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Agriculture: A Possible Solution to Youth Unemployment?

As we inch towards the upcoming Day of the African Child in June, I could not help but inch back to the popular version of the Agenda 2063: The Africa We want. Ambitious in its aspirations yet it as the potential to resonate with many and paging through the document I was inspired- it paints a picture of the Africa that we can potentially live in, an Africa that is prosperous and based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

Agenda 2063 sketches an enduring Pan African vision of, “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.” The sixth aspiration specifically speaks of an Africa, whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are said to have the highest proportion of young people. In 2015, 226 million youth aged 15-24 lived in Africa, accounting for 19 percent of the global youth population. By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42 percent. Running these statistics parallel to African agriculture, the 2015 Status of African Agriculture Report, whose theme was centred around young people, indicates that while there has been unprecedented economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2013, with average GDP growth of 4-6% percent and about one-quarter of states growing at a clip of 7% or better, this growth has not been pro-poor and has taken place in the commodities, services and manufacturing sectors. Growth has occurred in sectors that generate less employment for the continent’s youth. There are definitely opportunities in other sectors such as agriculture- which has the potential to absorb unemployed youth across the continent.

According to the World Farmers Organisation 80% of the world's agricultural production is said to come from small farmers, mostly rural women. Improving and enhancing this type of production carried out by women could be extended to young people and help to address many of Africa’s economic woes. Agriculture is however perceived as a poverty trap by many young people who would prefer white-collar jobs or attracted to urban areas. Though there are young people involved in the agricultural sphere and who must take this agenda forward! Being in the agricultural field myself, I have identified several gaps along the agricultural value chain which is desperately in need of young creative blood to be innovative and help create end-products which are fit for the worlds markets. An agricultural value chain is usually defined as the full range of activities which are required to bring a product or service from conception, through the intermediary phases of production, delivery to final consumers, and final disposal after use. For example, young people could fit into various activities on the cocoa value chain linked to either producing the cocoa, processing it into many different forms such as chocolate, cocoa drinks and distributing it. There is an imminent need for agricultural finance products for smallholder farmers, aggregators who can bulk farmer produce to sale to companies and processors who can transform mere cassava into various by products such as starch. Instead many of these tasks are carried out by the Western world leaving African youth unemployed and products too expensive for consumption in the very countries in which they were produced in.

While climate change and rapid urbanisation are factors to consider, coupled with an increased focus on agriculture could certainly lead to addressing some levels of youth unemployment in Africa. Ensuring employment will be a necessary feat to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 2 (Zero Hunger) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic growth), and more importantly the ‘Africa we want’!


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