Digital Agriculture strategy for involving youth in inclusive and sustainable development in Africa

Digital Agriculture strategy for involving youth in inclusive and sustainable development in Africa

FAO has put out the challenge in front of the world community of feeding 9 billion people by 2050. This means increasing the agricultural productivity by almost 70% in the wake of shrinking land and water resources, desertion of agriculture as a preferred profession by the youth around the world and uncertainties brought into the mix by the ongoing climate change.

Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent with 1.17 billion people, accounting for about 16% of the world’s human population. With 52% of Africans less than 25 years old, Africa has the youngest population among all the continents. The trend is similar in Asia with more than 50% of Indian population being under 25 years of age, and most of them being aspirational, seeking economic opportunities, but shunning agriculture due to various reasons.

Many consider Africa’s population growth a bit frightening, with predictions placing the continent’s population at 1.9 billion by 2050. As much of Africa is still developing, and it contains some of the poorest countries on earth, only time will tell how it will sustain such massive population growth. Now, compared to 1990, the overall food availability in Asia has increased by 30%, in Latin America by 20% while in Africa, it has actually declined by 3%. This is due to the fact that the agricultural production is not keeping pace with the population growth in Africa. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing countries. Africa is home to about 200 million of the world’s hungry populace. In Asia, the problem is more acute on the malnutrition side as cereal production has become adequate, thanks to the Green Revolution.

Improving the livelihood security, food security, nutritional security and environmental sustainability in the marginalised communities are needs of the hour with global implications. With increasing populations in the developing world and shrinking natural resources, the need for better science being sustainably applied on the ground and at scale has never been higher. International agriculture research institutes, national and multilateral donor and non-governmental organisations have been working alongside the national agricultural research and extension service (NARES) institutions on improving the agricultural productivity on the smallholder farmer fields across Asia, Africa and other developing nations. Tremendous progress in terms of increasing productivity, nutritional quality of the staple food crops and disseminating improved cultivation practices has been made over last few decades. We have come a long way from the Malthusian predictions of doom. In spite of all this, we still see many areas where the situation is dire and this needs urgent amelioration. 

Agriculture and poverty are highly interlinked. Over three-quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend on farming for food and livelihoods. Over 80% of the farming is smallholder farming which is highly sensitive to climate change. In the developing world, where the smallholder farmers make up the vast majority of primary producers, the smallest producers find it highly difficult to graduate from debilitating subsistence farming to commercially viable farming for various reasons and are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.Improving smallholder agricultural productivity while taking care of the environment, enhancing their incomes and nutrition of women and children have three main components in the scheme of things – the science aspect, the human behavior and the system and tools that bring these two together.

As far as science is concerned, we see a great range of proven technologies not being adopted due to lack of knowledge at the farmer level where it is needed, lack of capacity in the stakeholders to make the best use of the technologies, gaps in the ecosystem that does not always translate increased productivity into increased net incomes for the farmers, thus reducing their incentive to innovate. There is also a huge gap in usable and timely information about all the market realities in the hands of policy makers and business decision makers or farmers. So, that is an area of urgent attention. While saying so, I am not in the least making a case for stopping new research, but only stressing the fact that we already have enough firepower that is underutilized.

Human decision making is always driven by the innate desire either to gain ‘pleasure’ or to avoid ‘pain’, be they in the short term or long term outcomes. The human greed or fear then takes these decisions into the territory of excesses in either directions. Similarly in this context the seven key stakeholders – smallholder farmers, farmer-facing personnel (extension and input providers, both public and private), private industry players, end consumers, scientists, donors and the policy makers - have their own reasons and motivations in making the choices they make. The collective impact of the choices made and behaviors demonstrated by these seven stakeholders will determine the overall developmental impact. And it is amply clear, they are not always pulling in the same direction. This is another area of urgent attention where the need is to take everybody along on increasing the overall pie in an equitable fashion, instead of the current zero sum game.

And, to bring the science and human behavior together for inclusive and sustainable development, in my opinion, innovative deployment of Information and Communication (ICT) tools is the key.  There is an urgent need for concerted efforts at marrying the ability of ICT tools in increasing the efficiencies in gathering, generating and disseminating information and knowledge that is useful to each of the seven stakeholders in solving real life problems in such a way that the outcomes for individual stakeholders align with the outcomes that are desirable for all. In doing so, the aim is to see that the benefits reach the most marginalised populations for inclusive development in a market oriented manner for sustainability.And bringing youth into agriculture in a meaningful way is the only viable way forward.

The world community only has a window of another 15 years to harness the demographic dividend, or else face a demographic disaster!

About the Writer:

Hemant Nitturkar is a tri-sector development professional with domain expertise in agriculture, financial services and youth entrepreneurship. He has worked, studied and travelled in 15 countries over six continents and his life mission is to positively impact the lives of over 25 million people. He is a Gold Medalist agricultural post graduate and a graduate diploma holder in Applied Finance.



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