of employment and the issues of the inclusion and development of women and young people featured at several events.

And so it was for a panel discussion held in the early afternoon of Monday, May 23, 2016 on the theme of “Jobs for women and young people – The Transformative Potential of Agribusiness” – a theme that is in line with three of the "High 5s" set out by the Bank under the aegis of its President, Akinwumi Adesina: namely "Feed Africa", "Industrialize Africa" and "Improve the quality of life of the people of Africa".

The event was co-organized by the AfDB Office of the Special Envoy on Gender and INCLUDE, a knowledge platform around inclusive development policies. 

Contributions by renowned experts

How can the full transformation of the agriculture sector in Africa be brought about? How can it be made attractive? What are the barriers women come up against in the sector? How can they, and young people, become more involved and beyond that, be developed in the whole agribusiness value chain? These were some of the questions debated, with a brief introduction by AfDB Special Envoy on Gender, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, and Isa Baud, Chair of the INCLUDE Steering Committee.

"Reducing inequality is crucial in our countries," said Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi. "We want our young people to be part of our demographic and economic dividend. [...] We will not achieve any of the High 5s unless we promote gender equality!"

This panel discussion was moderated by Zambian journalist Namakau Mukelabai and included Ada Osakwe, Director General and Founder of Agrolay Ventures; Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen; Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD); Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); and Yana Watson Kakar, Deputy Director General of Dalberg.

Nigerian multi-award winning journalist Ada Osakwe opened the debate. Before launching her investment company dedicated to the development of the agriculture and agribusiness sectors a year and a half ago, she was a special advisor to the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, none other than Akinwumi Adesina, current AfDB President, and she also worked for AfDB herself some years ago. "We are showing that agriculture is a business. We are changing the perception that people have of the sector." Noting that 60% of agricultural products from businesses in her portfolio are from women producers, Osakwe pressed the point that this change was essential: we have to move from agriculture to agribusiness, making the entire the value chain profitable.

How can agriculture be made "cool"?

"How can agriculture be made a "cool" sector?" This was the question put forward by Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg. Renowned for her commitment and action in favour of women, the Kenyan is pursuing her campaign as head of AWARD, a development programme for the best women scientists specializing in agriculture. "Women play a vital role in agriculture. Yet they only represent a quarter of scientific researchers in this field," she lamented. "Science is one way of making agriculture attractive. It would be a lie to pretend that we can solve our problems without turning to science."

The attractiveness of the sector was also the starting point for the contribution by Jacqueline Novogratz, the American development aid specialist and author of the bestseller The Blue Sweater. Acumen, the fund she established in 2001, targets innovation and social entrepreneurship to reduce inequality between rich and poor.

"Funding is key." Her book focuses on the need for credit to be made available to borrowers to allow them time to repay and earn money, in order for them to succeed. Novogratz’s book also addresses the prospects offered by technology, such as mobile payments and text messages to notify small farmers about the weather, thus helping them increase their productivity.

"As Akinwumi Adesina said, it is no longer a case of seeing farming as a 'way of life', but of investing in it as a means of creating opportunities for Africa," added the Deputy Director General of strategic consultancy firm Dalberg, Yana Watson Kakar. "And the youth of Africa are also an opportunity to be seized!" 

According to recent research, returns on investment are 33% higher when one invests in businesses run by young people or women, she said.

"As always, we all agree on the statistics and findings, but there are few to offer solutions," said Congolese researcher Nteranya Sanginga, who has headed up the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture since 2011. With the IITA, he is promoting a programme to encourage youth entrepreneurship in agriculture; young people follow an 18-month paid training course delivered by specialists and experts, in order to acquire the skills they need to set up a viable business project in the agri-food sector.

AfDB, too, has decided to invest in this programme, providing the necessary investments to countries wishing to become involved in it. This is particularly the case of Nigeria, which has received US $300 million to launch it this year. Mali has also benefited from the scheme. 

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