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Africa’s youth and abundant arable land are a potential winning combination

A young farmer selecting onion in Lusaka, Zambia. Sub-Saharan Africa should get more young people involved in agriculture. Shutterstock

Sub-Saharan Africa has two abundant resources: its youth and agricultural land. With the youngest population globally and the largest share of the world’s arable land, Africa stands to benefit greatly from getting and keeping the youth involved in agriculture.

Africa’s agricultural sector has the lowest productivity in the world. This contributes to food insecurity and malnutrition on the continent.

It is estimated that ten million African youth enter the labour market annually. There are questions on how to provide stable employment for them. These questions are of the utmost importance.

Young people aged 15 to 24 account for 20% (226 million) of the continent’s population. This age cohort is expected to increase by 42% by 2030 – faster than Latin America’s, Europe’s and Northern America’s.

United Nations (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.

And that is why the future of Africa is in the hands of the youth. They are one of the greatest assets and a force to reckon with for improving the productivity and growth of all sectors of Africa’s economy. They are dynamic, enthusiastic, resourceful, creative, innovative and adventurous. They come from different and highly varied social backgrounds, cultures and traditions. They are very heterogeneous and cannot be ignored if a renaissance of Africa is to be achieved in the 21st century.

The scope to get the youth involved

With proper planning and well-structured social and economic policy formulation and implementation, Africa’s youth can be mobilised to provide goods and services. Unemployed youth tend to turn to violence and crime. Youth idleness can threaten political stability, as the the Arab Spring and the recent popular uprising in Burkina Faso have demonstrated.

Agriculture is one avenue to consider for creating jobs, increasing production and raising productivity. These goals are crucial if the continent is to reduce food insecurity. Further opportunities exist along the value chain, from crop production to the processing of raw agricultural produce into food to the distribution of these to markets.

In addition to generating much-needed income and employment, agricultural growth benefits the poorest people the most.

What’s holding back the youth

Evidence suggests that the youth are leaving agriculture in some African countries. This underscores the need to demonstrate the profitability of agriculture to an increasingly highly educated African youth population.

Africa has good agricultural land, but it’s not attracting the youth into farming. Shutterstock

The 2015 Africa Agriculture Status Report highlights the employment challenges brought about by the growing youth population. The reasons behind the youth unemployment crisis include drudgery embodied by traditional farming, doubts about the economic viability of agriculture, and limited career opportunities in rural areas.

Constraints to youth engaging in agriculture include lack of access to land, credit, training and ICT. Young women are especially affected. With different roles attributed to men and women in society, young women face greater challenges making a living out of agriculture. They have lower access to land, water, credit as well as new technologies and information.

Addressing these constraints is crucial for sustained improvements in agricultural productivity and food security in Africa.

How entrepreneurship can help

Entrepreneurship is proposed as the main avenue for achieving the three most important goals for economic growth in Africa:

  • employment for the youth;

  • food security and sustained; and

  • inclusive economic expansion with the agricultural sector as the major contributor.

This is because it fosters social inclusivity by reducing income inequalities across gender, age, and between rural and urban areas. But the success is conditional on the youth having the right skills and access to improved seeds, fertiliser and machinery. Another key factor is infrastructure as well as a conducive policy environment.

Financial inclusion is a big pillar of youth success in entrepreneurship in agriculture. The report provides several options for improving youth access to finance without requiring fixed collateral. This includes contract farming, leasing, warehouse receipt financing and factoring.

ICT makes agriculture exciting

Information and communication technologies can help reverse the youth’s negative perceptions towards agriculture and increase its attractiveness. These are used for record-keeping (Excel spreadsheets), for providing price information (through SMS) and for creating virtual markets that help link farmers to markets so they can get better prices.

They are also used for developing applications for livestock management and crop production and for promoting agriculture among the youth via social platforms. As one female youth explains:

ICTs make agriculture interesting and easier; they make getting things done more cost-effective and provide access to needed information.

ICT makes a big difference in attracting educated youth into agriculture. Shutterstock

The capacity of countries to develop the youth’s skills in the agricultural sector and the policies being implemented as part of the Malabo Declaration are discussed in the Africa Agriculture Status Report.

Among other goals, the Malabo Declaration aims at reducing poverty among youth and women. Two of the goals clearly target women and youth.

The first goal recommends that countries create job opportunities for at least 30% of the rural youth population in agricultural value chains. The second urges countries to support and facilitate preferential entry and participation for women and youth in gainful and attractive agribusiness opportunities.

The report highlights the limitations of the formal training system in terms of access and quality. It suggests opportunities in terms of informal and non-formal training so as to reach more youth, especially in the rural areas.

The report reviews continental and national policies that guide interventions for the youth involvement in agriculture and other sectors of the economy. Financing and implementing the policies remain the greatest challenges in achieving the policy goals.

The report also highlights institutional mechanisms that support youth participation in policy design. Those include national youth councils, ministries of youth affairs and youth enterprise development funds.

The key message is that youth are the backbone of agricultural transformation in Africa. As such, they need to be trained, supported in accessing factors of production, and provided with a conducive policy environment for them to fully achieve their potential.

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