Building capacity to help Africa trade better

With Africa facing alarming rise in youth unemployment amid major food challenges, new report finds each offers a solution to the other


With Africa facing alarming rise in youth unemployment amid major food challenges, new report finds each offers a solution to the other

With Africa facing alarming rise in youth unemployment amid major food challenges, new report finds each offers a solution to the other
Photo credit: AGRF

Analysis turns tables on “ticking time bomb” narrative to reveal world’s largest youth population is as important to African agriculture as seeds and soil

A hard hitting report released on 30 September 2015 warns Africa will neither solve its chronic food shortages nor its urgent employment challenges without an immediate, aggressive effort to address the series of problems holding back Africa’s under-25 population from joining the agriculture sector. The report finds that a lack of land, credit, quality farm inputs, machinery and other impediments are preventing agriculture from providing jobs on and off the farm for a youth population that accounts for about 65 percent of the African population and 19 percent of the global youth population.

The 2015 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR), Youth in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, was developed by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and launched at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which is taking place this week in Lusaka, Zambia.

The AGRA-led study is the most comprehensive report to date on the topic and finds a direct connection between two of Africa’s most pressing problems:

  1. the low crop yields and poorly developed agriculture businesses that have caused food production to fall behind population growth; and

  2. the dim employment prospects for a growing population of under-25-year-olds that by mid-century will exceed the entire population of the United States.

“A continent with such vast holdings of arable land and a large and increasingly educated young workforce should be the envy of world,” said Dr. Agnes Kalibata, president of AGRA and formerly Rwanda’s minister of agriculture and animal resources. “Instead, most Africans – including, ironically, millions of our farmers – are relying on imports to feed their families. And our growing population of young people, who should be a treasured resource for economic growth, are often labeled a ‘ticking time bomb’ for fear their lack of job prospects will generate instability.”

Trillion Dollar Potential

But Kalibata said there are numerous examples in this year’s AASR that illustrate the potential for a far more promising scenario emerging on a continent where, thanks in part to a hard-earned reduction in childhood mortality, there are now 226 million people between 15- and 24-years-old and by mid-century, there could be twice that many. Meanwhile, the World Bank sees rising incomes in Africa’s rapidly expanding urban centers, generating a consumer food market that by 2030 will be worth US$1 trillion. And many experts believe those demands could be met by farms and related agriculture business located in African rural communities that are the only rural regions in the world where the youth population is rising – and will continue to do so for decades.

The AASR concludes that “with an abundant supply of youthful labor and an increasing demand for food and farm products, African countries should be able to provide the skills and knowledge” young Africans need to realize the many business opportunities in growing, processing and selling the food African consumers demand. But as it stands, much of that opportunity is currently benefiting producers outside of Africa. Africans spend more than $60 billion on food imports each year. And on the retail side, European and US food retail giants like Royal Ahold and Walmart are moving into Africa, with their high standards for the quantity and quality of the food products they carry.

A Familiar Set of Problems that Weigh Heaviest on Young People

The report warns that Africa’s agriculture sector, which employs about 65 percent of the African workforce, faces multiple challenges that could thwart efforts to capitalize on African consumers’ growing demand for food:

  • The absence of a properly defined land rights tenure system;

  • A lack of capital and limited access to finance and credit;

  • Inadequate supply of improved farming inputs, such as high-yielding crop varieties developed for local conditions and affordable fertilizers;

  • The limited availability of new and innovative technologies, such as machinery that is appropriate for the needs of African farmers and local agriculture businesses;

  • Untapped entrepreneurship skills; and

  • Limited public and private sector investment in infrastructure essential to agriculture, such as transportation.

The AASR finds all of these problems, while familiar to many, weigh more heavily on young people. Therefore, overcoming them will require additional, targeted interventions focused on making agriculture a viable employment option for Africa’s youth.

But at the same time, the report finds that if African countries cannot convince youth to embrace agriculture and infuse it with their “energy, creativity, and entrepreneurial” spirit, food production is likely to falter and the sector overall will not realize its potential to become an engine of economic growth for all Africans.

“Involving the youth is both an immediate and long-term priority if the agricultural sector is to play its role in reducing poverty and ending hunger in Africa,” said Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, chief executive officer and head of mission for the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN). “Our youth is our most valuable currency and human capital and if we do not create platforms, policies and institutions that attract and retain them in agriculture, we are creating a tomorrow that is unpredictable and challenging for the continent.”

Fighting for a Generation that Views Agriculture as “Drudgery”

The AASR analysis reveals that today, agriculture can be a hard sell for young Africans, particularly educated Africans. It points to recent research that finds that in many African countries, the more education young people receive, the less likely they are to pursue a career in agriculture. In Ethiopia, for example, only nine percent of youth say they are planning to work in agriculture. (Nigeria was an outlier, with the majority of youth taking a favorable view of agriculture, which could be evidence that aggressive efforts in Nigeria to make agriculture more attractive as a business are paying off.)

“Our analysis revealed that many young Africans seem to view farming and other food production work as drudgery,” said Dr. David Sarfo Ameyaw, the managing editor of the report and AGRA’s head of strategy, monitoring, and evaluation. “They appear deeply skeptical that there are career opportunities anywhere in the agriculture sector.”

Yet the report also unearths recommendations and promising efforts underway across Africa that address some of the biggest challenges facing youth:

  • The continent holds 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, yet much of it is not accessible. There is a need for policies that can grant young people access to Africa’s significant tracts of land suitable for farming.

    • A program in Egypt is giving young graduates from agriculture programs priority access to land that has been reclaimed from desert areas, along with access to credit and technical assistance.

    • In West Africa, an initiative is bringing farmers and landowners together to form joint ventures to produce cocoa and divide revenue from the sales.

  • Governments, development organizations and NGOs must pursue novel approaches for funding young Africans with promising agriculture business plans, like crowdsourcing, challenge funds and public-private partnerships. The report finds solutions could involve new forms of credit and financing now emerging:

    • Safaricom’s “M-Shwari” service, a new banking platform that enables customers to save, earn interest and access small amounts of credit instantly via their mobile phones.

    • Several countries have established special funds to provide subsidized loans and financial assistance to youth-run enterprises. They include the Botswana Youth Fund, the Kenya Youth Enterprise Development Fund, the Namibia Youth Credit Scheme, the Umsobumvu Youth Fund in South Africa (now the National Youth Development Authority), and the Youth Venture Capital Fund in Uganda.

  • Africa’s youth need better education and training options if they are going to meet the demand for more modern approaches to farming and food production:

    • Ndola Youth Resource Centre (NYRC), an NGO in Zambia, provides training focused on farming techniques, value-added processes, business skills and bookkeeping.

    • The STRYDE project that has had considerable success training young people in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to start or expand agribusinesses.

“The reality is that the potential and opportunities for youth are enormous. Agriculture can provide a reliable and lucrative source of income – from producing and selling seeds and other farm supplies, to cultivating crops themselves, to providing storage, marketing and processing services or getting involved in local, regional and international food markets,” said Dr. Sarfo. 

An agricultural renaissance can be achieved on this continent and Africa’s youth are essential to bringing it about – transforming agriculture into a prosperous, income-generating and job-creating sector that will improve the livelihoods of millions of people on the continent.”

The report also sees more youth gravitating toward agriculture as the array of advanced information technology services targeting Africa’s agriculture sector make it more appealing to and more efficient for a generation keenly aware of how IT is transforming other commercial sectors. These platforms include the M-Pesa mobile payment system and the new mFarms agriculture information hub recently rolled out in Ghana – and now expanding in other countries – that connects farmers with suppliers and buyers via the Internet and mobile phone.

AGRA’s Kalibata said that ultimately, regardless of the interventions involved, the end goal is to develop opportunities in agriculture that offer young people a clear path to profitability.

“If young people see agriculture as a stagnating enterprise with no future, then no program, no matter how innovative, is likely to convince them to take a chance on farming,” she said. “But if they see their peers earning a good income from agriculture, that’s really all you need to attract their interest. We need to move forward with the policies and programs laid out in this report that can make agriculture a real business for all Africans and farmers, but particularly the youth.”


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