Building Africa food systems through youth-led solutions

Assistant Professor of Health Communication at USIU-Africa Stephen Kimotho. [Courtesy]

Transforming Africa's food systems demands a fundamental shift in the prevailing narrative – a distorted perspective dominated by images of hunger, drought, and dependence.

While these portrayals reflect some realities, they obscure the vibrant potential, innovative spirit, and transformative power of Africa's youth. The outdated image of a farmer with a hoe is being replaced by tech-savvy young entrepreneurs spearheading agritech startups, armed with smartphones and AI-powered solutions.

Understanding and reshaping these long-standing narratives is crucial, as they deeply influence societal beliefs and practices. To pave the way for sustainable food solutions, we must critically reassess these dominant stories and make space for Africa's youth-driven agricultural revolution.

Role of the media

The media plays a powerful role in shaping how we see the world. Sadly, negative stereotypes dominate reporting on Africa's food systems. This focus on crises and problems without showcasing solutions creates a sense of hopelessness, particularly for the youth. It makes agriculture seem undesirable, driving away young talent and hindering agricultural progress.

Transforming this narrative is crucial to attract a new generation and unlock Africa's agricultural potential.

Beyond the headlines, the fragmented way food systems stories are told obscures the interconnected reality. Agriculture is often presented in segments – animal feed systems, crop production, and nutrition security functioning as separate entities in public discourse. This obscures the crucial interconnectedness of food systems, and hinders the development of holistic solutions and collaborative innovation across sectors.

Moreover, this fragmented narrative influences advocacy, which bleeds into policymaking. Decision-makers approach agriculture, nutrition, and environmental issues in silos rather than as deeply intertwined components of a food system, leading to uncoordinated policies that may work at cross-purposes or fail to leverage potential synergies.

How can communication catalyse a transformation?

Transforming Africa's food systems demands both technological investment in agritech and a parallel revolution: empowering youth as storytellers. Young farmers leverage smartphones and tech-driven startups are changing the sector, yet these stories often go untold.

Despite young journalists dominating media houses, enthusiasm for reporting on Africa's agricultural transformation is lacking. Here are six ways in which communication can revolutionise the narrative and ultimately transform Africa's food systems. 

1. Redefine the storyteller: The youth need to take the reins of storytelling, reclaim the image of African agriculture and showcase it for what it is: dynamic, innovative, and crucial to the continent's future. It’s time to get more young filmmakers to document the success of agritech startups, young journalists investigating the links between nutrition and local crops, and young social media influencers turning sustainable farming practices into trending topics – these are the voices we need to amplify.

2. Challenge outdated perceptions about Africa’s food systems: We need young voices to challenge outdated perceptions. Social media campaigns that celebrate successful young agri-entrepreneurs, documentaries that spotlight tech-driven farming, and podcasts that share the voices of the next generation of food producers can start to shift the public image. These narratives inspire other young people, attracting them to the sector and fostering a sense of pride in African agriculture. Highlight success and innovation not just crisis and failures.

3. Youth as custodians of indigenous agricultural practices: Youth-led communication can unlock Africa's rich heritage of indigenous agricultural practices, local food systems, and traditional knowledge. Young communicators can document best practices, translate insights, and use engaging visuals to preserve this knowledge. This can make this wealth of information accessible to farmers across the continent and beyond.

4. Filtering out misinformation and disinformation: In a world saturated with information (sometimes misinformation and disinformation), African youth are needed as trusted guides. Distinguishing accurate food production information from myths and harmful trends is increasingly crucial for both farmers and consumers. Young communicators with scientific insights and a grasp of the realities on the ground can play a pivotal role.

5. Comprehensive and contextualised reporting: To reflect the diversity of African food systems, reporting must move beyond sensationalism to offer in-depth analysis. This contextualizes challenges, spotlights local solutions, and celebrates cultural richness. Youth-led communication can intentionally connect food system elements – like livestock and nutrition, urban agriculture and waste, or tradition and climate resilience – and foster a holistic understanding, innovative solutions, and impactful policy.

6. Amplifying youth voices: Africa's agricultural future depends on empowering youth as storytellers, advocates, and knowledge brokers. They must drive the conversation, translating research into compelling narratives and personalising the impact of policy decisions. Their advocacy is crucial for shaping policies that invest in youth-led agribusiness, climate-smart practices, and equitable access to resources. We can ignite action by amplifying youth voices, and drive transformative change in African food systems.

In my opinion, empowering Africa's youth as communicators is a strategic investment, crucial for food security, economic development, and realising Africa's potential as an agricultural leader. Let's support and fund youth-led media initiatives, provide mentorship in storytelling, and amplify their voices.

- The author is a consultant in strategic communication for development and assistant professor of Health communication at USIU-Africa