In the bustling city of Dar es Salaam, where the Indian Ocean caresses the Tanzanian coast, the future of Africa is being debated, strategised, and hopefully, reshaped. September 5, 2023, marks the commencement of Africa’s Food Systems Forum, better known as the AGRF 2023 Summit.
As dignitaries jet in and conference halls brim with discussions, a dire question looms over the convening intellects: Will Africa finally walk the talk?
At Mbagala, a shantytown mere twenty minutes from the polished AGRF venues, I meet Samuel, a 25-year-old with dreams bigger than his cramped dwelling. Samuel, a high school graduate, spends his days not in a classroom or an office but sifting through odds on sports betting websites.
He’s one of the millions caught in the snare of Africa’s 12 per cent youth unemployment rate. “I want to do more, be more,” Samuel tells me, his eyes clouding. “But what chance do I have?”
Samuel’s predicament is a symptom of a broader malaise that has crept into the psyche of African youth—a malaise fueled by the glittering promise of instant wealth through betting, so blindingly spotlighted in advertisements and social conversations.
While Samuel bets, Africa’s most fertile land lies fallow, and its greatest potential resource—its youth—remains untapped.
Here’s the paradox: Africa boasts about 60 per cent of the world’s unused arable land and yet imports food worth US$35 billion annually. Agriculture, the humble giant of Africa’s economy, employs approximately 60 per cent of the continent’s workforce but still struggles to produce enough to feed its people. The disconnect isn’t just ironic; it’s tragic!
The AGRF meetings have, over the years, become a theatre of optimism. Speeches brim with promises, from integrating technology into agriculture to enabling smallholder farmers through financial incentives.
But the follow-through has been glaringly insufficient for all the grand visions discussed. Samuel doesn’t need another summit; he needs policies that transform these visions into the reality of employment and self-sufficiency.
It’s not just about pumping seeds into the ground and expecting miracles. African farmers often overproduce staple foods like maize but find no buyers. Infrastructure is lacklustre, and the logistical chain from farm to market is fraught with inefficiencies.
Solving this requires less talk and more action: tangible investments in agricultural infrastructure, meaningful partnerships between the public and private sectors, and policies that make sense on both the farm and the trading floor.
The first step is to shift the narrative around agriculture from a sector of last resort to one of innovation, promise, and respectable livelihoods. Investment in training, start-up loans for agribusinesses, and educational reforms are vital.
Let’s divert the energy young people invest in seeking quick money through bets to cultivating sustainable and profitable agricultural ventures.
As the AGRF 2023 Summit unfolds in Dar es Salaam, it carries the hopes and dreams of millions like Samuel. This summit is not just another event; it is a moral and economic imperative for a continent teetering on the precipice of unrealised potential.
If we are to see change, it will require more than just speeches and applause. It will require a collective determination to move from platitudes to executable plans — plans that will turn fallow lands into fertile opportunities that will divert young minds from the hollow allure of quick riches to the enduring promise of agriculture.
For Samuel and for Africa, let this be the year we finally walk the talk. Because the future doesn’t just depend on what we discuss today; it hinges on what we begin to cultivate now.
Paul Mdumi is the Executive Director of the Zanzibar Interfaith Centre, which promotes peace through interfaith and intercultural dialogue. He is available at email@example.com or on Twitter as @Rev_MdumiJR. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.