Africa now needs desperately to redesign its self-image, create an environment of peace and stability and plan a new science-led future appropriate to its culture, needs and aspirations. In essence, it must become Africa-centered.
The forthcoming 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) comes at an opportune time for Africa. The event poises the continent to surpass earlier generations in terms of transformation, innovation and leadership agenda. Great minds converging in Accra, Ghana will seek to refine ways and means to bring agricultural progress into our circles of influence. Hence, to connect science and agriculture at this high-level platform of thinkers and practitioners fits well as a way to capture young farmers realities and the opportunities for young agriculturalists in everyday life.
Connecting dots, starting from the first African Agriculturalists
The older generation recognizes the need to equip young minds with appropriate skills and knowledge to be tomorrows scientists and agricultural leaders. In fact, a large number of the challenges in agriculture and farming that will need to be resolved by 2050, will need to be met by todays youth [i].
The same is echoed in a statement by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva [ii] at the Innovative Ideas to Feed the World recently organised by FAO interns. He noted that the event brought together three important ideas: young professionals, innovative ideas and feeding the world. The three ideas that are not always connected. The biggest contribution young professionals can give, is to bring the three ideas together.
Harvard-based professor, Calestous Juma in his McGrill Honorary Doctoral Address (A Plea for Agricultural Innovation [iii]) asserts that addressing todays challenges require a more balanced view that must be guided by evidence. But more importantly, it requires an optimistic outlook that recognizes the power of human creativity in responding to global challenges. By pursuing careers in the field of gathering science-based evidence, youths can play a role in the science agenda.
The late eminent scientist, Thomas R. Odhiambo in his paper The role of science in the development of Africa [iv], noted there is a need on opening young minds to new ideas and images, rather than on the accumulation of facts and information. It is not an underestimation that youth needs extensive knowledge and skills to be able to engage effectively in Africas agricultural transformation both with the public and the clientele.
The new generation
The first generation of African agriculturalists has by and large retired, and their successors -the second generation of researchers and their teachers- are often discouraged by poor conditions of service and the low return rate from overseas of many young academics [v].
It is refreshing then to note of efforts to halt the brain drain of Africas young scientists [vi]. A case in point of Ghanas young scientistMichael Osei who is carrying out research to address Africas pressing needs. Michael Osei works in his home country albeit with a network of research associates from abroad. As Michael, youths should be compelled to pick their niche in their home country and draw from the abundant options that now exist offered by development institutions.
In a few weeks time, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) will showcase Ghanas success on the Millennium Development Goal Number 1. More opportunities for engagement with youths are still abound. The global development era has become an all important choice to either: reform to engage youths or stand to be run over by the transformation wagon traversing the continent.
Young minds should take advantage of 6th AASW. I encourage youths to invest time studying Africas agricultural history, the constraints the continent faces, the advances made across agricultural disciplines, and its growing pool of expertise. Sweeping through Africas long agricultural trace, youths can connect the dots between the various players in the agricultural value chain.
A glimpse into Africas future hints that it is bright given a well-trained and disciplined young agricultural workforce.
My own experience
In order to keep the 6th AASW momentum going, here I trace my own agricultural footprints with the objective to motivate and inspire youths from across the globe: It is possible to thrive in agriculture!
I have five years of work and study experience from Zimbabwe, Taiwan, Kenya, Ghana and Mozambique. I hold a BSc degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources (2007) from Africa University of Zimbabwe with an Animal Science Major. My professional interests are ruminant nutrition (livestock), agricultural research for development (AR4D/Ag4Dev), extension and sustainable agriculture, with a focus on the African continent.
Soon after graduation, I started off my agricultural career in the province of Nampula, Mozambique. There, I acquired hands-on skills in integrated poultry production and feed mill operations working in several organizations: New Horizons, Gani Comercial Limitada and World Relief Mozambique.
I returned home to serve in the government of Zimbabwe as an agricultural extension worker in February 2008 in the Department of Agricultural and Technical Extension Services (Agritex). Thereafter, I worked at ward level (Buhera district), district level (Mutare and Buhera), provincial level (Mutare), and at national level (Harare) as a dairy livestock specialist.
Currently, I work as a dairy specialist in the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services under the Division of Livestock Production and Development (DLPD) within the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development of Zimbabwe.
In my free time, I enjoy science communication and volunteer work with the Zimbabwe Farmers Union / GiZ (German Agency for International Cooperation) Young Farmers Clubs. I am also the country representative for the Young Professionals in Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).
[iv] Thomas R. Odhiambo (1993). The role of science in the development of Africa. Technical Center for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation (CTA) Special Paper. CTA Annual Report. Wageningen The Netherlands.
On the picture: Front row: Right to left Raymond Erick Zvavanyange (with glasses), Ana Crespo (with neck scarf of Germany Agency for International Cooperation, GiZ) and youths involved in poultry and goat projects (names available on request). Back row: Right to left Agritex extension officer and mentor in ZFU/Cotton Training Center/GiZ Young Farmers Clubs project (with hat) and Mr. Machaka (3rd standing Zimbabwe Farmers Union, ZFU) Picture courtesy Raymond Erick Zvavanyange
Source: Blogpost by Raymond Erick Zvavanyange, one of the AASW social reporters on the FARA-AASW Blog.