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Policy-Wise: Banking on Young Blood Will Yield Dividends for Africa's Agrifood Systems

By Layih Butake


If human capital is critical to economic transformation, Africa sits atop an enviable reservoir. With approximately 60 percent of its population younger than 25 years, Africa is the youngest continent. By 2030, the continent's youth are expected to make up 42 percent of the world's young population, with 75 percent under age 35. 

Africa's foremost strategic framework, the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, is predicated on achieving a prosperous continent with inclusive growth and sustainable development. The blueprint zeroes in on key priority areas crucial to sustainable impact, with Aspiration 6 underscoring the need for people-driven interventions relying especially on the potential of youth and women. However, to reap the full benefits of its growing young population, Africa must empower its youth to realize their fullest potential. 

A recent report by the Malabo Montpellier Panel demonstrates opportunities to tackle a dual conundrum – achieve continental ambitions on food systems transformation while solving unemployment in Africa. The report – YOUTH AHEAD: Policy Innovations to Create Opportunities for Young People in Africa's Agrifood Systems finds that Africa's agricultural sector offers opportunities to improve youth employment and livelihoods by designing policies that will enable youth to engage in agrifood systems productively and profitably.

Stimulating Youth Engagement in Agrifood Systems

Over recent decades, there has been increased attention to Africa's agrifood systems, with the continent set to remain the second-fastest-growing economy, according to the African Development Bank. Still, the sector's potential is largely untapped, and more remains to be achieved in mainstreaming youth involvement. Young people often view agriculture as unfashionable, involving outdated, unprofitable, and drudging work. However, agriculture does not need to be blood, sweat, and tears. 

"The youth need good nutrition, education, and jobs now," said Prof. Joachim von Braun, Distinguished Professor, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel. Speaking at the 13th Malabo Montpellier Forum, he added: "They need peace and security, trust, fulfilment of their aspirations, and they want fun. We haven't talked about fun enough."

Attracting young people into the sector will require sensitization on the wide range of decent jobs and livelihoods along the agrifood value chain. For instance, Ghana's Youth in Agriculture Programme, launched through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, was established to address the youth's negative perception of the agriculture sector. The program set out to facilitate food and nutrition security and increase employment, encouraging young people to see farming as a profitable business.

"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," said Dr. Ousmane Badiane, Executive Chairperson at AKADEMIYA2063 and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel. "Our report recommends policies to help create these opportunities, including targeted education, training, enterprise creation and growth support, and technology infrastructure."

Such institutional interventions will be essential to steering Africa's youth toward openings for gainful employment in the sector, from crop breeding and research and development to harvesting, processing, and trade, while simultaneously contributing to achieving continental ambitions on food systems transformation. 

Upskilling for Entrepreneurship and Technological Capacity

For these policies to yield sustainable impact, youth would need to acquire the requisite skills to meaningfully respond to market needs. 

"Africa's youth continue to face unemployment, partly due to the lack of formal education and technical skills. Youth with formal education face underemployment due to the mismatch between their skills and African labor market needs," said H.E. Assia Ben Salah Alaoui, Ambassador at Large to the King of Morocco and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum. "It is therefore critical to equip young people with adequate education and skills to develop innovative agricultural technologies, which are also needed for the sustainable transformation of agrifood systems".

The authors recommend diversifying education and training programs to develop and upgrade skills that facilitate entrepreneurship and employment for young Africans in agriculture and agribusiness. Rethinking education and prioritizing vocational training is a recurring theme among the four systematically selected country case studies – Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Noteworthy are Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), established to innovate for sustainable agricultural transformation while providing training in selected enterprises to enable young people to become successful agricultural entrepreneurs, Zambia's Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) powering nation-wide skills training programs spanning general agriculture, automotive mechanics, computer and ICT studies, and Zimbabwe's Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Policy, adopted to strengthen vocational education and equip youth with the skills needed in the labor market. 

Such policies will allow Africa's youth to expand their skillset to provide competencies at the intersection of agriculture, entrepreneurship, and technology that add value to the sector.

Inclusive Policymaking and Youth Agency

Youth have the right to become the architects of their future. However, the policy environment must be conducive to their self-determination. Giving impetus to youth voice would require including young people in stocktaking and decision-making processes to ensure that policy outcomes are tailored to their unique needs. 

"The outcomes from the Youth Forum and survey reveal that youth from all African regions demand the inclusion of youth representatives in all policy and decision-making platforms," said H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Malabo Montpellier Forum Co-Chair. "This will support their successful employment or agri-preneurship in the sector, contributing to the continent's development goals. The commitments to enhance young people's empowerment in agriculture and food systems need to be coherently brought together so that good intentions translate into tangible outcomes."

Another key recommendation from the Panel calls for dedicated processes to include youth in policy- and decision-making. Governments must be intentional about establishing formalized consultations and platforms to facilitate the curation of young people's opinions on sustainable food system transformation. Such efforts should prioritize mainstreaming youth participation to ensure that they have the agency to shape policy design and programmatic interventions at national, regional, and continental levels.

Dr. Layih Butake is the Director of Communication and Outreach at AKADEMIYA2063.