The future of work in African agriculture: Trends and drivers of change

News

The future of work in African agriculture: Trends and drivers of change

The future of work in African agriculture: Trends and drivers of change
Photo credit: MFarms

This ILO report synthesises available evidence regarding how salient demographic and economic trends in sub-Saharan Africa are influencing the future of work in agriculture. It also identifies some of the major policy challenges that African governments are facing, which may influence future work in agriculture.

Specifically, the report seeks to: i) document major social, economic, demographic and environmental changes in Africa’s economic landscape and examine their potential effects on agricultural growth and the livelihoods of agricultural workers; ii) consider the relevance and feasibility of smallholder-led agricultural development in Africa in light of emerging changes in the economic landscape; iii) examine the evolving role of agriculture in Africa’s on-going economic transformation; and iv) discuss key entry points for policy and investments towards inclusive, competitive and productive agriculture that will improve livelihoods for agricultural workers.


Executive summary: Extract

There is an important balance to be struck while transforming agriculture in the region. In the long term, a successful economic transformation in Africa is likely to shift low-productivity workers progressively out of agriculture and into higher-productivity jobs in the non-farm sector, as has been the case in most other regions of the world. Inclusive agricultural growth will support a stable and effective economic transition. Since a large proportion of the workforce in most African countries remain engaged in agriculture, agricultural development strategies that enable millions of smallholder households to participate in and benefit from these strategies will result in stronger multiplier and growth linkage effects that will expand job opportunities in the rest of the economy.

The challenge, however, will be how to generate the broader economic growth processes and expenditures in local rural economies that expand off-farm work opportunities. It is not just the rate at which agricultural productivity grows but also how inclusive it is that will influence the strength of growth multipliers in the non-farm economy, the rate at which work opportunities in the non-farm economy are created, and the returns to labour from those opportunities. Agricultural productivity growth is therefore crucial not only to improve the livelihoods of people who remain fully or partially engaged in agriculture but also to expand the pace of employment and income growth in the off-farm segments of the economy, including at various other stages in agri-food systems, and promote economic transformation.

The future of work in Africa will hinge on the enabling environment created and the quality of public spending by African governments and their development partners in the agricultural sector. African governments currently spend on average around six times more on agriculture and related rural development than all of their international development partners combined. Their role is therefore decisive. Evidence points to four strategic priority areas.

First, governments must implement inclusive smallholder development policies that increase the incomes of millions of rural people engaged in agriculture and thereby generate the multiplier effects that expand employment opportunities in the rest of the economy. Government actions that have the most significant impacts on agricultural productivity growth and poverty reduction are: agricultural research and development; physical infrastructure (rural electrification, road, rail and port infrastructure); policies that reduce the costs of private sector investment and promote competition, and agricultural service delivery and extension systems that facilitate farmers’ access to productivity-enhancing technologies.

Second, in coming years, innovative forms of public investment will be necessary to promote resilient and sustainable growth in agricultural productivity in the face of climate change. Integrating community resilience and climate-smart agriculture into broader employment strategies would afford opportunities for African governments to achieve sustainable agricultural intensification and employment objectives.

Third, owing to continued population growth, increasing demand for land, and rising land prices, median farm sizes are declining and driving many households to seek work outside their own farms, as agricultural wage workers and in non-agricultural informal businesses. This is especially true for young people between the ages of 15 and 34 years, who account for almost 60 per cent of the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa. In the context of increasing land subdivision, fragmentation, and concentration, programmes to promote access to land for young people will become ever more important.

Governments could promote long-term employment and livelihood objectives by mobilizing more resources for education and skills development in agriculture and related agri-food systems. Contrary to popular perceptions, the average age of people engaged in farming is not rising, and more than 30 per cent of the agricultural work force is under 35 years of age. Successful agricultural production is increasingly knowledge-intensive. Well-functioning agricultural training colleges can enhance workers’ productivity and enable young “agripreneurs” to take advantage of emerging opportunities and promote inclusive forms of agricultural productivity growth.

Download the full Research Department Working Paper on the ILO website.


Thomas S. Jayne is University Foundation Professor at Michigan State University. Felix Kwame Yeboah is an Assistant Professor of International Development at Michigan State University. Carla Henry is a Senior Specialist in the ILO Research Department.

© International Labour Organisation, 2018.