By Clifford Akumu
Africa’s agricultural stakeholders have received a resounding call to support youth-driven innovations, embrace technology adoption, and establish strategic partnerships to fuel the continent’s food system.
Heifer International, a global non-profit organisation committed to eradicating hunger and poverty in low- and middle-income nations while prioritising environmental sustainability, issued this call during the Africa Food Systems Forum (AGRF 2023) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The organisation says the initiatives aim to strengthen smallholder farmers and communities, ultimately boosting incomes and catalysing a transformation in Africa’s food systems.
Youth and Technology
Adesuwa Ifedi, Senior Vice President of Africa Programs at Heifer International, addressed global stakeholders at the event, emphasising the organisation’s unique approach.
“Our profound experience of partnering with smallholder farmers and communities has provided us with a unique perspective—one that harnesses the innovation and energy of young innovators, alongside the limitless potential of technology, to craft scalable and enduring agritech solutions tailored to the unique needs of smallholder farmers,” she said.
She emphasised the transformative impact of these solutions, including increased productivity, higher incomes for farmers, job creation, access to commercial capital, the nurturing of agripreneurs, and the enhancement of food systems’ capabilities.
Ifedi stressed the urgency of boosting Africa’s food systems to accommodate the projected population of 2.5 billion people by 2050.
“The good news is that in the face of this challenge, we are endowed with two critical tools – our youth and technology,” she added.
Africa’s youth population, the youngest globally, with nearly 40 per cent aged 15 or below as of 2022, offers a vast reservoir of energy and innovation to address societal challenges.
“In sub-Saharan Africa alone, an estimated 500 million people will be under 25 years old by 2050. Within these massive numbers, we see a reservoir of energy, ingenuity, and determination being leveraged to solve societal problems across the continent,” she said.
Heifer International actively hosted side events, networking forums, and panel discussions during the AGRF 2023, to explore transformative solutions for Africa’s agriculture. The organisation has been working with farmers and communities in Africa for nearly five decades, focusing on building sustainable and resilient food systems capable of withstanding shocks and stresses.
Part of Heifer International’s work involves innovative investments in young Africans working on transformative solutions and products within the agriculture ecosystem. These investments have increased smallholder farmers’ productivity, enhanced women’s participation in agribusiness, and promoted climate-smart practices.
The case for increased innovative capital for young innovators
The organisation also advocated for increased innovative capital for young innovators working on transformative solutions within the agriculture ecosystem.
Tewodros Ayele, Country Director Ethiopia at Heifer International, spoke during the organisation’s side event at the summit, where youth innovators, policymakers, finance and technology experts, and other stakeholders were present. Ayele highlighted initiatives like the AYuTe Africa Challenge, an ambitious agriculture competition empowering young professionals developing tech innovations for farming and food production in Africa.
“Since 2021, we have awarded up to US$1.5 million annually to our AYuTe Champions,” he said, emphasising that support extends beyond funding.
Ayele underscored the significance of innovative financing, including crowdfunding, impact investing, and venture capital, in meeting the unique demands of young agripreneurs. He stressed the potential for high returns, not only in terms of profits but also in social and environmental impact.
The AGRF 2023 witnessed over 3,000 attendees from more than 70 countries, including 350 experts and policymakers. The summit focused on practical actions to transform food systems, end hunger, and strengthen food sovereignty in Africa, with an emphasis on youth and women empowerment. It remains Africa’s premier platform for agricultural stakeholders to collaborate and drive positive change in food systems.