How about a digital revolution to produce more food?

By 2050, the world must feed 11 billion people. The demand for food will be up 60 per cent than it is today.

By Qu Dongyu

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Published: Sat 14 Dec 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 14 Dec 2019, 10:17 PM

We live in challenging times. After years of decline, hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year. Despite the progress made in recent decades, one in five Africans still struggles to have enough to eat, and one in 10 people in the world lives in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa.
With five years elapsed and just 10 years remaining before the deadline for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world is in urgent need of transformative changes if we are to achieve the global goals of eliminating poverty and hunger on the continent. By 2050, the world must feed 11 billion people. The demand for food will be up 60 per cent than it is today.
Young people can be the driving force for the transformation we want, but we still need to overcome some persistent challenges. We need to equip and support the young generation to respond to existing challenges, and to emerging ones threatening the future of agriculture and food security.
Rapid population growth, scarce and fragile natural resources, lagging agriculture productivity with the growing threat of climate change, poor rural infrastructure and services, and weak education and health services in rural areas are all playing an important role in keeping rural areas poor and risk widening rural and urban disparities.
Harsh conditions and limited employment opportunities in rural areas are forcing more young people to move to cities that are often unprepared for the large influx. As a result, youth unemployment continues to increase, with 25 per cent of young people in Africa unemployed. This is a massive waste of human resources in a continent with the largest number of people in the world - one-fifth of Africa's population is between 15 and 24 years old.
Youth unemployment, rural poverty, and the high prevalence of undernourishment are different facets of the same problem: Lagging agricultural transformation due to a lack of investment and sluggish adoption of innovation in rural areas. Agriculture has the greatest potential of all sectors to reduce poverty and end hunger in Africa.
Chile and China are among the world's developing countries that have achieved rapid and durable progress in reducing poverty and undernourishment by transforming their agri-food systems and investing massively in rural development. Investing in agriculture and transforming food systems does not benefit farmers alone. It also improves economic growth for the whole country and generates employment in both rural and urban sectors through processing, handling, storage, distribution and marketing services designed to improve the quality, safety and appeal of agri-food products.
Rapid innovation in information and communication technologies presents real opportunities for transforming the agriculture sector, increasing smallholders' productivity and incomes, and making rural jobs attractive to young and educated people.
Harnessing digital and technological innovations can make agriculture even more efficient and provide new opportunities and services for young entrepreneurs. This revolution is already ongoing in Asia, but also in Africa.
New ideas from young people as well as from organisations, universities, and companies are helping to unlock the potential of the food and agriculture sectors. There is enormous potential for reducing poverty, bridging the rural divide. Investment and innovation will create opportunities to employ and empower youth and give them equal access to information, technology, and markets.
At the age of 27, Egyptian couple Aly Abu Zeid and Eman Hassan launched CUBII, a company specialised in locally made food-manufacturing machines for dairy farmers. Their business is flourishing, and their equipment is making it easier for producers to expand along the value chain.
In Nigeria, 28-year-old Abigail Alabi founded Recy World, a social enterprise that brings modernisation and efficiency to African farmers through low-cost technology. Since 2016, Recy World has been providing a rental service that makes sowing cassava 40 times faster, and a processing plant that multiplies the yield of each harvest to help improve productivity.
In China, Shi Yan, at the age of 27, founded a farm under the Community Supported Agriculture programme. The initiative was launched in 2009 and quickly turned into an entire movement of community-owned farms.
Abu Zeid, Hassan, Alabi, Shi and thousands of young leaders around the world are changing the face of agriculture and building inclusiveness, sustainability and productivity. Empowering young men and women is one of the most effective ways to foster the innovation and pioneering approaches needed to revitalize rural areas, as well as accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Young people are best equipped to embrace innovation and technology and use it as a force for change, not just in agriculture but other sectors as well. The World Youth Forum, hosted by Egypt's government under the auspices of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, presents an excellent opportunity to engage with youth from Africa and around the world, and to empower them to lead the coming phase of global development.
Support to young people and young entrepreneurs is needed, in particular in creating and promoting innovative solutions to address the challenge of producing more and better to feed a growing world population and to mitigate climate-change impacts.
There is an urgency to invest in rural areas to address the urban-rural divide in information and communications technology infrastructure to enable farmers in Africa, and more broadly in developing regions, to harness the potential of new technologies and digital agriculture to improve productivity, access markets and generate decent incomes.
The Food and Agriculture Organization is ready to work with our UN partners and the UN System at large to support young entrepreneurs so they can create innovative solutions to meet the challenge of feeding the world's growing population amid the worsening threat of climate change.
There is an ongoing agriculture transformation underway thanks to the digital revolution. We cannot afford to miss it. We should support this wave and empower youth to lead it.
-Asharq Al Awsat
Qu Dongyu is Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

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