The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week with the theme;- Africa Feeding Africa through Agricultural Science and Innovation was held between the 15th and 21st of July 2013 at Accra, Ghana and put together by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). It was an event that I was happy to have participated in. You might wonder why I have said so. For the first time since my sojourn into Agricultural Research for Development, I was part of an event that clearly highlighted that Food Security in Africa was a concern to all from the youngest to the oldest, from Donors to ARD agencies and even down to scientist and the private sector players.
Let me give you a quick overview of how the event by, as you read pay a bit of attention to the inclusion and involvement of youth in this Africa wide event and why indeed we need to be geared up for action and impact in the near future. Quite unknown to many though, that future is now.
The conference had four thematic focuses, namely
Education and human Resource development to enable Africa feed Africa
Innovations to improve productivity and resilience
Moving beyond competition and towards collaboration
Innovative Financing and Investment in Agriculture.
The first two days of the conference were allocated to side events by FARA constituents, stakeholders, partner organisations, Regional Agriculture Research Councils and even Donors. And each of these side events had a very good number of youth and young professionals in attendance to not only listen and observe, but also give their contributions, perspectives and give a voice in all the discussions held.
Personally, I was invited and supported by FARA to attend and take part in the side-event with the theme: Promoting Access to Rural Finance for Enhanced Agricultural Productivity in Africa and this comes under the fourth thematic focus- Innovative Financing and Investment in Agriculture. The panellist and participants at this discussions agreed that there was a need to increase greatly investment in Agriculture paying attention to two core areas namely
Sustainable new ways for accessing agricultural and rural finance in Africa
Innovative options for promoting Youth access to financial services for agricultural purposes.
Participants at this event were cross-cutting thus giving a good mix of suggestions and practical way forwards. At the end of the discussions for the day, it was all agreed that a multi stakeholder approach was needed to properly and successfully increase investment in rural agriculture. And that for youth to have access to finance a couple of things needs to be put into consideration
A review of agricultural policy
Reduction of high interest rate so that youth can have access to credit
A review of land tenure laws, which would tend toward making access to land for agricultural purpose readily available for youth
Development of application of ICT to agriculture
Capacity building in production and financial management skills
Another intriguing aspect of the Science week for me was working with the over 165 social media support team which had 55 of them onsite. FARA, CTA, YPARD, and CGIAR had partnered to support 25 onsite Social media Trainee from across Africa who were trained prior to the event to report proceedings to the world at large. And it was indeed, a great opportunity to work side by side these energetic and cool young people on the social media team.
By and large the science week shed more light on advancements made so far, challenges and the need for Africa to seek more scientific and innovative methods in its quest to feed itself. The need for more youth and women in the advancement of food security was stressed from all quarters. In the words of the IFAD President, Kanayo. N. Kanayo
Africa needs a commitment at all levels, involvement of all sectors of our societies - government, the private sector, farmers themselves, NGOs, civil society, and particularly women and young people.
Even though sadly for me no one neither the private sector nor government agencies made mention of specific roles or programs or project that they would engage youth in the near future. My thoughts and advice for every youth and young professional in ARD is this- Develop yourself, be ready to learn, maintain a good network of other young professionals in ARD, seize opportunities that come your way, partner with others and when the time comes we would be ripe and ready to take our place in securing Africa