May 6, 2016

Guest Commentary – Helping Africa’s Youth Find Opportunity in a Changing Climate

By Esther Ngumbi, post-doctoral researcher, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Auburn University, Mentor for Agriculture, Clinton Global University, New Voices Fellow, Aspen Institute

Growing up in a rural farm in the Kenyan Coast, I would run barefoot to the riverbank to watch my green cabbage grow. Back then, the rains were predictable, the heat was mild, and the soil was healthy. With each day, I grew more excited about farming and agriculture. I looked forward to a future where I would inherit my father’s farm and continue farming. My peers, too, were excited.
Today, the reality is different. My peers and I will inherit a world where climate change is real, and its impacts are devastating, especially to African agriculture. Although the youth have not contributed to global warming emissions on the planet, they are likely going to suffer the most from the consequences of a changing climate including droughts, desertification, and population displacement.
Climate change is also spurring rural-urban migration. In Bangladesh, for example, nearly 500,000 people have moved to cities due to floods brought about by the changing climate. Africa is also experiencing a substantial increase in the numbers of people migrating to the cities due to climate change. In Nigeria, where 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture, 1,350 square miles of land are being lost to desert each year. Such changes threaten rural life, and are occurring in other African countries as well.
At the same time, by 2035, approximately 350 million young people across Sub-Saharan Africa will be entering the labor force, of whom at most 25 percent are expected to find wage jobs. For the other 75 percent, farming and agripreneurship may be among their best options.
Faced with the challenge of a changing climate, rising urbanization, and few economic options, should the youth just watch as the planet perils? I think not. Instead, youth can turn on an optimistic lens to uncover unique opportunities as they carve out a new future for Africa. Chief among these is finding innovative ways to feed the rising urban population—including urban farming.
Youth-led urban farms can help satisfy cities’ demands for local, fresh, organic vegetables, and strengthen nutrition and food security. They can lead to greater resilience of cities, serving as a meaningful source of employment for the surging youth population.
To harness the opportunities presented by urban farming, governments, non-governmental organizations, public and private institutions need to move quickly.
First, governments must set up pieces of land, near or in urban areas that can be accessed, specifically by youth. As of today, urban land values in many African cities are skyrocketing, and most youth cannot afford to acquire land for urban farming. African governments need to put in place policies and programs that open access to land for urban farming. This is already happening in cities like Kigali, Rwanda, which has set aside 15,000 hectares of land to be used for urban agriculture, and in Lagos, Nigeria, where 4,400 hectares were set aside. 
Secondly, young people who venture into urban farming should have access to capital. Innovative financing models are needed for youth-operated urban farms, and governments must lead in their provision. In Kenya for example, an existing government-initiated youth fund should have funds earmarked for urban farming.
Thirdly, youth farmers need access to agricultural training and extension services so they can benefit from new technologies, agricultural research breakthroughs, and best practices in urban farming. Governments could task universities, many of which are located in cities, with this responsibility. NGOS such as One Acre Fund and private businesses like Amiran Kenya, could also provide extension services needed for urban youth farmers to thrive. Alternatively, young farmers could tap into digital platforms like Mkulima Young to learn about emerging best practices among their peers.
Finally, aspiring urban farmers need role models of urban farming and youth leadership in African cities. One example is Harriet Nakabaale, in Kampala, Uganda. She works with young farmers through Camp Green, a three-in-one operation that combines home, farm and business vocational school. 
South Africa has witnessed the proliferation of many youth-led urban farms. And in Kibera, Kenya, one of Africa’s largest slums, youth have set up an organic farm. They produce food for themselves and the community, and generate income from food sales and organic farming consultancies. Today, the farm grows an abundance of healthy vegetables, including kales, cabbage, onions, okra, and spinach, and employs 35 youths.
Of course, urban farming alone cannot feed Africa’s growing cities, nor will it entirely shield African agriculture from the harsh consequences of climate change. Investments in rural farms and infrastructure remain indispensible to a food secure future in Africa.  But urban farming provides one promising avenue to employ urban youth and feed our cities.
Helping the youth thrive in the face of a changing climate, to make their way in urban environments, and to contribute to Africa’s food security will require investment, innovation, and collaboration. Now is the time for governments to support and recognize that urban farming can contribute to urban food supply and urban livelihoods. 


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


Dr. Akinwumi Adesina's Speech on Biofortification

Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, breaks down the steps needed to scale-up nutrition and get more nutritious foods to millions at The 2nd Global Conference on Biofortification. 

Photo of the Week

One Acre Fund farmer, Epiphany Mukamuzungo of Rwanda, harvests potatoes from her land to cook for dinner.

Commentary Series: The Case for Land Rights

More than one billion of the world’s poorest people share three traits: they live in rural areas, rely on the land to survive, and they lack secure legal rights to the land on which they depend.

Commentary Series: Context is Crucial for Impacting Land Rights

When people like me speak about land rights and access or when we write project descriptions for advocacy and research pieces, we typically will assert that strengthening the security of land rights through measures like land titling is important to achieving rural development goals such as increased yields, investment, environmental conservation, and access to credit.

Commentary Series - Property Rights for Every Woman and Man

In the course of our work at USAID, we have observed that over the last several years, large capital inflows from the private sector to emerging markets—some projections estimate that $30 billion in private capital will be invested in farmland by 2015—have created challenges and opportunities for global agricultural systems and markets.

| By Roger Thurow

Commentary Series - This Land is Our Land

A great worry had barged into the little house of Leonida and Peter Wanyama in western Kenya.  They had been called to the office of the local chief.  There was a demand that they turn over part of their land.