On a field in Zambia last December, farmers and villagers spent five days tilling the land not for food but to share a message with the rest of the world: we need to invest more in agriculture in Africa.
A series of graphs in the soil, called the Field Report, share key data. Even though Africa has a quarter of the world’s arable land, it only produces 10% of the world’s food. More young people are moving away from rural communities at the same time that the population–and the demand for food–is growing. A giant “11” makes the point that growth in agriculture is 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty than other sectors.
“The Field Report makes the case for investment in agricultural development in the very land that needs it the most,” says Gilbert Houngbo, president of IFAD, the UN’s agricultural arm, which is behind the project. “We were inspired by the sheer power and potential land holds to reduce poverty and hunger, contribute to vibrant, self-sustaining communities and dramatically increase agricultural outputs capable of feeding a growing population.”
Four-fifths of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods; if production and access to markets can improve, that can help families increase their incomes at the same time as it meets a need for more food. “Rising prices and demand hold tremendous promise for the people who work the world’s 500 million small farms to grow and sell more food, lifting themselves out of poverty and food insecurity,” he says. “When connected to markets, smallholder farmers can generate an income and create a multiplier effect–sending their children to school and stimulating the economy in order to help lift their community out of poverty for the long term.”
If agriculture can be an opportunity, it’s only because the system is functioning well–and right now, young rural Africans are increasingly likely to leave for cities, hoping for better jobs. That’s happening even as the demand for food increases; as a continent, Africa spends $35 billion importing food rather than growing all of the food it needs locally.
To convince young people that working in agriculture makes sense, IFAD argues that investment is needed to improve productivity and connect young farmers with technology that can connect them with experts and the information needed to best grow food. Networks and cooperatives for young farmers need support. And most young farmers in Africa say that what they need most is access to finance.
“To foster to foster a generation of ‘agripreneurs,’ we need to listen to young people about what they want,” says Houngbo.
The Field Report will be presented at a sustainable development forum in New York City this week.