Opinion

The future farmer: Where are they headed?

Ishmael Sunga

The future farmer: disrupting agriculture

Right now, in Southern Africa, there are a lot of young farmers that are doing great things, they are ambitious with an appetite to grow, and want to achieve this growth through the creation of profitable agribusinesses that will deliver the same quality of life as other professions. They are just not visible. What we see at events like the recent African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which took place in Abidjan between 4th-8th September 2017, is just a microcosm of a larger pool of agripreneurs.

The next generation of farmers

So there are already a significant number of young agribusiness leaders who are beginning to drive change, but their successes are not often told as stories of motivation and leadership to provide strong role models for ambitious young agripreneurs in the early stages of their careers. Their stories really need to be disseminated better so that we can catalyse more mentorship schemes and drive the agenda towards transformation in African agriculture much more vigorously.

Agriculture is getting to be more complex and dynamic. It is now information and knowledge intensive; it is now science and data-driven; and it is now ICT-enabled. With new technology farmers are able to do much more with much less as the environment now demands. Knowledge is no longer predominantly about how to grow a crop, it is much less practical and hands-on and much more in the mind, focused on strategic thinking and planning. Farming has become increasingly abstract and data-driven. This requires a different type of farmer with different aptitudes. Farmers need the right level of education that enables them to comprehend this level of complexity. More opportunities now exist, but we really need to get farmers’ skills and aptitudes right with targeted education and training. This requires the modernisation and professionalisation of farming, as well as the opportunity for farmers to gain competitive rewards for their hard work so that ambitious and capable young entrepreneurs are attracted to working in the sector.

Innovative policy

This new generation of business-minded farmers promise very good prospects for the future of African agriculture. However, the policy environment needs to be improved as it has the greatest and most far-reaching potential for impactful change. Policymakers need to be more innovative in their approach to agricultural policy so that it really helps young farmers and facilitates all stakeholders in the sector to unleash their economic potential. Let’s take an example; just playing around with the fiscal and monetary policies and instruments can have a fundamental impact. For instance, cutting out import duties and VAT on key agricultural equipment/technologies will benefit stakeholders across the agricultural value chain; tax rebates on agricultural enterprises and start-ups can also make a big difference; even subsidising data that allows farmers to access more climate information will significantly improve the sector’s resilience.

A particularly important role for policymakers is to subsidise investments in the expansion of mobile network infrastructure so that farmers in all corners of the continent have access to mobile phone coverage. Technology allows farmers to cross over areas where there are no roads, where there are no bridges. It is having a massive disruptive impact, and positive disruption for that matter. It is critical in creating an agricultural sector that is more business driven. But more importantly, technology allows for the democratisation of the sector because it removes information asymmetry to some extent. It connects everyone to markets and allows them to access knowledge and learning. However, without the infrastructure to connect with this technology farmers cannot exploit it. They are socially and geographically, as well as economically isolated, which limits the modernisation of the sector as well as their ability to improve their own livelihoods.

The combination of intelligent policy, an expansion of ICT infrastructure and an entrepreneurial approach to agriculture will cause a massive explosion. It will trigger the revolutionary change we have all been waiting for.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.