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Social Media and Its Role in Empowering the Youth to Feed Africa

The green Aid chat panelists

How does it feel to have a room where like minded African young people come together for a discussion and debate full experiential learning from one another? 

Imagine for a moment when you have a world where professionals of your ages from a multiple backgrounds come together to question, answer or share their experiences on a given weekly theme? If that doesn’t trigger the image, I want to draw you to the literal part of it. How much do you think this would have cost us [time, labor and money] to gather all the information being shared? Like the conventional “country study” or similar baseline data collections. 

I know the reliability of data being shared is a question that many of you will raise at this point and that true. It is difficult to validate sometimes as the discussion is open for personal experiential learning as opposed to representing or on behalf of organizations. Isn't it awesome? Just free and personal with firm dedication to community development.

Having said this, today I will be sharing with you the Facebook discussion we had on 14th May 2016, on Africa Sustainability Forum hosted by GreenAid (www.greenaid.net ). The discussion theme ; “Creating Youth Employment through Climate Smart Agriculture” kicked off with three panelists , that is myself, Mr. Kareem Nkinasse from Burkina Faso and Mr. Abass Yidana from Ghana.

About climate Smart Agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture(CSA) is an approach developed by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to cover a range of agricultural practices expected to produce more food to meet the demands of a growing population in a dramatically changing climate. The three pillars of CSA are increasing food production, building resilient food systems, and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

Following the immense inter-dependence of the core pillars of CSA and African rain-fed agriculture based economy along with its ever growing young population, the Facebook online event sought to find asweres to the following questions;

  • What should be the role of the youth in the CSA process and realization of re-positioning Africa’s current status? 
  • What opportunities does CSA holds for the youth with the resource and capacity at hand? 
  • What good practices are there in deploying schemes that encourage the youth to engage in agriculture?

These were the major questions we had in mind. However, there were diverse questions and experiences from the public. I have selected a few conversations which I think are worth sharing with the YPARD community. For those interested in reading the whole conversation, find the short link at the bottom or check the #GreenAid and on Facebook and look for the May 14th timeline post. 

The Select  Chat Thread 

The three panelists were on time and waiting for the GreenAId to open the stage for discussion. At 5 PM, it was officially kicked off for the community to warm the room.I have shared one of my view as a kind of welcome and to guide our discussion while waiting for posts from the community to pop up. 

Me: While waiting for questions to pop up, I would like to share you some points why we are on this theme? Raising youth’s awareness about CSA will not only make us conscious of the existing challenges related to agriculture and climate change, but it will also give us the necessary information needed to mitigate them and contribute to the adoption of smart practices and the enhancement of agricultural livelihoods. Building youth knowledge and skills in CSA will enable us to make a positive contribution to our communities and respective nations.

Ghanaian Panelist follows: Climate change is occurring more rapidly than anticipated and the increase in extreme weather events threatens more disruptive effects to agriculture. Existing technologies and current institutional structures seem inadequate to achieve the mitigation needed to adequately slow climate change, while also meeting needed food security, livelihood and sustainability goals.

We must identify actions that are science-based, utilize knowledge systems in new ways, and provide resilience for food systems and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes despite the future uncertainty of climate change and extreme events.

Etta Michael (from Nigeria): will like to state clearly that "CSA" is the roadmap to achieving a sustainable future.

D Akuh Oga (from Nigeria):  I think with the need for African economies to diversifying from mineral resources, and all that because of falling prices and provide employment for our teeming youths, agriculture is key. But how do we make agriculture attractive to our youths?

Me (in reply): Definitely agriculture shall get good attention. Climate change with all its problems posing on agriculture, it has also brought opportunities for the youth to engage in agric. On most media, it is common to see "the youth don't want to farm". I know many city guys don't want to go down on muddy roads to farm... but I want one point to be known - agriculture is not all about digging, sawing.... you can process vegetables, ICT is there- look at the likes of SOKO, mShamba, Mkulima, icow, farmDrive ... Agriculture has come to be information dependent -- so the youth is positioned on a good spot to utilize social media or smart phone app building to make money out of agric while helping their communities.

D Akuh Oga (in reply): Thanks so much for your insightful response. I like your idea that agriculture is far advanced now, and involved information and ICT which the present youths have advantage. So I think every advocacy and promotion of this project must outlined these attractive key points to the youth.

Olumide Climate Idowu (from Nigeria): Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) must contribute to building opportunities for employment, education, equity and market opportunities.

Me (in reply): That is great... one big role expected from the youth is to establish information channels for farmers to access with ease- so they can make an informed decision on their farm- which is a mandatory step for one to be resilient. Equally you earn money for the advisory service you give to them. That is win-win solution. You created a job for yourself, serve farmers to farm, let Africa's food security be maintained ... that is the youth we need to be or to evolve to.

Banlav Eric Ngah (from Cameroon): I see this as a very relevant topic to the youths across Africa. Our Agricultural potentials are insurmountable and the dangers of climate change are evident. My questions to the panelists is ' how can we as Africans foster agriculture without harming the environment? Secondly in My village ( Kumbo-Nso) the rural woman believes that when a bush is set on fire crop yield is improved, What approach can we use; the enlightened ones use in discouraging these practices?

Ghanaian Panelist (in reply): Strategies to improve agriculture without harming the environment abound e.g. Incorporating trees into farms, water capture technologies, intercropping, integrated livestock-crop systems. All practices that increase resilience to climatic stress, building soil organic matter, and storing carbon. The difficulty is with how to improve the uptake of this technologies. 

In relation to your second question, traditional believes are a very important part of Africa way of live. In a situation like the one you described in your village can best be addressed by a participatory research process. Such believes are common here in Ghana. I during a field research in the semi-arid area of northern Ghana, such participatory research has tremendously contributed in addressing this challenge. Communities have taken it upon themselves to enforce "no burn practices in the community". In such instances the chiefs and the traditional land owners are very instrumental to achieve success with such participatory field research.

Now the room is on fire. The stage has founded its base and the community has surpassed the descriptive nature of group discussion, which could lead to loss of objectivity without it. That is “building a common understanding among discussants”. Now is the time for hot debate to take off high and high bouncing from one young mind to the other – over the African sky, from East to West and North to South. The discussion goes on:

Olumide: Research, agricultural activities and policy development should be integrated from the start of any CSA initiative.

Burkina Faso Panelist: CSA is something based on the technology, we the youth are most fit to master it in order to make CSA work. At this moment we get employment and we will our work more profitable to our population.

Me (in reply): Just to make things clear… When we say CSA it is not something sophisticated science - it is to mean a farming approach which gives room or those three pillars to be balanced. So I would like to give examples in shaping our discussion... then we better focus on where, how and scale of opportunities that CSA may hold for the youth to utilize for living. Here are some examples: agro-forestry, mixed livestock and cropping systems, and improved crop varieties. ... (These are most common in the southern African region are conservation agriculture)

D Akuh Oga : I think this break down and classification of the opportunities is vital. But I am also concerned about finance. Most youths going into agriculture can only start small in form of smallholding. Can the CSA be practiced on a small capital?

Me (in reply): sure it is for small holding farmers. The thing is- farmers need to do agric in a way that increase productivity (so one look for inter-cropping two or more cereal like Sorghum & legume to complement one another) and to make your land resilient against run-off not lose the top loom/fertile soil (the legume help to tackle soil erosion). To strengthen this- you plant fruit trees like Mangoes or Oranges in between to retain your top soil as well as a wind break to protect your sorghum.. And because the legume helps to facilitate nitrogen fixation for the sorghum to grow- you don't need much chemical fertilizer to apply... so you are also avoiding intensive use of chemical - which supports the CC mitigation.... So you have successfully applied it at small farm level with 100% goal achievement which is CSA!

Burkina Faso Panelist: Right Ado, CSA thus provides a basis for the promotion and scaling up of proven technologies and practices for the production of crops, trees and livestock, forestry, and fisheries and aquaculture along sustainable and inclusive agricultural value chains.

Me: Couple of recent researches has identified some common gaps. These are: Appropriateness and of CSA technology profitability; Approaches to technology dissemination, communication and information;

Measurements (qualitative and quantitative) of agricultural productivity, human development and capacity to adapt CSA (farmers and nations); Infrastructure, Systems and Institutions to support CSA;
Policy research on CSA and frameworks for scaling up and out.

Burkina Faso Panelist: I could simply CSA is an opportunity for we, the youth to be more involved in agriculture, we should make it work.

Ghanaian Panelist: For instance, In Ghana, an effort to introduce a model into the government's youth employment programme to achieve one of the countries Intended Nationally Determine Contribution to the UNFCCC, which seeks to improve develop a climate compatible agriculture in economy in the northern zone is deemed CSA

Me: Considering those gaps... I suggest we the youth focus on filling these gaps. I'm not preaching volunteerism here (though I'm lifelong Volunteer) -- but I'm trying to sort out business opportunities in CSA that the youth (taking our techno friendliness in to account).. There is a need to:
promote capacity to adapt CSA, involving technical knowledge, dissemination and financing Integration of CSA components into policy and practice. Develop and support risk management tools/systems
Develop infrastructures, systems and institutions to support CSA.

Me: Some business opportunities for the youth are:  Extension & Advisory Service: SMS/website or establishing a resource center for farmers to buy important and timely information supporting their farm activity could be a potential business for the youth to hire ourselves. Look this page- it has documented all this expertise and info we are trying to feed one another.. How much do you think this GreenAid page worth? So start a Facebook page, invite farmers, agri officials, researcher.... bring them together- you will have your own Farmer Facebook PLC... because agric is in need of information more than any time ever. Now you hire yourself=job created... if examples are needed- check mkulima ..

Others advisory services include: market information, credit service information, linking farmers to consumers, SMS education, weather information, pest management, weed control & monitoring,  many farm advises....

Me: One of the big input for resilience to happen is "creating an enabling environment for the poor farmers to withstand no matter what happens" is to let them have timely information and a means to learn, know and try. Here- we the youth are capable of building information platform for farmers to access via mobile phone/SMS. Either you sell it to development organization working on CSA/farmes --- or charge cents for every information you send out to farmers... that is a big win- you create a job and you help our farmer communities. Two birds in one!!

Financing schemes (including credit) are mandatory for farmers to shift from the farming practices they used to know for centuries... and if your farmer community are facing lack of agricultural credit / insurance (which is a normal scenario in many African states) - you have a vacant post there! Let me tell you how- banks are not offering that service because they don't have reliable data about farmers (properties, personal record...etc) - and what you going to do is - build a mobile app that record farmers information- and I assure you banks will buy your service to get information to offer credit for farmers... because farmers are the large population - and banks are looking out for those large group of your nation - as it will increase their credit scheme customers base... which is a goal for the financial service provider... to have some tangible info... go look for the Mfarm of Kenya.

Olumide Climate Idowu: Inconsistencies between policies and regulations can undermine CSA.

Me: Certainly Olumide so long as there is no appropriate tools to record, good data management and decision support systems in analyzing the big data that may generate from agriculture practitioners... policies will be left blind - and a policy that don't merely found on an evidence will hinder CSA.. or may kill it in worst scenario.

Me: Don't cry on your government for there is no access to land. I say this for those educated youth. Because land is scarce and it is already being used by others (underline that I'm not supporting those abusive gov't strategies. Rather look for opportunities in the scarce resource... many gov'ts pledged to invest 10% in agric (under CAADP) and signed CSA strategies. So steak with agric... Opportunities are easily identified because gov'ts are not capable to do it... why you steak asking for land then? Go and be a digital broker to link producer and buyer... gov'ts don't have tools to keep farming data - make it business and create a platform where farmer can post over the phone or Facebook..

Ghanaian Panelist: Yes I do agree, but for where there are lands, I think it is possible for the youth to get involved in agriculture.

Me: For sure .. if there is a land, I suggest the youth not to look for any other thing to start a venture... farming is like printing money.. When you know how to do it! My gosh... it pays you in many folds in return. It is also fun to farm... you feel natural to go to farm and see your work is bearing fruits and city centers are waiting for you to harvest..... it feel cool!

Arouna Mone (from Cote d’Ivoire): I think that government could promote youth employment through agriculture. This could be achieved by making available to young arable land and also by subsidizing agricultural products.

Me: Arouna Mone Honestly, your point is understandable. I however say this, giving a piece of land to a young wo/man wouldn't bring her/him to farming. Similarly, subsidies will not let us to go a single step ahead. That has no difference from aid! Farming is a business and why should I get subsidy to farm, produce and make profit for my own sake? Where does the government get that money? I think you are trying to solve farmers seasonal income problem by supporting them to buy inputs required to farm. If so, why not credit? Because subsidies/aid has a bad behavioral consequence called "dependency Syndrome". I believe the present bad credit repayment problem (being claimed by financial institutions that farmers are defaulters) is the result of prior approaches centered on such subsidies. That was emanated from policy makers and experts view to agriculture. They have seen agriculture as a public sector/service that the farmers keep it as tradition and master to do it. So they subsidize. But they were actually killing the sector.

One point I agree with you is that- governments have to promote agriculture in a way to attract and engage the youth to farm. We need to know the benefits that the sector has for us. So we need to call up on our governments to have a Youth in Agriculture agenda. I would like every one of us to think this: how many African states has mainstreamed agriculture in their Youth Ministries? There may be even without the ministry. In Ethiopia we have the ministry since 2000 and the only thing they did is ratification of National Youth Policy in 2004. Since then the ministry has changed its name and merged with other ministries 3 - 4 times. That shows lack of focus and priority to the youth affair while we count the majority. Surprisingly, this ministry has never had a clue about the youth in agriculture since its inception. It only preach about sport, culture, children, women... and youth! It is sad to know that the youth affairs are not given priority and especially the youth in making money/business. So I left you with a question: does your gov't embraced a Youth Ministry that mainstream the Youth in Agriculture strategy? Given youth are the majority and agric is Africa's main economic stay.

Alpha Nathaniel Hayab (from Nigeria): Being a farmer, I'd like to add that the use of organic materials can help balance the Eco system and provide healthy staple food to our populace. Also, the use of renewable energy like solar energy to power our farms can go a long way. We need to know the value chains involved in CSA to know how youth unemployment can be reduced with it...so my question to the panelists goes thus: what are the value chains involved in CSA?

Me: This is the question I was looking for! Thanks @Alpha. The main opportunity I suggest you to consider in CSA is extension service and advisory system. It would be nice for you to lean on ICT- as CSA demands for timely information and well tested knowledge of practice- farmers needs reliable information on seed/seedling, farming, weeding, spraying, health checkup (soil, plant, livestock..), weather, market info, financial/credit services, farm management/book keeping, product trace-ability. Other options may include aggregation of produces from CSA adopter farmers (as they diversify on a small holding, the marketing cost may outweigh the market price of the produce that a single farmer may produce); promotion of produces from CSA adopters (utilizing their minimal exposure to chemicals) so that buyers may pay extra money in supporting them over the chemical intensively produced produces.. Kind of Fair Trade market approach.

Hope you enjoyed the conversation. Should you have a view you would lie to share with me on this regards, kindly feel free to reach on social media or via email. Find the link below to read the full conversation on Facebook. https://goo.gl/tQmQDV