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Youth employment opportunities in agrifood systems

Opinion: Market Access

Optimising Agrifood Systems: A Recipe for Youth Employment in Africa

Ousmane Badiane Ousmane Badiane

Africa is projected to be home to a quarter of the world’s population by 2050, with the region accommodating the world’s youngest population. This demographic boon comes with its challenges, particularly concerning youth employment.

Every year, approximately 11 million young people join Africa’s labour market, yet only 3.7 million jobs are created, leaving many unemployed and without stable economic growth. This stark reality drives young people towards low-wage jobs in the informal sector or forces them to migrate in search of better lives and opportunities.

It is therefore imperative to optimise and leverage one of Africa’s fastest-growing sectors – agriculture. Agrifood system value chains in Africa are transforming rapidly, offering youth employment and entrepreneurship opportunities ranging from agricultural science and research to farming, harvesting, processing and distribution of agricultural products targeting domestic, regional and international markets.

Recommendations for harnessing youth employment opportunities

Africa’s agricultural sector is now the fastest growing across all continents, powered by a rapidly rising processing sector with combined food and beverage markets forecast to triple in value to US$1 trillion by 2030, according to the World Bank.

To harness these opportunities, bolster job creation, and improve livelihoods for young people, a recent Malabo Montpellier Panel report recommends that African governments and their development partners must be prepared to adopt strategic policy interventions that equip young people with the necessary skills and knowledge required to thrive in the evolving agrifood value chains. 

African governments must invest significantly in training institutions and programs that equip youth with the necessary skills and entrepreneurship capacities. In the same vein as EmpowerBank, a youth-focused bank established by the Zimbabwean government to improve access to skill acquisition and business finance, these programs should encompass upskilling, enterprise-based training, apprenticeships and access to finance and mentorship.

Addressing trade barriers impacting agricultural value chains is also crucial to stimulate a more dynamic and technology-driven agro-processing sector. By reviewing and removing these barriers, African countries can unlock the full potential of their agrifood systems, fostering innovation and competitiveness in global markets.

Removing trade barriers and empowering the youth through skill-acquisition programs only gets the government halfway to optimizing the agricultural sector to create sustainable jobs for the youth, though. For meaningful impact, it is also essential that African governments include youth in policy and decision-making processes to ensure their perspectives are considered in designing strategies for food system transformation. This involvement not only empowers young people but also enables the governments to set priorities that accelerate youth participation in agrifood systems effectively.

Efforts towards environmentally sustainable economic growth must align with youth employment improvement agendas. By integrating green growth initiatives with youth-oriented technology and innovation systems, Africa can create sustainable employment opportunities while safeguarding its natural resources.

Concerted efforts and strategic investments are key

A few African countries are already making great strides in empowering youth in agrifood systems with policy and programmatic interventions. 

This includes Ghana, where an Education Strategic Plan focuses on improving technical and vocational education, and Uganda, where the National Strategy for Youth Employment in Agriculture (NSYEA) was established to attract, support, retain and economically empower youth employed across agrifood value chains. In Zambia, a Skills Development Levy provides financial support and training for youth entrepreneurship in agriculture. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Policy has facilitated the creation of hubs to equip students with specific industrial skills to enable them to operate entrepreneurially with the capacity to incubate any businesses they create. 

Still, more African nations need to adopt strategic policy interventions that align with the current challenges and needs of their growing young population and agrifood systems.

Africa’s youth are integral to the continent’s rapidly transforming agrifood system. By implementing the recommendations outlined by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, African governments can optimize and leverage agrifood systems to reduce unemployment and improve the livelihoods of young people. 

Policy innovations to place the continent’s youth at the centre of its agrifood systems, notably through upskilling and workforce development initiatives will ensure their active participation in driving sustainable economic growth in the agricultural sector. Through concerted efforts and strategic investments, Africa can unlock the vast potential of its youth and realise a prosperous future for generations to come.

Image credit: CIAT Flickr, 2011.

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