Africa’s agrifood sector holds untapped potential to deliver jobs and livelihoods for the continent’s rapidly growing youth population, new report

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Africa’s agrifood sector holds significant untapped potential to deliver jobs and livelihoods for the continent’s rapidly growing youth population, according to a new report.

The latest publication from the Malabo Montpellier Panel highlighted how 11 million young people join the African labor market each year, yet only 3.7 million jobs are being created. At the same time, the African agricultural economy 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 report, with the right innovative policies, African governments can stimulate new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people along agribusiness value chains, while equipping and incentivizing youths to join the sector, the authors found.

“YOUTH AHEAD: Policy Innovations to Create Opportunities for Young People in Africa’s Agrifood Systems” argues that agrifood systems provide an important channel for solving the unemployment and underemployment challenges facing African youth and strengthening them will reduce poverty and bolster food security on the continent.

“Africa’s agrifood sector offers extraordinary potential for attractive, profitable, and sustainable jobs for our rising youth population, that will in turn help address the continent’s food security challenges,” said Dr. Ousmane Badiane, Executive Chairperson, AKADEMIYA2063, and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

“Innovative strategies to attract and support Africa’s youth to succeed with the right skills, technology, and policy environment would boost the pace of employment creation to meet the growing labor demands in the decades ahead. Our report recommends policies to help create these opportunities, including targeted education, training, enterprise creation and growth support, and technology infrastructure.”

Launched at the 13th Malabo Montpellier Forum in Kampala, Uganda, the report reviews four systematically selected African countries – Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – as case studies of how innovative policies and institutional reforms can shift the needle on youth empowerment in food systems.

This report provides examples of successful and emerging interventions being implemented across the continent to empower youth and facilitate a thriving environment for their leadership and engagement in sustainable food systems transformation.

It identifies opportunities to unlock decent jobs and livelihoods along the agri-food value chain, from crop breeding and research and development to harvesting, processing, and trade. The authors make a critical recommendation for African governments to diversify education and training programs to develop and upgrade skills that facilitate entrepreneurship and employment for young Africans in agriculture and agribusiness.

In Ghana, initiatives such as the Youth Employment Agency Bill and the National Youth Policy were cited as examples of efforts to upskill and support youth to enter the agri-food sector. As part of its plan to industrialize agriculture, increase food security and employment opportunities, and lower poverty rates, the country launched the Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP), which deployed youth-focused initiatives to change the negative perception of farmers as uneducated, unskilled laborers with low economic returns.

The authors found that youth-focused institutions and programs in Uganda, such as the Presidential Zonal Industrial Hubs, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute Innovation Centre, and the Youth Livelihood Programme are providing young people with marketable skills in agri-food processing and product development, ICT, agricultural mechanization, and entrepreneurship. To further support digital transformation, the government launched the Digital Skills Acceleration Program and the Digital Transformation Program, which aim to increase access and usage of ICT by vulnerable groups, including small-scale farmers.

In Zambia, the government set up the Skills Development Levy to mobilize resources that can be invested in youth empowerment, notably in strengthening the infrastructure of technical and vocational training institutions. Through the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA), the TEVET bursary enables vulnerable youth to benefit from skills training, including courses in general agriculture, food and beverage production, automotive mechanics engineering, electrical engineering, and computer studies.

The report also looks at policy interventions in Zimbabwe, highlighting the innovation hubs in higher education institutions that provide technical and research-based solutions for skills enhancement in the country’s labor force. Introduced under the framework of the country’s Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Policy, these hubs equip students with specific industrial skills to enable them to operate entrepreneurially with the capacity to incubate any businesses they create. Beneficiary sectors include agriculture, energy, and mining.

“Attracting youth to the agrifood sector and enabling them to play an active role in shaping African food systems must go hand-in-hand with leveraging the potential of new technologies for the industry,” said Eng. Dr. Dorothy Okello, Dean, School of Engineering, Makerere University, and Malabo Montpellier Panel Member.

“Harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of Africa’s youth alongside developments such as AI and emerging technologies while investing in transferable skills training in areas such as computer programming and embedded systems, data science, and business studies, will maximize the potential of young people to advance Africa’s agrifood and economic transformation.”

Other recommendations to support African governments in empowering youth in agrifood systems include addressing trade barriers and investing in technology infrastructure for jobs, involving youth in policy formulation and decision-making, and addressing green growth and employment agendas with youth as investors.

“The active involvement of young people in Africa’s agrifood systems is essential for the continent’s economic development and peace,” said Prof. Joachim von Braun, Distinguished Professor, Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

“Reaping the full benefits of the enterprising spirit of Africa’s youth will require access to finance, skills and land, and respect for youth voice in political decision-making processes”.