Op-ED : We need to Unlock the Potential of African Youth in Agri-food Sector

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By Jean Jacques Muhinda and Siki Kigongo

At over 450 million, Africans aged between 15-35 represent over a third of the continent’s population. This segment of the population continues to grow rapidly and is expected to reach 850 million by 2050.

While 20 million youth enter the labor market annually, only 3 million jobs are created each year in the formal economy leaving a huge gap in employment. With unemployment rates of 25% in some countries and underemployment rates at 70% in others, the African Union’s development agenda rightly places youth at its core, acknowledging that none of its aspirations can be achieved without their meaningful engagement.

However, the reality on the ground presents formidable challenges. Despite the immense potential, Africa faces a deficit of 17 million jobs for youth entering the workforce, with youth unemployment rates double those of adults. These statistics underscore the urgent need for action, but they also highlight the tremendous opportunities that lies within the agri-food sector.

The Malabo/CAADP Declaration, endorsed by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2014, sets forth youth-specific targets, recognizing the crucial role young people play in transforming Africa’s agricultural landscape. In alignment with this declaration, the AU has developed the African Agribusiness Youth Strategy (AAYS), a continental framework aimed at unlocking the vast untapped agribusiness opportunities for youth across various agricultural value chains.

Jean Jacques Muhinda

The AAYS provides a comprehensive framework for developing context-specific strategies that empower youth in decision-making and value chains. By leveraging their unique perspectives and capacity for innovation, young people can drive transformative change across all segments of the agricultural value chains, from pre-production to consumption.

The implementation of the AAYS requires a cohesive approach from all stakeholders, mainly driven by mandated institutions such as the AU’s Department for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy & Sustainable Environment (AUC-DARBE); the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD); and Regional Economic Communities (RECs). By convening workshops and engaging with organizations such as AGRA and its programs like YEFFA (Youth Employment for the Future of Agriculture) which align with the AAYS, the AU aims to develop a roadmap that aligns regional priorities with the strategy’s objectives. Domestication and harmonization of AAYS into regional and national agricultural strategies and investment plans shall enhance enabling environment for creation of work opportunities for youth.

One of the key challenges in realizing the potential of youth in agri-food sector is changing the perception of farming from a traditional livelihood to a viable and attractive enterprise. This shift requires addressing barriers to youth participation, such as access to finance, land, market opportunities, and skills development. Moreover, it’s essential to recognize the dynamic trends shaping employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, including changes in consumption patterns, the adoption of digital technologies, and the transformation of agri-food systems to incorporate climate-smart practices and sustainable blue growth.

In Uganda for instance, initiatives like 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 augment the support for 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 rural smallholder farmers.

Furthermore, the success of the Youth Employment Agency Bill and the National Youth Policy in Ghana is a further example of efforts to upskill and support youth to enter the agribusiness sector. As part of its plan to industrialize agriculture, increase food security and employment opportunities, and lower poverty rates, the Government of Ghana launched the Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP), which promotes youth-focused initiatives to change the negative perception of farmers as uneducated, unskilled labourers with low economic returns.

In moving forward, it’s crucial to build upon existing structures, institutions, and programs wherever possible, ensuring that efforts are coordinated, and resources maximized. This approach will not only streamline implementation but also foster collaboration and synergy among stakeholders at all levels. By viewing youth not as a liability but as an asset with untapped potential, we can unlock new opportunities for economic growth, social development, and sustainable prosperity across the continent.