Africa’s prosperity also lies in creating decent and attractive jobs for rural youth
FAO Director-General: explore opportunities along the food chain, including urban food markets
Agriculture will continue to generate employment in Africa over the coming decades, but opportunities should be explored beyond agriculture throughout the food chain in order to create enough jobs for young people, especially those in rural areas, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said on Thursday.
“Countries need to promote a rural and structural transformation that fosters synergies between farm and non-farm activities and that reinforces” the linkages between rural areas and cities, he added. This includes processing, packaging, transportation, distribution, marketing and service provision, especially financial and business services.
Graziano da Silva made the remarks at FAO’s Regional Conference for Africa which is primarily dedicated to the theme of creating decent and attractive employment in the continent, the world’s “youngest” in terms of the average age of its population.
Estimates suggest that up to 12 million new jobs will have to be created every year to absorb new labour market entrants over the next 20 years. Today some 54 percent of Africa’s working force relies on the agricultural sector for livelihoods, income and employment, especially in family farming.
With more people moving to cities, demand on urban food markets will grow, which in turn can generate job opportunities in all agriculture-related activities. But FAO believes that more must be done to create non-agricultural employment in rural areas, including agro-tourism and other services.
Graziano da Silva pointed to FAO’s regional programme, “Youth Employment: enabling decent agriculture and agri-business jobs”, which goes beyond farm jobs and seeks to develop capacity and scale up successful approaches through programme formulation and partnerships.
“More than ever, strategic partnerships are needed to bring together the African Union, the African Development Bank and the UN system and other development partners,” the FAO Director-General said.
He warned however that more profitable urban markets can lead to a concentration of food production in large commercial farms, and also the creation of value chains dominated by large processors and retailers.
“In this contest, smallholders and family farmers need specific policies and regulations. This includes providing access to inputs, credit and technology and improving land tenure,” Graziano da Silva added, stressing how social protection programmes, including cash transfers can link public food purchase to family farmer’s production.
Hunger, overweight and obesity
Achieving Zero Hunger remains FAO’s highest priority, one that it shares with African leaders who through the Malabo Declaration have committed to eradicating chronic undernourishment in their continent by 2025 – in sub-Saharan Africa almost one person in four currently suffers from undernourishment.
In his address, Graziano da Silva underscored that in line with Sustainable Development Goal 2, achieving Zero Hunger needs to go together with ending all forms of malnutrition, a consequence of which is the current global overweight and obesity epidemic.
“The situation is also worrisome here in Africa,” Graziano da Silva said, citing a World Health Organization estimate that obesity-related diseases may become the biggest killer in Africa by 2030.
Rapid urbanization and consumption of highly processed foods are the major drivers behind the increase in overweight and obesity. Yet many people in Africa are unaware that certain foods are unhealthy, or that being overweight presents a health risk, the FAO Director-General said.
He urged for the need to “act on two fronts” focusing on both the production and consumption of healthy food, and called for ensuring more responsible advertising and information campaigns on food products. “People must be aware about the pros and cons of what they are eating, and also be encouraged to eat healthy food.”
FAO assists countries on climate change
Graziano da Silva also referred to climate change and other pressing issues in Africa and how FAO, together with its partners, is addressing them.
FAO is working closely with a wide range of countries around the world that have formally requested the Organization’s assistance to tap into financing from the Green Climate Fund. In Africa to date, FAO is currently supporting the development of six full project proposals – in Benin, Gambia, Kenya, Republic of Congo and Tanzania – several other “readiness” proposals.
Hunger uptick in Africa can be reversed
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva on Thursday expressed optimism that the recent uptick in global hunger levels will be reversed and that Zero Hunger remains attainable – but added that doing so will hinge on boosting the resilience of communities in Africa, where current hunger trends are particularly worrying.
The most recent UN global report on world hunger found that, after decades of decline, the number of hungry people on the planet went back up in 2016, largely due to conflict, climate-related shocks and economic slowdowns.
Trends in Africa helped drive that increase. Some 23 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa suffered from chronic hunger in 2016, while in East Africa, 34 percent of people did, according to the report.
“Even in some countries that have been successful at reducing food insecurity faced a setback, especially due to prolonged drought caused by the impacts of El Niño,” Graziano da Silva noted in a speech at an event on Zero Hunger held during the FAO Regional Conference for Africa.
However, the FAO Director-General also expressed optimism that an already-emerging and energetic response by the international community to recent negative hunger trends will help turn the tide.
“I firmly believe that 2016 was a point outside the curve, and not a reversal tendency,” he argued.
Causes for optimism
One reason for optimism is that political will to redouble anti-hunger efforts is running higher than ever, Graziano da Silva said, as evidenced by the issue’s high prominence during the recent African Union Summit attended by the continent’s top leaders as well as UN Secretary-General António Gutteres – FAO launched “Achieving Zero Hunger in Africa by 2025. Taking stock of progress”, which contains the proceedings of the African Union High-Level Meeting on the topic.
Two other factors provide additional cause for optimism, according to the FAO Director-General.
For one, the Green Climate Fund has become operationally and is now channelling funding to developing countries to help them respond to climate change, including its impacts on food insecurity. Additionally, there are strong signs that the world economy is recovering, which will create favorable conditions for development.
“Zero Hunger is attainable. It depends on us,” the FAO Director-General exhorted his listeners. “It is time to redouble our efforts, and push for political commitment and timely, concrete actions such as never seen before,” he said.
In her statement to the FAO Regional Conference, African Union Commissioner of Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko, said that on the Commitment of Ending Hunger by 2025, “we are lagging behind and there is still a lot of work to be done going forward on ending hunger by 2025,” however also noting there was cause for optimism.
“We have the opportunity to pick out some key lessons, exchange views on what might impede our progress in achieving food and nutrition security and continue to strengthen coordination and partnerships among us,” Sacko said. She mentioned the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund as a way to help move things forward.