Foresight Africa viewpoint: Science and the farm
This blog by The Brookings Institution argues that Africa’s youth employment issue is fundamentally one of agricultural modernization and investment in science. Farming remains the dominant occupation of most young Africans; this despite the fact that few respond “I want to be a farmer” when asked about their aspirations. More youths remain on farms than leave, although the movement away is very visible and has raised concern about food security, aging of the countryside, and excessive dependence on food imports. Concerns would be best directed toward understanding the needs of young people who stay on farms. The author argues that the agriculture that will allow young farmers to prosper will have to draw on the best of modern agricultural science—and at present it does not. Current levels of investment in Africa’s agricultural science cannot support modernization. The prevailing paradigm of “closing yield gaps” has created the erroneous view that known science can be applied to great effect without investing in new science. Agricultural science that does keep up can deliver; and multiple examples like new bean varieties, orange sweet potato and improved backyard chicken show how efforts to strengthen the scientific foundations of Africa’s agriculture are essential for creating jobs for youn people as well as for improving nutrition. The author states that the challenges of youth employment and agricultural modernization are often seen and addressed in isolation. However, according to her these are inseparable — either mutually reinforcing problems that jeopardize the future of an entire continent, or mutually reinforcing solutions, each to the problem of the other.