Farming has an image problem in large parts of Africa. For many people there, it’s synonymous with poverty. So it’s hardly surprising parents don’t want their children to end up working the land.
Things may be starting to change, though. A growing number of African millennials are working to dispel the notion that all educated young people should aspire to professional desk jobs.
The understanding that agriculture is key to the continent's long-term economic viability and growth is prompting an increasing number of African university graduates to choose careers in farming.
The African Development Bank (ADB) says these millennials are a driving force for agricultural transformation in Africa - and it's spending $350 million to support them with training, advice and technology.
They’re known as “agripreneurs”, and they’re showing that growing the food the continent’s 256 million undernourished people desperately need can be a rewarding career choice.
Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, an abundance of fresh water and about 300 days of sunshine each year, according to the ADB.
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Yet in 2017, African nations spent almost $65 billion importing food. “This is unsustainable, irresponsible, and unaffordable. It is also completely unnecessary,” says ADB President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.
Although Africa produces almost three-quarters of the world’s cocoa beans, for example, it receives just 2% of revenues from global sales of chocolate. Dr. Adesina says that if African farms were to achieve their potential, the continent could become a major food exporter, with significant economic benefits.
The rise of agripreneurs
Farming accounts for 60% of jobs in Africa and much of the work is undertaken by women. The Kenya-based African Women Agribusiness Network (AWAN) is working in 27 countries across the continent to give women access to credit to improve farms and raise production.
In Ghana, an organization called Guzakuza is helping women farmers to create jobs and produce healthy food for their communities. While in Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia, the Oxfam-backed campaign Female Food Heroes is getting the message out with projects including a farming TV reality show that attracts millions of viewers.
Typical of the new generation of farmers is Richard Nunekpeku, founder of Ghana’s Anyako Farms. He quit his highly-paid job with Samsung in 2013 to set up a farm cooperative that uses technology to manage irrigation and harvesting.
“We have to make farming sexy,” fellow Ghananian agripreneur Emmanuel Ansah-Amprofi recently told The New York Times.
Sowing the seeds of the future
African agri-tech is booming, according to a report published last year, with more than $19 million invested in the past two years and the number of start-ups more than doubling over the same period. Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana are the top three countries for agricultural innovation.
Among the firms making an impact are Farmcrowdy, which raises finance for African farmers to buy land and expand production. Kitovu is an app that helps farmers to analyse the soil in order to boost yields before targeting buyers for surplus crops. And farmers can get someone else to plough their land using TrotroTractor, which matches tractor owners with people who cannot afford to buy their own.
With populations in many African countries predicted to double by 2050, innovations like these are not only helping to change the perception of farming – they could prove crucial to the continent’s future.