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Unleashing the great potential of Africa’s youth to achieve sustainable development

Unleashing the great potential of Africa’s youth to achieve sustainable development
Photo credit: MFarms

21 Aug 2018

FAO Director-General stresses the need to create more jobs for youth and build capacity in rural areas to use digital technologies

Africa’s young people are key to achieving the continent’s sustainable development, but realizing this great potential requires creating more jobs for them, including in the increasingly digitalized agriculture sectors, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, said on Monday.

“We need to take action to make agriculture more attractive to young people. They must perceive agriculture as a remunerative and profitable sector and the dissemination of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural areas play an important role in this regard,” Graziano da Silva said.

His remarks came at the opening of the international conference, Youth Employment in Agriculture as a Solid Solution to ending Hunger and Poverty in Africa, in Kigali. The two-day event, which is co-organized by the Government of Rwanda, the African Union and FAO, has a special focus on youth employment, ICTs and entrepreneurship.

Other keynote speakers included Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Geraldine Mukeshimana, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s Director-General, Li Yong.

As Africa’s population grows, so will the demand for food

Graziano da Silva noted that food demand in Africa is projected to grow by more than 50 percent in the coming years due to continued population growth, rapid urbanization, and dietary changes as household incomes rise. The World Bank expects African agribusinesses to create a market worth $1 trillion by 2030.

The agricultural sectors have thus “an invaluable and untapped potential to address the youth unemployment challenge, but it is well-known that young people seeking to gain a decent livelihood from agriculture face numerous constraints,” Graziano da Silva said.

He noted how young people are usually employed on a casual or seasonal basis, with limited access to relevant education and technical training; limited access to finance, information and markets; and low involvement in decision-making processes.

“These constraints become a bottleneck that also impede young people to start an agricultural business of their own. As a result, young rural people are migrating,” he said.

Preparing young people to enter the job market

“In the coming years, more and more of the agricultural activities and employment will require digital skills,” he said. Cooperatives or other forms of association represent “the best way to provide family farmers and young professionals with technical assistance, capacity building, and access to modern technologies”.

The FAO Director-General also said that there is a need to “think beyond farm jobs,” and to explore employment opportunities across the agri-food chain. The increasing demand for high-value products in urban areas also offer multiple employment opportunities in processing, distribution, marketing and retailing of food products.

Achieving this requires “a new kind of rural transformation,” which is means equipping rural areas with basic services such as education, health, electricity, internet access and so on. “These services are themselves another important source for employment, especially for women and young people,” Graziano da Silva said.

FAO’s role

The Director-General told conference participants that FAO will continue to strengthen its activities to support countries in realizing the potential of agriculture and food systems to create more job opportunities for youth.

In particular, the FAO can help countries to develop and implement legal and regulatory frameworks and services for youth’s inclusion as well as trainings to young people in financial literacy, business development and management, as well as in innovative digital finance solutions.


Concept note

Over sixty percent of Africa’s estimated 1.2 billion people are under the age of 25; yet with little job creation currently in the rural areas where the majority of the population resides, there is a growing uncertainty over the continent’s preparedness to tap this resource. Tens of millions of jobs will have to be created each year in rural areas for Africa to harness the dividends of this youthful population.

In the African context, the key to shared prosperity and poverty eradication is to be found through creation and expansion of decent jobs in rural and urban areas. Studies have shown that agricultural growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has a more positive impact on reducing poverty compared to growth in other sectors, implying that tapping into the reservoir of employment opportunities in agriculture is indispensable for poverty reduction. Despite the potential of agriculture to create employment, the growing youth population in Africa is turning away from agriculture and rural areas due to, among others, the drudgery and poor remuneration associated with low-productivity agriculture.

Furthermore, despite their significant contribution to the agricultural sector, young women in rural areas typically find themselves in disadvantaged positions compared with their male counterparts. They bear the burden of unpaid and household work and have unequal access to education and training and productive resources such as land, finance and technology.

Obviously, sustainable solutions for decent youth employment in agriculture in Africa must address the intertwined issues of minimizing drudgery while maximizing returns to effort, which could be achieved through harnessing opportunities in agribusiness entrepreneurships, and innovations to enhance productivity and competitiveness. According to estimates by the World Bank, the agribusiness and logistics sector in Africa are set to mobilize about a trillion dollar business by 2030. These are also playing key roles in agricultural transformation through agricultural value-chain development. It is crucial that the youth, and particularly young women, be empowered to take active part and benefit from such big and growing business opportunities.

Continental Frameworks exist that made commitments to creating enabling conditions for the transformation of the agricultural sector and for empowering the youth to actively participate and benefit from emerging opportunities. The Malabo Declaration, adopted by African Heads of State and Government in June 2014, on “Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods“ seeks to pursue an inclusive agricultural growth and transformation process; and to this end commits to create job opportunities for the youth in agricultural value chains, and to support and facilitate preferential entry and participation for the youth in gainful and attractive agri-business opportunities. It reaffirms the political leadership resolve towards ensuring, through deliberate and targeted public support, that all segments of the population, particularly women and the youth, must participate and directly benefit from the growth and transformation opportunities to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Considering agriculture as an essential driver of economic development and an area of great opportunities for young people in Africa, harnessing opportunities in agribusiness entrepreneurship and innovations, including in ICT innovations, along the value chains, contributes to improving the sector’s image, increases productivity and returns to investment and provides new employment opportunities, hence attracting more young people. Access to cheaper and more reliable ICT devices, particularly mobile phones, and increased connectivity in Africa is already an opportunity for adoption. It remains an open and clear avenue to support networking among youth, thus reducing their physical isolation in remote rural areas and facilitating access to information, employment and agribusiness services.