Africa’s population is young and ready to take its destiny into its own hands. Agriculture offers amazing opportunities in this regard. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to support the next generation in this way.
As the world's largest private foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works to fight injustice. The foundation focuses primarily on promoting the health of children and young people. The largest supported project is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
No matter to which African country you travel – be it Zambia, Ghana or Nigeria – what is striking is that everywhere you look, you see the people are much younger than those in Germany. This is more than just an impression: Close to 60 percent of all Africans are under the age of 25 years. In Germany, they account for less than one-fourth of the population. At the same time, the population is growing more dramatically than anywhere else in the world. To ensure that this population dynamism does not turn into a threat but to ensure that it is an opportunity for Africa and the world. These young people must be given the tools needed to fully fulfil their potential. How does this work? It works when meeting basic human needs, above all nutrition, is no longer the main concern of the population.
The agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa is, in fact, perfectly capable of feeding all its people and to make an important contribution to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 2: ending global hunger. Moreover, agriculture can even become an important engine for economic growth and a future opportunity for Africa’s young people.
To make this work, however, existing challenges need to be overcome. Productivity is low at the moment. Droughts, flooding, and pests put crop yields at risk. The ever more severe climate conditions are bringing about ever new threats. At the same time, farmers require access to markets in order to be able to sell their products.
Agriculture can become an important economic engine and a future opportunity for African youth.
Consultation services or resources such as seeds, fertilisers, and high-quality animal medicine are not available either throughout the entire region. The political framework for all of this is also essential to the process. The agriculture sector and the entire system of food products in many African countries are not sufficiently equipped to allow for a balanced diet. Add to that, that a large number of products are only available during certain seasons due to the lack of adequate storage capacities.
Research and development are key
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is taking a variety of approaches to tackle the challenges mentioned. A key aspect of this involves adapting to climate change which will have severe consequences for small farmers in the poorest regions.
In order to raise political awareness for this issue, we have been active in the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) since 2018. The initiative, lead by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Bill Gates as well as World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, collects best practices and coordinates new measures in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. The objective of this is to demonstrate that adapting to climate change is not only necessary, but it also contributes to sustainable economic development and security.
Another key aspect of our work is supporting the life and work of small farmers through research and development. In order to promote agricultural changes, even today a large number of products and tools are being developed, such as vaccines for animals and innovative plant breeding. This, for example, includes a newly-cultivated type of rice, nicknamed “Scuba” rice. “Scuba” is the English name for the diving sport, and it reveals a special feature of this new type of rice: These plants can dive. In rice-growing areas in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, catastrophic floods keep destroying entire harvests. This is why the Gates Foundation has been supporting the “Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and Asia” project. In the framework of this project, researchers at the “International Rice Research Institute” and the “Africa Rice Center” have succeeded in developing a new type of rice through conventional methods of cultivation. This new type of rice can make better use the oxygen that it has stored. Simply put, this allows the plants to hold their breath underwater until the flood is over. The researchers have predicted that up to 20 million farmers in South Asia and Africa will be cultivating this new type of rice.
Technological innovation can also make a huge difference. With the help of digital technologies in agriculture, small farmers can, for example, increase their earnings or they can make certain tasks more efficient, such as checking soil health and plant development. In addition to this, farmers gain easier access to financial services and new markets via digital applications. A great example for this is the “2Kuze” project in which a digital platform was used that connects the farmers in East Africa directly with the buyers of their products. This way, the farmers can access markets via their mobile phones and without the services of a broker.
Not only small-scale planning needs to be good, but the macro level is no less important
The role of women in agriculture is a challenge that is frequently overlooked. Around 50 percent of farmers in Africa are female. However, their turnover is 20 to 30 percent less than that of men. It goes without saying that this is not because men make better farmers. It takes a lot of things to succeed in agriculture: good soil, the right seed, healthy animals, tools, time, expert knowledge. Women do not have the same level of access to any of these things as men. In some countries, for example, there are laws preventing women from buying land. Women can also less frequently make decisions regarding the household budget, which makes it harder for them to invest in the necessary supplies. In short: If the situation of women is improved, a considerable increase in agricultural productivity can be expected.
The Gates Foundation supports the agricultural strategy of individual countries at a macro level. In this, we work together with all the partners involved: with the state, the private sector, and additional individual actors. In Ethiopia, the Gates Foundation has been active since around 2006, and has founded in 2010 the “Agricultural Transformation Agency” together with the Ethiopian government. The agency provides government ministries with evidence-based solutions aimed at improving productivity in agriculture across the whole country by supporting research and development in the agricultural sector, and giving women better access to markets. This approach is already showing signs of success: Ethiopia has successfully started its transformation of the agriculture sector, and the country is playing a leading role among all countries south of the Saharan desert. The private sector has supported this through massive contributions such as investing in new products and services. This is how productivity could be increased sustainably.
Germany is also doing its part for Africa’s development
The Gates Foundation works closely with states like Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany has long recognised that progress in agriculture improves the future prospects of the African continent and, above all, of its young population. It was as early as 1971 that Germany was one of the co-founders of the consultative group for international agricultural research “CGIAR” (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). This organisation is looking to improve the management of natural resources in agriculture and in cultivating tropical forests. And the most recent example is the “Global Agriculture and Food Security Program” (GAFSP), an international fund for agriculture and food security. Germany as well as the Gates Foundation are funding the program that is looking to further implement the approach outlined above.
The Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development is making a major contribution to improving agriculture and nutrition with its special initiative “EINEWELT ohne Hunger” (ONEWORLD without hunger). In addition to this, Germany has announced an SDG2 moment for the coming year. In this context, the GAFSP and CGIAR should also be strengthened further.
In other words: The dedication of Germany and the international community should not subside, given that the agricultural transformation in sub-Saharan Africa holds future opportunities for the entire continent.
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