How to make agriculture great again (MAGA)

By Nnaemeka Ugochukwu

Abuja, Nigeria: According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), mankind is at the peak of food production. We produce enough food to feed the whole world. Even though 840 million people are food insecure and considered to be undernourished, the FAO is optimistic that mankind is on course to end hunger. They believe this can be achieved by the year 2030.

The reason is not far-fetched. Technological innovations in the past century have greatly improved man’s ability to produce the best types of food whenever and wherever he desires. From improved irrigation to better soil testing and weather, science has increasingly helped man to control the elements and increase yield. The result? Genetically modified crops; tomatoes that are the right shade of red, oranges with no seeds and apples with no cores. All these points to a future of abundance, or does it?  

‘According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), mankind is at the peak of food production. We produce enough food to feed the whole world. Good news right? Not really Nearly a billion people still go hungry.’ 

When we think of food, we think of Wholefoods and Walmart. We think of crop dusters flying across rolling acres of corn and wheat. We think of production lines managed by drones and machines.

Well, not exactly. As with most things in the current world, technology alone does not carry the ultimate solution to our problems. There is, of course, the human factor.

According to the United Nations, 70 percent of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers in the developing world. Only one percent of the world’s farms are bigger than one hectare (2.47 acres). The average age of farmers in the United States and other developed countries borders on 60. In Africa, the average age of farmers is also about 60. This in itself is not worrisome until you realize the fact that 60 percent of Africa’s population is under 24 years of age. This brings the question: Who will feed the world in the next 20 years?

Someone has to run those farms, someone has to fund the research into agriculture and right now, it doesn’t seem to be the youth of today.

The truth is that young people are not drawn to farming or agriculture. In my part of the world, they simply aren’t. In my interactions, I have tried to find out what exactly discourages them from taking an interest in agriculture. My discovery is that they don’t lean towards these industries because “it does not pay enough” (they aren’t even interested enough to find out if it pays and how much). Neither are they not interested because it’s dangerous (they would rather join the army). Most of them are uninterested because farming is simply “not cool”.

This is similar to what faced the world of technology in the 70s and 80s. Programmers, developers and tech founders were regarded as “geeky” and “uncool”. The tech world finally found its “cool” in the mid-90s and early 2000s where the otherwise “geeky” tech founders became the new rock stars and billionaires. Instantly, the geeky life became something to aspire to.

It is expected that by 2020, the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will be home to some 75 percent of all urban dwellers, as well as eight of the anticipated nine mega-cities with populations in excess of 20 million. It has also been estimated that at this time, 85 percent of the poor in Latin America, and about 40-45 percent of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities. These cities will be made up of mouths that require feeding and youths who see no need to farm. If youths today have no wish to farm, I think they will be even less inclined to do so with the coming urbanization.

Many countries, organisations and institutions have come to this realization and are putting in place policies and programs towards drawing youths into agriculture. Initiatives such as Making Farming Cool” a communications project by African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) and the Washington-based think-tank Initiative for Global Development are doing a great job of encouraging young people into the food industries.

These programs and policies, however, may be insufficient if agriculture does not become ‘mainstream’ among young people as soon as possible. The fastest way to do this is to change the narrative when it comes to agriculture, to show how vital it is to our communities and the world at large. We should be able to create a singular narrative between farming and crop production with its end products. Young people do not seem to see the link or its connection with their everyday lives. It is easy to associate a tailor with the clothes we wear; it is easy to associate engineers with the cars we drive; it is easy to associate developers with the apps we use. However, at present, it is difficult to associate the beautiful food aisles of supermarkets with soil and farming. Thus, young people don’t actually see the importance of “puttering around” in a garden or farm.

The next step is to infuse farming with a measure of trend and cool that is otherwise lacking. If you follow the Instagram feed of my editor Jennifer Nini then perhaps you understand what I mean by “cool”. The world has become a media marketplace. If we are going to sell the “Instagram generation” on farming, then we have to make it Instagram worthy.

Source: Eco Warrior Princess

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