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Reeta Roy Remarks at AGRF 2019 Presidential Summit

Reeta Roy Remarks at Keynote Session on Advancing the Continental Agenda – Partner Commitments

Good afternoon. This century is poised to be the African Century.

Across this great continent significant progress is being made. In governance, in infrastructure, in digital innovation. And very soon, an African free trade area. Africa is home to the world’s youngest population, who will become the world’s workforce. We can feel the optimism of this generation.

But we can also feel the defining question of our time:  How will one hundred million people who are poised to enter the labour force find meaningful work? Their fortunes and Africa’s future are inseparable.

That’s why the Mastercard Foundation has launched Young Africa Works: our strategy to enable 30 million young men and young women to find dignified and fulfilling work.

This strategy was co-created together with young people, entrepreneurs, civil society, educators, and governments. And already, we are implementing Young Africa Works in several countries.

Young Africa Works is about one word: transformation. Transformation of economy, of opportunity, and yes, of agriculture. Because agriculture remains at the heart of Africa’s economic transformation. It will profoundly impact the future of work.

So, we are getting behind entrepreneurs like Purity Kendi and Phenny Omondi, who created Kilimo Jijini in Kenya. They saw a problem with the delivery of fresh produce to urban areas like Kibera. And they became urban farmers.

In five months, they went from dirt and dreams to a thriving business. They’re growing vegetables in tires using hydroponics and they are training other women to become urban farmers. We are so proud that Purity and Phenny are Mastercard Foundation Scholars.

As we’ve heard a moment ago, Africa holds more than half of the world’s unused arable land, and yet, each year the continent imports $35 billion in terms of food. That’s $35 billion in value that could stay at home, that could create and increase food security, that could translate into investments that will create work and wealth for young people.

Emmanuel Ansah-Amprofi saw this opportunity. He was a lawyer in Ghana. And one day he learned that the onions he was buying at a market were imported from Europe, and so he asked, “How can this be, how can we have all this sunshine, good weather, land, and still import onions?” And so he went home and googled “how hard is it to farm?”

Two years later he has a farm and he helped create TroTro Tractor, which is essentially “Uber for tractors.” He uses an ap which enables farmers to use their phones to rent a sharable tractor. Emmanuel’s company is putting people to work. Farmers are reducing their costs and their labour. And consumers are getting fresh produce. That is transformation.

These entrepreneurs saw a problem they wanted to fix. Where others saw a broken system, they saw opportunity for dignified work. And they have made invisible work visible.

Work is all around us — in agriculture, in production, processing, financing, packaging, marketing. Work exists. And increasingly, this work is going digital. That’s why we see these opportunities and we would like to enable young people to see the very same opportunities. We would like to make these opportunities visible to them.

During the last 15 weeks that I’ve spent on the continent, I’ve been blown away by entrepreneurs who are redefining work in agriculture.

I have met so many young people who are so passionate about agriculture. Their vision of farming is one that is more business oriented, technologically enabled, and productive.

So, I think that it’s true. Africa’s greatest natural resource is not what lies in the ground. It’s what’s in the minds and hearts of young people.

This generation of entrepreneurs is ready, not just to heed the call, but to lead the charge. They are changing the narrative of the 21st century African farmer. And we would like to accompany them to enable them to access knowledge, skills, markets, and access finance.

Over the last decade, the Mastercard Foundation has already invested approximately $500 million in agriculture-related programs in Africa.

And under Young Africa Works, I am pleased to announce that we will commit an additional $500 million to the sector, bringing our total to one billion dollars.

Our goal is simple. It is to make the invisible visible. It’s to enable young people to create dignified work where it does not exist today. To empower more Emmanuels, more Puritys, and more Phennys. And so that truly this can be the African Century.

Let’s make it so. Thank you.

The 2019 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) was hosted by the Government of Ghana from September 3rd to 6th in Accra. AGRF brings together government, private sector, non-profit, and other stakeholders to discuss and commit to programs, investments and policy in agriculture.