As a new year begins, young African farmers are expecting a change in fortune after what looked like a bleak 2023. Even broader questions arise regarding how the continent will fare in the coming year, especially with numerous countries facing imminent drought conditions, calling for renewed efforts to ensure 2024 becomes a more productive agricultural year.

From poor access to financing their agriculture projects to climate change, young farmers had to deal with several frustrations that threatened ambitious projects.

Young farmers have not been shy to venture into new territory, moving away from traditional ways of doing business, away from growing only maize or tobacco, for example, and trying their hand at horticulture, fisheries, goats, piggery and rabbits.

Yet, in those ventures, they have been met with what looks like insurmountable odds, but the fighting spirit into 2024 remains evident.

While agencies and governments across the continent are promoting young farmers as the bedrock of Africa’s food security efforts, these commitments have seen little progress according to researchers.

From multi-million dollar investments to driving the growth of African agriculture, young farmers still lack access to those funds, and it has been particularly worse for rural women where agencies continue to struggle with easing the burden of food insecurity for them.

For example, while agencies such as the African Development Bank (AFDB) have a comprehensive agenda to lure and finance women and youths in agriculture, the continental body has conceded the uphill task that remains in ensuring the realisation of that demographic dividend.

Agencies like the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) emphasise the necessity of making the right investments to enable rural women, particularly, to contribute towards the eradication of hunger and to drive and scale up sustainable food production amidst such challenges as climate change.

According to the IFAD, smallholder farmers produce the bulk of food consumed globally, but with what has happened in previous years – with particular attention to last year – more investments will be required to support women and young farmers to realise their full potential.

Various sources state that Africa has 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, exposing opportunities for young farmers as a new agricultural season beckons.

The agriculture sector accounts for 35 percent of Africa’s GDP and employs more Africans than any other sector, and questions have been asked why the continent remains a major food importer.

For Joseph Kakoto, President of the Zimbabwe Young Farmers Association for Sustainable Development, issues such as delays in land preparation because of climate uncertainty can be addressed by having reliable meteorological stations across the country.

There must also be an adequate supply of input to forestall delays in land preparation, Joseph believes. Joseph’s concerns remain urgent for the growth and promotion of youth and women in agriculture, especially considering the vast amount of uncultivated land highlighted by agencies.

Agricultural economists have already noted that African countries lack effective climate adaptation models, while mitigation efforts have also fallen short.

And for young farmers such as Joseph, this has led to little participation in the sector by youths.

It is within this context that the AFDB has stated what seems obvious, that “with better access to input, training, and finance, smallholder farmers could transform the sector”.

Looking into the new year, questions will continue being asked about what has stopped or slowed the realisation of that ideal.

At the Africa Agri Investment Indaba held in Cape Town in November 2023, experts agreed that the high risks involved in supporting small holder farmers are something that needs to be addressed urgently.

One delegate’s remarks were particularly telling: If the new year is to present a change in the continent’s agriculture sector, everyone from experts to smallholder farmers and governments keeps repeating the same thing about Africa’s potential to feed itself and beyond, yet that potential has lingered for centuries.

Now with the active promotion of young farmers to contribute to Africa’s food production, it means fresh challenges to already long-running issues that have stalled that growth.

Agencies such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) already have scores of youth-oriented farming initiatives with strict timelines under its Strategic Framework 2022-2031 seeking to boost youth participation in agriculture.

The new year could present new approaches and renewed determination to achieve what seems to be quite reachable yet elusive goals.