“We Need to Produce Five Times More Food in Africa,” IFAD -Sub-Regional Director

The Sub-Regional Director of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) for West and Central Africa has said food production needs to grow by five to meet the growing demand. Mr. Thierry Benoît, who resides in Senegal was speaking recently to Agripreneur TV. In the following interview, the regional representative of IFAD speaks about the vast opportunities in agriculture for the growing youthful population of Africa. “I would like to encourage all young people in Africa and to get involved in agriculture,” said Mr. Benoît. In the following interview, he speaks about the role of his organization in food and nutrition security in Africa among many other wide-ranging issues. Read on.

CORAF : You are the sub-regional director and representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD, a specialized agency of the United Nations system. Can you tell us a little more about your activities?

Thierry Benoît : IFAD is a United Nations agency whose aim to fight rural poverty and has the particularity, in the application of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDOs), of working solely on the agricultural sector in the same way as other development banks such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Therefore, IFAD is both a specialized agency of the United Nations and an international financial institution. Today, IFAD has 177 member countries, and is active in 100 countries through about 250 ongoing projects. These country-level projects, worth between $30 million and $50 million each, target the most vulnerable farmers and support them to: (i) lift themselves out of poverty; (ii) improve their well-being; and (iii) modernize their agriculture so that they can better meet the needs of their families.

CORAF : And what about your intervention in Africa, specifically in Senegal? 

Thierry Benoît : IFAD’s headquarters is located in Rome, where all the United Nations agencies specialized in agriculture are located. Over the past decade, IFAD has begun a decentralization process in Asia, Latin America and Africa. In Africa, three regional offices for West and Central Africa and three others in East and Southern Africa have been established. For West Africa, the regional office based in Dakar is very active in Senegal and Mali and also covers Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.

CORAF : Agricultural entrepreneurship in Africa takes many forms. How would you define it?

Thierry Benoît : Entrepreneurship it’s all about having the company spirit ! It is the will to design a product or service and to be able to develop it yourself from A to Z. Broadly speaking, when you want to produce something, you also have to be able to transform it and know how to sell it.

You can watch the full interview in this video.

CORAF : There are now more than 200 million young people in Africa. What job creation strategies can be developed to enable the continent to exploit the potential of this growing youth?

Thierry Benoît : Governments must really invest in this aspect by proposing clear strategies for youth, by developing courses. Primary, secondary and vocational education enrolment rates need to be improved as part of the development goals adopted by member countries (United Nations) and to strengthen national foothold. If a young person has the basics in the disciplines of mathematics, french, history of his country, and a little bit in management, he has the background to start a company. On the other hand, if he has literacy problems, it is much more complicated from the beginning.

Secondly, vocational training is very important. It is necessary for young people to go to university or college, but to train an entrepreneur in reality it only takes few months of apprenticeship and theoretical training. Through a modern apprenticeship, with a good entrepreneur, in four to six months we can train a very good professional. It is therefore conceivable that if such strategies were implemented for millions of young people, apprenticeship would greatly accelerate the integration of young professionals into the world of work.

For the installation of entrepreneurs themselves, this also requires training support, access to credit, and technical capacity building. It is necessary that young people who are already working in the sector OR who have started their activity be supported as a priority.

CORAF : What are the opportunities available to young people in this sector today?

Thierry Benoît : There are many opportunities for young people and self-entrepreneurship will be the key. IFAD has already worked on these aspects through the “potential of African agriculture”, or the partnership with FNDASP in Senegal, particularly on inter-professional activities. Here, partnership with inter-professional organizations is almost essential, because they have the capacity to bring together all the people who work in the same field.

In the past, the various development institutions focused mainly on agricultural production and small-scale processing. Thanks to the inter-profession and its emergence, we are able to link all the actors from upstream to downstream in the sector and ensure that they can really make a profit. On this point, IFAD has tens of thousands of cases in Senegal, Mali, Cameroon and Madagascar, where such activities have been set up with farmers’ organizations.

CORAF : Recently IFAD launched a totally innovative global competition in the field of dance. He suggests that young people get out there and make a difference. So why use dance to raise awareness of more investment in youth and rural development?

Thierry Benoît : This action is recent and works very well. It is a mix of a subject that interests young people and which is also used to reach the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador system. Here, it is a Rwandan choreographer and artist working in London and New York who supported IFAD to develop this activity. The idea was to encourage young people to do a dance related to agriculture and to post it on social networks. There have been thousands of contributions and the fact that it is related to agriculture has made young people think about the extent to which they are interested in agriculture or not? And how are young urban dwellers linked with the rural world?

CORAF : Dance, afro-beat is something that attracts a lot of young people. Do you think this is a strategy that works?

Thierry Benoît : This strategy effectively awakens dialogue among young people. The objective is to define the paths and orientations they will choose in terms of types of agriculture (traditional, modern, etc.), mechanisation needs, organisation, etc.

For example, if we look at sectors such as mango, cashew nuts or pineapple, production is high, but the organization among the sectors is a problem. This lack of organization results in significant losses for products that could have been processed into juice or concentrate before they rot, or that could have been sold on other markets (regional or export) if local markets are saturated. In both cases, intermediation would make it possible to find appropriate solutions at all levels of the supply chain by proposing different processed products or marketing channels.

CORAF : Speaking of transformation, it requires a lot of resources, including the acquisition of the equipment needed to transform, etc. Is this not an area that could scare young people a little bit for funding reasons?

Thierry Benoît : There are technologies at all levels that can be observed on the different projects. For example, the women’s groups monitored by IFAD, particularly in Kaolack, Diourbel and Kaffrine, have diversified their traditional activities on groundnuts, millet, sesame and maize. IFAD initially supported them to transform their traditional production with small, inexpensive machines. Secondly, once these women have learned how to crush maize, process sesame, and put it in plastic bags, they are supported in the marketing of their products.

At this level, the interprofessional approach makes it possible to move to a higher level. In other words, if you produce 100-500 kilograms, but the customer is looking for 500 or 1000 tonnes, you need traders and other investors to be able to respond to the market.

Finally, there is the investment in “mini-factories” to have more substantial equipment. For this, it is necessary to have access to credit and links are set up between farmers’ groups and investors.

It is also necessary for manufacturers to be supported in developing new contractualization models. For example, depending on its needs and expectations, rather than creating a 3000 hectare plantation, the industrialist will be encouraged to work with 3000 farmers who each have one hectare.

CORAF : Is it a bit like innovation platforms ?

Thierry Benoît :  Absolutely. Innovation platforms where partners can discuss. This concept of contract farming in reality allows industries and small farmers to work together, agreeing on the product, and following a set of specifications they want. Producers and buyers can agree on the desired quality and quantity at the beginning of the campaign. Thus, the market is assured and the farmer is reassured.

The processing part can be carried out in the same way, and subcontracted by another actor in the sector. The contract established guarantees the farmer an adequate payment for his work.

CORAF : Is this what you are doing in rural communities?

Thierry Benoît : Among other things, IFAD is trying to improve this so that there is a good balance in the contract. Contract farming is growing all over Asia, East Africa and West Africa. This seems to be a good solution to make the transition from traditional to modern agriculture.

In this sense, IFAD is developing two very interesting projects; the FIER project in Mali, which for five years has been working with thousands of young people who had already started an activity on their own. The project helps them to identify the bottlenecks and the different levers and needs (training, credit, etc.) to develop their microenterprises.

The “Agri Jeune” project, which will soon be launched in Senegal, has the same objectives by supporting young Agri-preneurs.

The project is part of the “entrepreneurial spirit” and will go beyond the aspects of simple production, which will be all the more attractive for young people. In addition, the Agri Jeune project will also have a whole component on digital tools, so that there are practical communities on social networks and the use of agriculture-specific applications. It would also be necessary to go further so that, in particular, contractualization between producers and market operators would be achieved through digital platforms and digital applications. For example, the project identifies mango production areas, buyers, and processors. The project connects them with the different actors, they receive price proposals, and sign a contract based on a desired quantity and quality.

CORAF : We know that IFAD, as you mentioned at the outset, helps small farmers and their organizations gain better access to market-based technologies. But for young Senegalese people, how can they access your funding in rural areas?

Thierry Benoît : Yes, that’s a good question. It should be noted that young people cannot indeed come to the IFAD regional office to apply for funding; everything goes through projects. The projects are in the form of loans to governments. Thus, the government sets up a programme/project, and this programme/project is implemented on the ground by several partners. These partners may be public services, NGOs, private services, private companies, or farmers’ organizations. This is how IFAD reaches beneficiaries and partners.

In terms of the people affected, we can mention in particular the PADAER project, based in Tambacounda, which reached nearly 300,000 beneficiaries. The PAFA-E project, based in Kaolack and covering Louga, Diourbel and Kaffrine, reached about 200,000 beneficiaries. In view of the size of the projects, agreements are signed with the partners so that they can operate directly at the village level. Young people can therefore introduce themselves to these implementing partners.

CORAF : Finally, do you have a message for African youth?

Thierry Benoît : I would really like to encourage all young people in Africa and also in West Africa to get involved in agriculture. Many people thought that agriculture was something outdated. However, in reality, it is the first wealth of these countries because with the increase in population, we will need to produce five times more food in Africa, which will also require a lot of energy. We are therefore confident that a young person who wishes to set up as a farmer will have a promising future in a very promising sector.

I therefore encourage young people to engage in an agricultural activity which, with the modern tools we have mentioned above such as credit, digital, modernised irrigation, transformation, etc., will be much more profitable than in the past.

In this sense, I also invite young people to reconsider their activity in rural areas. Nowadays, one can live in the village in the same way as others live in the city, with means of transport, electricity, internet, television, and all modern services.