Indeed, the economies of ACP countries (countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) are largely reliant on the development of their agricultural and rural sectors. About 60% of the population in Africa live off the agricultural sector (which includes plant production, agri-food processing, livestock rearing, fisheries and forest use). This sector accounts for over 30% of GDP in a large number of countries, and 50% or more in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Unfortunately, agriculture is not getting the attention it needs from decision-makers as it’s thought it lacks the appeal of other sectors, especially in the eyes of the young, who are turning their backs on agricultural activities. The difficult conditions in rural areas are prompting a youth exodus that is creating a progressively ageing rural population.
The Caribbean Farmers’ Network (CAFAN) recently warned that the future of agriculture is in danger, despite its immense potential and considerable contributions to the economy:
“Long tradition as well as innovations in various areas of agricultural and rural development is threatened by a number of factors, including the very limited youth involvement in the sector. Surveys among CAFAN farmers’ organisations across the region indicate that the average age of farmers are increasing and in most cases above 45 years old, the majority being over 60 years”. (Jethro Greene, Chief Coordinator of CAFAN: Caribbean Farmers Network – this quote is taken from documents advertising the Youth in Agriculture Regional Workshop at the CaFAN conference in January 2010).
Thus, the United Nations affirmed the need to work on strengthening youth involvement in this sector with its World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY):
“The United Nations General Assembly placed strong emphasis on rural Development (…), calling for actions focused on making farming more rewarding and life in rural areas more attractive for young people”. (See United Nations World Report on Youth, 2005)
ACP countries are also experiencing high unemployment, which is particularly prevalent among young people. It goes without saying that a renewed interest in the agricultural sector among the young and other actors, combined with increased investment, will contribute significantly to socio-economic development and reduce unemployment in these countries.
From another point of view, the advent of Information and Communication Technologies (Internet, mobile phones, etc.) offers new opportunities not only to support development of the rural and agricultural sector, but also to increase the opportunities available to young people. These technologies are filtering through into every socio-professional segment of ACP countries - even in rural areas, despite the significant constraints they present. Internet connections increased by 1392% in African countries, 890% in Latin American and Caribbean countries, and around 300% in the rest of the world between 2000 and 2009, and over half the population in Africa now have access to a mobile phone. The young are generally best at assimilating new technologies, and can therefore use them to make the most of a whole range of crosscutting opportunities. Increasing youth involvement and backing it up with innovative use of ICTs could have an immense impact. Indeed, as the President of Malawi noted in his capacity as President of the African Union, at its 14th Summit in Ethiopia in February 2010:
“Information and communication technology can play a major role in the development of agriculture and food security on our continent… Feeding Africa through new technologies: let us act now!”
CTA is involved in many initiatives to increase youth involvement in rural development. In the ICT area, in 2004 and 2005, CTA implemented several activities such as the contest on ICT and youth in rural areas and the 2005 “ICT Observatory” meeting which theme was youth, to name but a few. Its Strategic Plan for 2007-2011 marked an increase in its commitment and actions to improve youth involvement and take account of their concerns. This project, which is currently in its initial phase (2010 - 2011) and is seen as a long term initiative, falls within this framework.