Arusha — Africa's population – in contrast to other regions – is growing significantly younger. How to employ, educate and feed that youth bulge is the topic of a report presented in Dakar, Senegal this weekend at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation annual forum. South African Minister of Planning Trevor Manuel told the gathering that the three challenges need integrated solutions. Children can't learn, he said, without nutrition. And if they don't learn, they can't get jobs.
"We cannot educate our children without nutrition," said musician Angelique Kidjo. "A child that hasn't been nourished, by the time the child is two years old, its brain is permanently damaged." Alongside notable African progress in several social indicators, food security remains a daunting problem. The Ibrahim report notes that of the 20 countries with the world's lowest life expectancy, 19 are in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa's under-five death rate and its proportion of undernourished children is the world's highest.
Last month at the African Green Revolution Forum (Agref) in Arusha, Tanzania, smallholder farmers and their role in food production occupied center stage – but only rhetorically. As she shared the platform with six men, Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director for hunger solutions at the World Food Programme, raised the question many participants were discussing privately: where were the family farmers – most of them women - while their future was being discussed?
AllAfrica's Samantha Nkirote McKenzie discussed these issues with Agref participant Sam Dryden, director of agricultural development for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Development Program since 2010. Dryden agrees that policymakers, governments and NGOs can't craft a farmer-focused agenda without listening to the farmers themselves. But he's optimistic that African agriculture is on the verge of something great, and says policy makers and development officials must "seize the moment".