Conversations at the 2018 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which held between September 5-8 in Kigali, Rwanda, revolved around accountability, political will, and getting more young people interested in agriculture.

We talked about how to improve youth participation in agriculture, its importance, and what the FAO is doing to boost it.

The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa (BISSA): Could you quickly paint a picture of just how important it is to get more young people interested in agriculture?

David Phiri (DP): It is very very important because what is happening now is that the average of farmers is 55 years. It is an ageing population. What has happened is that there has been a tendency for young people to shun agriculture because it has been associated with rural economies, so they move into urban areas to look for jobs. But the fact is that, eventually, older people will die off. We need people who can sustain agriculture to feed an ever increasing population.

We have to double production by 2050 if we are going to feed 9 billion people that will be inhabiting the world at that time.

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More importantly, agriculture, because of all the new technology we are developing, is becoming a very important business. I think it augurs well for youths, as business people, to take interest in agriculture in so that they can make income from it.

The experience we have so far is that there are many youths who want to go into agriculture, but sometimes they don’t have the resources to upscale what they have. Governments need to create environments where youths are provided with opportunities to prosper.

FAO, the African Union Commission and the Government of Rwanda organised a regional conference for youth employment in agriculture in Kigali just weeks ago. We were very surprised at how many youths want to go into agriculture and how many are already in agriculture and doing well.

What we need to do is to get more youths to go into agriculture, first as agribusiness. Now, what politicians are more concerned about is that agriculture provides an opportunity for them to feed their countries and to provide employment for other youth. But for the youth themselves, the idea of going into agriculture is to do it as a business, the idea is to make money.

If pitched at the right level, agriculture would be a better business or just as good as any other business around. To encourage the youth, it helps to show them that agriculture is not just about crop production and rearing animals, but that they can enter the industry anywhere along the value chain. Some will be off-takers from farms, some will be into processing, while others will be infusing agricultural produce into an industry.

The whole value chain of agriculture is so bold that, if youths are interested, they can do it.

BI SSA: Let’s talk about the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). What strategic steps has it taken to get young people interested in agriculture and what results have you seen?

DP: FAO has been encouraging youths to go into agriculture as a business. What we do is we work with governments to support their efforts to provide youths with the facilities they need.

More recently, we have a project in eastern Africa where we found youths who are already interested in agriculture but who could do with some training. We sent them to the Songhaï agricultural training centre (Regional Centre Songhaï) in Benin. It was a large group. They had a one-month-long training.

When they came back, the idea was for them to also train other youths who were interested in agriculture. We awarded those with the best business ideas and pushed them to go ahead.

The meeting that we co-organised with the AUC and the Rwandan Government also provided an opportunity for the youths to know that we have coaches who can help them develop business plans. Even right now, as we speak, there is a coaching session going on at this meeting (at AGRF). Also, recently, we had a hackathon to train those interested in technology related to agriculture, because even that is a business.

So, FAO is trying its best to support local governments and regional communities to get youths to practice agriculture as a business.