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Fighting for Africa's Food Security

Sithembile Ndema

When I was a child growing up in Zimbabwe, my grandmother used to go to the same one-acre plot of land each day and work long and exhausting hours. 

When I asked her why she put herself through this, she replied: "This is how I wake up every day, this is how I survive."

I am now in my twenties and my grandmother is still out there on her plot each day.

She continues to till her field with a hand hoe, using seed saved from previous harvests, and applying a teaspoonful of fertiliser per maize plant. Her working hours and type of inputs have remained the same over the years; however, the yields have been declining drastically.

Concerns of a generation

This week, the One Young World conference is being held in London.

Young people from around the world have met to discuss the biggest challenges facing the planet, with the guidance of eminent figures such as Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru.

There are 700 of us who have gathered from 192 different countries, all with different beliefs, interests and goals. But we are united by a common passion to voice the concerns of our generation.

Political instability, global poverty and health, the financial crisis, religious conflicts and climate change are all issues that affect us and require long-term solutions to address substantially.

This conference offers my generation a chance to seek solutions to questions which elders such as my grandmother might not even realise are facing the world.

Like my grandmother, two-thirds of Africans rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, and 80 per cent of these are women. 

This is why I am so concerned with African agriculture and its role in driving broader economic development throughout the continent. 

Food security

For the past generation, agriculture has been neglected both by African leaders and by the international community as a development tool. It is only recently that global leaders, such as the G8 and the UN, have again begun to prioritise agriculture in the broader political agenda.

Yet today, in 2010, the effects of climate change are exacerbating an already vulnerable food supply in Africa, leaving farmers less capable of providing for themselves, let alone their communities.

African farmers need to be able to access the knowledge and tools with which to grow a food-secure future for Africa.

This would include, for example, the most effective and cost-efficient fertilisers and seeds, and improved access to markets.

In my work at the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), one of my responsibilities is to help smallholder farmers adapt and create climate-resilient farming methods. Such knowledge exists but often fails to reach Africa's vast rural populations.

Agricultural policies must also reflect the needs of those who will be most impacted: namely, farmers.

A FANRPAN project called Women Accessing Re-aligned Markets (WARM), addresses this problem by getting female farmers more involved in shaping agricultural policies, both at the local and national levels.

Funded by the Gates Foundation, the project aims to link farmers to policymakers in an effort to ensure that policies reflect the realities of farmers' daily lives.

Challenges of the future

While many young people do not seem to care about agriculture, they should acknowledge the fundamental role it plays in our lives. 

Not only does it feed the cities, but it also feeds factories with the raw ingredients needed to continue building an economy.  

One Young World will give me a chance to promote the importance of agriculture among my peers, and to help them understand its role in creating a food-secure, economically-stable Africa in the future.

Young people have the advantage of having grown up in a globally connected world, within which we communicate more quickly and broadly than perhaps any other generation before us.

Whilst young people may not yet have the power to drive policies, we will be the ones who must accept the big challenges of the future which are as yet unresolved: from population growth to climate change to market reform and the end of poverty.

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Sithembile Ndema, a 24-year-old Zimbabwean, works at FANRPAN in South Africa and is a spokesperson for the Farming First coalition.

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