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March 24, 2014

FAO Opens Africa Conference

by Joe DeCapua

The Food and Agriculture Organization says Africa is the world’s most food insecure continent. The U.N. agency is holding its 28th Regional Conference on Africa this week in Tunis.


The FAO gave the bleak description of Africa despite some strong economic growth in recent years – an average 4.8 percent increase in Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, between 2000 and 2010. It says the problem stems from low agricultural productivity, low incomes in rural areas and high rates of malnutrition.

There have been improvements, though. The FAO cites greater production of staple crops, the growing of better varieties of bananas in eastern and central Africa and the planting of higher yielding maize. There’s also greater production of cotton, teas and flowers. But the agency says it’s not enough to ensure food security for a growing population amid climate change.

FAO Assistant Director-General Bukar Tijani said the conference is focusing on greater investment in smallholder farmers. Women play the major role in such farms, but Tijani says there will now be an emphasis on attracting youth.

“The theme of the conference itself is really to support youth in different endeavors of agriculture. But then we have to be very precise. We have to also be pulling youth into agriculture because agriculture is seen as a traditional, historical culture and not as farming or as enterprise or as business.”

The FAO said agricultural production in African countries, on average, “has increased slightly less than one-percent per year, compared with about two-percent in other developing countries.”

Tijani said that Africa’s youth must see that agriculture is big business, not just a tradition. Entrepreneurship, he says, can be applied to agricultural products.

“That is crops, livestock, [fisheries], forest products and the value chain activities related to it, including technologies, communication, ICT – everything that could attract youth into it because it’s big monies,” he said.

Representatives of more than 50 countries are expected to attend the FAO regional meeting in Tunis. They’re being asked to build on the continent’s economic growth to provide “stable agriculture and fiscal policies that encourage investment.”

‘The future of Africa or any generation lies in the youth. And that is why I’m calling on youth to come into agribusiness so that you can have employment generation, wealth creation, incomes within agriculture across Africa,” said Tijani.

The meeting also addresses policies to end hunger on the continent by 2025. The FAO said, “Over the past decades, absolute levels of hunger and undernourishment remain worrying in sub-Saharan Africa.” It added the Sahel and the Horn of Africa are of “particular concern.” 

The regional meeting in Tunis runs until March 28.