Syndicate content

There’s More to Agriculture than Handhoes: Rising Opportunities for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship in African Agrifood Systems

Julie Howard's picture

This blog summarizes the findings of the Agrifood Youth Employment and Engagement Study (AgYees). The authors, all at Michigan State University, are Andrea Allen, Julie Howard (corresponding author), M. Kondo, Amy Jamison, Thomas Jayne, J. Snyder, David Tschirley, and F. Kwame Yeboah.

Africa’s share of the global population is projected to rise dramatically from 12% in 2015 to 23% by 2050. This huge demographic trend will certainly amplify Africa’s political and economic impact on the rest of the world, and this impact will largely be determined by young Africans between 15-35 years who constitute about 55% of the labor force. At the same time, Africa faces a big employment challenge, about 11 million young Africans are expected to enter into the labor force each year until 2035. Yet formal job creation in Africa’s growing economies has not kept pace -- more than half of Africa’s un- and underemployed are youth. Research by Michigan State University in collaboration with The MasterCard Foundation, the Agrifood Youth Employment and Engagement Study (AgYees) examines the potential for African agrifood systems to provide employment opportunities for Africa’s youth, focusing on Tanzania, Rwanda and Nigeria.

The study found that, throughout the next decade, expanding investments in Sub-Saharan Africa’s agrifood system will be critical to generate greater numbers of higher paying jobs —both on and off the farm — that can reduce poverty among the large rural youth population and accelerate economic transformation.
As incomes rise, Africans — rural and urban, rich and poor — are consuming higher quantities of fruits, vegetables, livestock products and processed goods. These changes in consumption will expand employment opportunities in improved seed, fertilizer and machinery service provision, as well as in post-harvest handling, marketing and food manufacturing.

At the same time that farming’s share in overall employment is falling, off-farm employment opportunities related to food and fiber are growing rapidly, and are increasing their share in overall employment. Key among these are food away from home, whose demand is growing more rapidly than any other category of food; food processing, with rapid growth especially in the demand for more highly processed foods; and marketing and transport. Women are especially represented in food away from home and in some types of food processing.

Yet the actual number of people employed in farming continues to rise even as its share falls. When combined with the fact that so many people currently work in farming, we find that farming remains extremely important for livelihoods and economic growth. Farming is still the largest single employer in many countries, accounting for about half of all "full-time equivalent" employment – a measure of the amount of time put into different types of work. Perhaps most importantly, farming is found to be critical to determining the rate of off-farm job growth. Cross-country empirical evidence shows that African countries experiencing the most rapid rates of agricultural productivity growth over the past 15 years have also enjoyed the greatest rates of non-farm labor productivity growth and the most rapid exit of the work force out of farming. This evidence is particularly striking for Rwanda where strong on-farm agricultural productivity growth has contributed to dramatic poverty reduction and generated multiplier effects that are expanding economic opportunities in the broader economy.

To take advantage of these opportunities, major efforts are needed to provide young Africans with up-to-date practical skills and access to land, equipment and finance that will allow them to transition from subsistence agriculture into higher-paying economic opportunities on- and off the farm.

Turning around youth preconceptions about agrifood opportunities, integrating advanced technologies and greatly expanding private sector involvement will be critical to attract youth to the agrifood system and ensure their success. Other key recommendations include:

  • Develop youth employment programming that focuses on the prepared food, food manufacturing, dairy, poultry, fish and horticulture sectors, which are expected to generate high quality jobs for youth and women;
  • Expand private sector engagement in youth agricultural training programs in order to increase internship, apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities for young people;
  • Increase investments in research to develop "youth centered" agricultural productivity strategies to create new opportunities for youth in farming and generate the multiplier effects that expand employment in the broader off-farm sector;
  • More broadly, develop strategies that address key policy constraints affecting youth employment and enterprise development in the agrifood system, including access to land and finance, and regulations affecting small and medium enterprise development.
Photo Credit: Michigan State University

Follow PublicSphereWB on Twitter!

Add new comment