1 Jul 2014
Poverty and joblessness are the two biggest challenges facing South Africa in particular and Africa in general. Former ANC stalwart, Jay Naidoo, believes that by getting the youth involved in agriculture, these are surmountable.
“We have to understand our assets and utilise them properly,” says Naidoo, chair of the board of directors of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (Gain). “Our most important asset is our people. Half the African population of close to a billion people are under 19. This is our demographic dividend. But we need to create concrete pathways out of poverty and the marginalisation they face today.”
Naidoo was the founding general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) from 1985 to 1993. He subsequently became minister responsible for the Reconstruction and Development Programme in President Nelson Mandela’s office, after which he was appointed Post, Telecommunications and Broadcasting minister. He left politics as such in 1999 to set up a management and investment company while simultaneously chairing the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
In 2010, Naidoo, able to pay his own salary, returned full-time to his roots in social activism, focusing on building a global campaign against hunger and malnutrition and their connection to climate, justice, women’s empowerment and human rights. His main focus now, Gain was set up at the United Nations Summit on Children in 2002, as a public/private partnership tackling malnutrition facing two billion people in the world. Gain works in over 35 countries today and its business model of making markets work for the poor sees its innovative programmes reach close to 800 million people.
He explains that the number of youth is growing exponentially: “By 2025, there will be more young people in Africa than in China. By 2050, there will be two billion people on this continent and a quarter of the world will be African. By the end of the century, half the world’s young people will be in Africa.
“Harnessing this tremendous resource and leveraging our natural and mineral resources could place Africa at the centre of the global economy along a new green growth trajectory that makes the 21st century an African one.”
Naidoo believes Africans need to consider the continent’s natural assets and work with what is available: nearly a third of the world’s mineral wealth, a fifth of the global land mass, 60 percent of the remaining arable land in the world, and 15% of its forests are in Africa, while there are abundant fishing resources in our oceans. “We need to look at how we use these to position the continent for inclusive growth that creates a shared prosperity,” he says.
“It does mean we have to rethink our education and training systems so that young people have skills, are productive and supported in entrepreneurship.
“We know that close to 80% of food in Africa is produced by subsistence farmers who are predominantly women. This is slightly different in South Africa because of apartheid, which broke the link between the people and the land.”
These women farmers own less than 1% of the land, have little access to seed, water, power and, most important, markets where they can sell their surplus produce, he says. “No one wants to remain on subsistence living, but there are too many barriers stopping them making money.
This needs to rectified. Government and industry must come to the party and address the blockages in the agriculture value chain. The empirical evidence proves that with women farmers, when there is a dramatic improvement in disposable income, most of this money goes to the education, health and nutrition of their children. This is where agriculture and nutrition blend together in symbiosis. It is not rocket science. Agricultural development has to be based primarily on graduating subsistence farmers into successful smallholder farmers.”
Naidoo is inspired by an agricultural model he witnessed in India and other places, which focuses on building sustainable livelihoods through social businesses. He believes this model should be emulated in Africa.
“We need a smallholder-focused model in Africa. The millions of peasant farmers can be aggregated into co-operatives of individual entrepreneurs who own their own land but come together to improve their bargaining power and create a shared service model that provides support to these farmers.”
When Naidoo visited India in 2012, he witnessed the work done by the Naandi Foundation in Araku, a remote location where the people had been desperately poor and had high infant mortality and low school enrolment. Manoj Kumar, Naandi’s CEO, told Naidoo, “We thought we would bring development to Araku until we realised that the farmers knew the land better than us. So together we built an army of ‘barefoot development change agents’ by training adivasi [indigenous] farmers as our team of trainers in their own fields. Now they can teach our staff about development”.
These “farmers” were “landless peasants who had an acre of leased land from government to grow coffee, but whose lands were unproductive because they lacked the necessary skills and tools,” Kumar told Naidoo.
The Naandi Foundation created a co-operative for these coffee farmers and trained them in organic farming, how to make cow dung fertiliser, how to process the coffee beans according to their quality, and when to harvest. In this way, an organisation was built from the village upwards.
The foundation also helped the farmers obtain legal title deeds to their land. Naidoo says that its organisers reminded him of the dedication of Cosatu unionists with whom he had worked. “They put the farmers through a rigorous process of organic certification and negotiated access to global markets. Farmers have now increased their incomes (from US$1/kg or just more than R10/kg) to an average of US$5/kg, cut out the middlemen, and are working towards connecting directly to the consumer.
“The coffee, combined with other commodities in Araku, helps to create a small sustainable source of income and at the same time creates opportunities for education, medical care, better food sources, nutrition and fresh water.”
Naidoo says that this is true sustainable development. “It comes from painstakingly organising communities around livelihoods. Cosatu succeeded in organising workers, not because we ‘sold’ politics, but because we organised workers around wages and working conditions.”
He says that much like the unionists, the people of Araku are no longer powerless. “Already they have demanded that teachers are in school on time and teaching. And those who don’t comply are chased away. Power here is slowly but surely returning to the people.”In Africa we need to learn from successful models and adapt these to our needs. We see a huge migration towards our cities. The majority end up in urban slums where household food insecurity is high. Young people do not want to be subsistence farmers. We need to make agriculture a career path to a proper, well-paid livelihood. “Even in South Africa, if the government and industry can remove the barriers we could harness our huge land resources,” says Naidoo.
In the 2014 budget, the South African government allocated over R7 billion for conditional grants to provinces to support subsistence and small-holder farmers as a part of the National Development Plan’s target of creating one million jobs in agriculture and land reform by 2030.
“Land reform will succeed only when the smallholder farmers own the strategy of development. Large-scale commercial farmers have to support this endeavour and promote the capacity of families and workers on their farms to produce food for their own use as well as for the market. It is shortsighted just to hire labour at the time of planting and harvesting. We have a shared responsibility in South Africa to build entrepreneurship and livelihoods for all our people.”
The alternative in Africa and, indeed, the world, is that our demographic dividend will become the nightmare of an ever-increasing minority of people in whose hands wealth is concentrated.
As a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that focuses on promoting governance and leadership in Africa, Naidoo says, “In exporting our raw materials we are exporting jobs. The time has come for us to stop acting as 54 countries and use our resources to improve our bargaining position in the global economy. We cannot talk of an ‘Africa Rising’ when we are the richest continent yet the majority of our people live in poverty.
“We have to trust our people. We need our leaders in the public, private and civil society sectors to work together. We need to prioritise food production in a way that improves human productivity while improving agricultural yields. And at the core has to be building sustainable livelihoods that allow us, in Africa, to feed ourselves and then feed the world.
That is the only pathway to lasting peace and prosperity in Africa. We have to put more money into supporting these initiatives. A large percentage of those billions need to go directly to the smallholder farmers to enable them to have the support network they need to be successful.
“I have seen it work in India and parts of Africa,” says Naidoo. “This will be a key challenge for rural development in South Africa and can uplift so many who are jobless and living in poverty.”