Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamba: Prioritising youth engagement in technology and innovation

Dossier: Stemming youth migration

 

Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamba's viewpoint

A programme manager for climate-smart agriculture at the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamba has a passion for working with and supporting African youth.

To cope with rising youth unemployment in Africa, Mwamakamba calls for better efforts to support young people’s engagement with technology, entrepreneurship and policymaking.

To cope with rising youth unemployment in Africa, Mwamakamba calls for better efforts to support young people’s engagement with technology, entrepreneurship and policymaking.

© Lens Talk

With over 200 million young people in Africa, what strategies can be developed for job creation that ensure the continent capitalises on the potential of this burgeoning youth population?

The opportunity is in technology. For a long time, African agriculture has been considered rather backwards, whereas the rest of the world has moved on so much. But the approach needs to change because the training that young people receive – either at technical college or university – has been designed to train people how to work for somebody and not themselves.

We also need to look at opportunities that exist within current challenges. For instance, within climate change, there are opportunities like carbon credits and carbon trading, which have spaces that young people can get into. In addition, we need creative and innovative financing packages that are designed for young people who want to set up their own businesses.

At FANRPAN you have been working with the MasterCard Foundation to advocate youth engagement in policymaking. What is the value of this?

We have been working together for the past 2 years to develop a policy guide for young people that demystifies the notion that policy development is just for government people or for adults, so to speak. The challenges that we are facing here in Africa do not discriminate, the old and the young are affected equally. By working with the Mastercard Foundation, we have recognised that young people are eager to participate in agriculture policy processes, but they need to be equipped with the right skills to convey their messages well.

Digitalisation is frequently seen as the answer to attract more youth to agriculture, but is it really the silver-bullet that the sector needs?

I personally believe that ensuring that young people engage in technology and innovation should be a priority for most governments. The world is advancing at a speed that I do not think we have ever seen before. We need to be able to harness technology and innovation properly in agriculture if we are going to chart a new development pathway for Africa, and young people are sitting right at the centre of all that innovation. So, I think there is a special need for our leaders to give credence to this view of getting young people further involved in the digital space and creating an enabling environment for them to do that. I think there is recognition of this by African leaders, because science, technology and innovation are key pillars of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

CTA’s Pitch AgriHack competition provides business training and mentorship to help young entrepreneurs develop more sustainable e-agribusinesses. Why are such programmes important?

I believe young people learn by doing, and opportunities like the Pitch AgriHack competition challenge them to think innovatively. From what I understand, it is a competition that comes with training and mentorship as well, so it means that young people will be supported with actually starting their businesses.

Ultimately, it is about making sure that there is sustainability. So, there is a need to transfer knowledge from the old to the new. Climate-smart agriculture is being championed by FAO, CTA and FANRPAN, among others. This approach does not contain new information because it promotes practices like conservation agriculture and zero-tillage, which are techniques that farmers have been practising for years. But now, they have been researched further and there is a better understanding and appreciation of their value, so this knowledge needs to be transferred to our future farmers.