Green jobs present a sustainable solution to create better prospects for the growing young population of Africa: of the continent's nearly 420 million people aged between 15-35, one-third are unemployed and only one in six is in wage employment. Creating job prospects for rural youth remains a particular challenge, but viable solutions that give young people access to eco-entrepreneurship opportunities already exist, and they are worth scaling up.
During the recent UNCCD COP15 in Côte d’Ivoire, over 60 delegates joined a field trip to an experimental agricultural farm that uses innovative approaches to train its students, local farmers and those who didn’t have access to secondary education but wish to find new opportunities in the agricultural sector.
In the spirit of COP15 theme “Land. Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity,” participants got a chance to witness first-hand the multiple benefits that sustainable land management brings to nature and people.
Cassava, eggplant, banana, cotton and spices are just some of the crops grown in Côte d'Ivoire, which is known as a global agricultural powerhouse. As the world's largest producer of cocoa beans, the country’s agricultural sector accounts for approximately 50% of the national GDP. Agricultural production at this scale puts significant pressure on land resources. In fact, desertification and drought affect 60 per cent of the national territory and as much as 90% in the north of the country, so a shift to sustainable farming alternatives is urgently needed.
Standing among the rain-soaked seedlings planted in neat lines at the experimental ecofarm at the Institut National Polytechnique Félix-Houphouët-Boigny (INP-HB) in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, Siaka Koné, Director of the Ecole Nationale d’Agriculture, explains: “Through our agronomic practices, we do crop rotations and agroforestry. We develop the use of some organic fertilizers and sustainable farming practices. So, there is very little use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”
Improving water use through efficient management and advanced irrigation technologies is key to addressing changing rainfall patterns. One experimental plot is a test site for the drip irrigation technique. A drainage system that stores water from local streams and rainfall to assure all-year irrigation has been installed with the support of the Israeli Agency for International Development Cooperation (Mashev). The use of mixed crops and reduced plant cutting improve soil fertility and allows quick adjustment to the food market's volatile prices and demands. Since the introduction of sustainable land management technologies, crop yields have increased between 1.5 to 2 on average.
Blandine, a student turned eco-entrepreneur, proudly shares her career aspirations: "I have a degree in marketing, but I also had the desire to be an entrepreneur. So I converted to agroecology. I like the programme and to participate knowing that women are given more space now in our country, so why not start a business, it will be a personal challenge to support myself.”
The key role of women as the agents of change for sustainable land management has been an overarching theme at UNCCD COP15, receiving high level of attention during the Gender Caucus and have been reflected in the COP decisions, which called for increased capacity building to help turn commitments on land restoration into actions on the ground.
Capacity building is a crucial element in advancing the knowledge and developing employment opportunities that support sustainable land management. The Institut National Polytechnique has already trained 800 young people to pursue eco-entrepreneurial activities.
UNCCD Land Heroes David Chapoloko, Patricia Kombo, Mulindwa Moses and Ibrahim Musa, who joined this field trip, also reflected positively on technologies used at the experimental farm, such as micro-irrigation. "It brings water directly to the roots of each plant, efficiently and year-round, allowing cassava to start bearing fruit in three months instead of three years if grown conventionally. The plants also give a better yield and continue producing for up to three years." said David Chapoloko.
The Land Heroes are keen to share the new knowledge with the local communities in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia – stay tuned as we continue to showcase their pursuits for the sustainable future on land!