More than half of the world’s suitable arable land and underutilized water resources are in Africa according to statistics unveiled by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Ethiopia this week.

“Africa is home to abundant natural resources accounting for at least 30% of the world’s natural resource wealth. Currently 12% of oil reserves in the world, 40% of global gold reserves and 60% of uncultivated lands are in Africa.” Abdallah Hamdok, who is UNECA’s deputy executive secretary says. “The continent has 70% of coltan deposits, from which electronic microchips are made. If these resources are put to good use they can secure livelihoods, reduce land related conflicts and transform lives.”

Hamdok said this when addressing a ministerial dialogue in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa during the Conference on Land Policy in Africa organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Speaking in the same land forum Edson Mpyisi an economist with the AfDB said that agriculture and agribusiness are projected to become US$ 1 trillion industry in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

The land conference brings together more than 300 delegates drawn from the continent’s grassroots organisations, governments, civil society groups, private sector, academia and the youth for a one week deliberation on land matters. The conference is a major policy dialogue on Africa’s teething land issues and is running under the theme ‘achieving socio-economic transformation through inclusive and equitable access to land by the youth”. According to Joan Kagwanja the director of the newly created Africa Land Policy Centre (ACPC) this conference is aimed at stirring a “catalytic effect on land policy development and implementation in Africa by creating space for presentation of research findings on land policy and governance.”

While making his remarks at the conference Mpyisi called on African governments to relook at the continent’s land tenure systems with a view of transforming agriculture from an agri-business prism and create an enabling environment to forster financial access and agripreneurs incubation for Africa’s burgeoning youth population.

“The engagement of young people in the political and cultural arena is crucial.” Mpyisi says. “They should be included in policy dialogue in the course of the elaboration of land policies and legal frameworks.”

In the statistics released by both AfDB and UNECA during the conference it is estimated that Africa has some 420million youth below age 35. According to Mpyisi some 11 million youth enter the job market every year in Africa, but apparently the continent’s job market only absorbs three million jobs, leaving the rest in the unemployment trap.

“The 420 million young people aged between 15-35 years can be gainfully involved in the exploitation of these resources especially through agriculture, manufacturing and industrial sectors. Their creativity and ability to seize opportunities provided by technology can be turned to advantage through rigorous design of income generating programs based on land.” Hamdok, who also doubles as ECA’s chief economist says. “Africa ought to see land as a major resource to enhance food security, peace and security and ensure environmental protection. By developing inclusive land policies, we create an opportunity for investment while simultaneously protecting the interests of the African people.”

According to Mpyisi if the agricultural value chain is enhanced some 15 job groups can be created which can gainfully absorb most of the African youth currently unemployed.