While we rely on the wisdom and expertise of the older generation, young minds will introduce the much need innovative thinking and shift in perspective to help us solve our issues, argues Sinelizwi Fakade, CEO of Rocky Park Farming Group and the leader of Ukhanyo Farming Development.
When you are a farmer, food security becomes your baby whether you like it or not. As a commercial farmer, I understand that beyond the bottom line there are expectant mouths that need to be fed. I consider this responsibility to be both an honour and a bit of a headache at the same time.
It really is a wonderful thing to know that you contribute towards making sure that families have access to nutritious food and industries depend on you to provide material for their products. But in the same breath, the headache comes when you think of the mammoth task ahead of us as many African states face increasing difficulties when it comes to maintaining food supply.
Data released by the African Centre for Stratergic Studies in February this year indicates that acute food insecurity in Africa has increased by over 60% in the past year and threatens to widen further due to the effects of Covid-19. Conflict and climate change remains some of the major factors that cause dwindling food supplies on the continent.
The “new normal” catch phrase was embraced by many, as communities all over the world grappled to make sense of life in the midst of a pandemic.
The new normal for us as farmers, especially in Africa, means embracing new ideas and finding innovative solutions to our problems. I can say with conviction that Africans have what it takes to tackle the issue of food insecurity. We have the brains, will and determination to make this mental shift while helping to increase food security in our respective countries.
Renowned Nobel peace prize laureate and environmental activist Wangari wa Maathai once said “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and, in the process, heal our own”.
Wa Maathai’s words are a reminder that the onus is upon us to change gears and think carefully about the kind of future we want.
Actually, African farmers aren’t ageing out
The dominant narrative has been that a majority of African farmers are either close to or above retirement age, which is worrying since it is the younger generation who must advance the future of agriculture.
However according to an article by researchers from Michigan State University in the USA, published in The Conversation August 2020, the picture is not as bleak as we think. According to Felix Kwame Yeboah, assistant professor of international development, and Thomas Jayne, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics, farmers in sub-saharan Africa are younger than what we think.
They looked at data from six countries within the region and found that the agricultural workforce ranges from about 32 to 39 years.
“While we rely on the wisdom and expertise of the older generation, young minds will introduce the much need innovative thinking.”
“In other words, the age of Africans in farming is barely rising, if at all. Considering that roughly 7 million to 10 million young people are entering the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa each year, it is easy to understand why the average age of the farming population is not rising, even with large numbers of young people partially or fully moving out of farming,” it states.
Although this does not give a complete picture of what is happening elsewhere on the continent, it still gives us a bit of hope. As a young farmer myself, I have the privilege of interacting and mentoring fellow young farmers, which also gives me hope.
While we rely on the wisdom and expertise of the older generation, young minds will introduce the much need innovative thinking and shift in perspective to help us solve our issues.
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