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Young people and innovation must drive Africa’s agri-food systems transformation

The director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, QU Dongyu, has encouraged African leaders to engage universities and young people in the much needed agri-food systems transformation on the continent

“Young people must be at the centre of any strategy for ‘building back better' and transforming our current agri-food systems,” Dongyu said.

Agriculture in the region provides employment to 60% of young people, and 10 to 12 million new jobs need to be created annually over the next 20 years to employ new labour market entrants, taking into account Africa's booming population growth.

The president of Malawi, Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, convened the meeting with the African heads of state and governments, saying his country was greatly honoured to be hosting the ‘significant and historic event,’ and hoped the UN Food Systems Summit could create food systems that ‘can sustain Africa and the world.’

The online event brought together political leaders, prominent academics and other stakeholders based in Africa and around the world. In a major development, they agreed on a Summit Declaration that will be a vital contribution to the 2021 Food Systems Summit in September and the Pre-Summit to be hosted by FAO in Rome 26-28 July.

At today's meeting, Dongyu drew attention to the risk of food security worsening further this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and set out a series of steps to help transform agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.

“Digitalisation is rapidly becoming a game changer in agriculture - boosting productivity, profitability and resilience to climate change,” Dongyu explained, adding that it could drive greater engagement from youth and women, and create employment opportunities across agri-food systems.

Despite some growth in digitalisation over the last ten years, progress has been slow in serving smallholder farmers and small-to-medium agri-food enterprises, even though these groups are producing 80% of Africa's agricultural output.

The Republic of Sudan and the Republic of Rwanda were also represented at the virtual event.

“Africa is always in my heart and we will work together to create a better future for all people,” Dongyu added.