All the people who matter in agriculture – heads of state and government, ministers of agriculture, heads of international organisations, scientists, financiers, and so on–were in Kigali last week to talk about how to make agriculture profitable.
They had been brought together by the aptly named African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).
All agreed on the important place of agriculture in Africa’s economies and the need to revolutionise it so that it becomes more profitable.
A crucial aspect of this was to get more young people involved in it.
For as long as I can remember, this has been the same message. Agriculture is the backbone of the economy we have always been told.
Young, unemployed youth in the towns were always urged to return to the land and try to make a living from it. Of course, many ignored the call.
Then there was talk of an agricultural revolution to increase food production, make Africa food self-reliant and even an exporter of food.
That has not happened, which is why we have the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to try to make it happen and the reason meetings like the one in Kigali last week take place.
So why is the revolution taking so long to arrive and how can it be speeded up?
One reason, as almost everyone at the AGRF meeting noted, is attitude to agriculture.
It is considered, especially by young people, as something people do because they were born into it and have no other choice, or they cannot find anything better to do.
It is considered an inferior occupation. Backward implements of African agriculture, the taxing physical labour and the deliberately cultivated contrasting comfort of non-agricultural work have contributed to this perception.
A related problem is that those actually engaged in productive work are poor rural folks, increasingly getting old and not being succeeded by younger people to carry on the work.
Farmers are almost always missing from any discussions on agriculture. The conversation usually involves only politicians and technocrats who later on give instructions to farmers to implement decisions from the discussions.
Indeed, President Paul Kagame said at the AGRF meeting that Africa has everything necessary to succeed but we do not partly because of inadequate mobilisation of farmers.
Clearly, there cannot be a revolution in agriculture if farmers, whatever the size of their holdings, are not included in all the plans.
Then there is the absence of young people from agriculture partly due to the perception that agricultural work lacks the glamour of other occupations.
Those with some money go for easier options that look more like business: boutiques and kiosks and even paid jobs in such establishments
President Kagame has tried to get the youth involved and has sent some of them to school in countries that have made progress in agriculture.
But some of them, upon return, were not prepared to work in the sun and dust of the land. They demanded comfortable accommodation and offices.
In addition to sending young people for advanced training, it might be a good idea to send farmers to some of these country
They are more likely to apply what they have seen.
All is not doom and gloom, however. African leaders are doing something, at least they are talking about it. The more committed are putting the right policies in place and implementing them. And then there are serious efforts like AGRA.
More importantly, attitudes are bound to change with the realisation that there is money to be made from agriculture.
First, the phenomenal growth in the world’s population, now exceeding seven billion people ensures that there will be profit. With all those mouths to feed, the smart money is on agriculture.
Second, farmers have learnt that the benefits of agriculture go beyond simply food self-sufficiency. There is increasing urbanisation in Africa that ensures that there will always be demand.
Africa imports huge amounts of food are for this urban population. Business people must get wise to this trend and invest in agribusiness to produce for this segment of the population.
Third, food prices have been rising. The World Bank projects that the high prices will hold for the next twenty years or more.
And finally, modern technology is changing the image and fortunes of farmers, and herein lies attraction to the youth.
The African farmer of the future will not be the rough, barefoot, illiterate, hoe-wielding peasant. He is more likely to be a smart, technology savvy person, clutching an I-Pad (or whatever the latest fad in information technology will be), checking the weather forecasts and market trends, following the latest in agricultural research and technology, and advanced farming methods and inputs.
All of which will multiply output several-fold.
And so, as there are mouths to be fed there is still money to be made from tilling the land.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.