Why We Need to Invest in Agricultural Opportunities for African Youth
August 11th, 2019
In terms of age demographics, Africa is among the youngest continents in the world. Currently, 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. By comparison, just 33 percent of people living in the United States and only 26 percent of the European Union’s population is in the same demographic. According to projections, Africa is the only region in which this segment of the population is growing and it is expected to continue that growth trend in the coming decades. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent. Having a large population of young people can serve to stimulate economic development with increased capabilities of human capital, only if there is intentional investment in boosting opportunities. However to date, job growth has not kept pace to maximize the potential of this coming boost in the African labor force. The 2019 UN Sustainable Development Report found that youth are currently 3 times more likely than adults to be unemployed and 20 percent of young people are not in any sort of education, employment or vocational training.
As we think about investing in the needs of the youth population, we must look at where the greatest opportunities for development exist. In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is a primary industry. Smallholder farmers account for 60 percent of the population and between 40-80 percent of food consumed comes from small-scale farms. When you consider that we will need to a 70 percent increase in food production by 2050 to keep up with a growing global population, it is easy to see that investing in new opportunities for youth in rural farming and agribusinesses is critical. Already, food insecurity is rampant, with over 230 million people across the continent not having enough to eat. Without increased investment in developing supply chains, infrastructure, and postharvest technologies for smallholders and food-based enterprises, small-scale farming will not have the resources to sustainably meet the demands of a growing population and youth will be forced to leave their villages to look for work in urban areas to financially support themselves and their families.
We know that when the agricultural sector expands, it has a multiplier effect on the rest of the economy. Countries with strong agricultural outputs see faster reductions in poverty, more available jobs both on and off the farm, and higher productivity in non-farm sectors of the economy. Likewise, investing in health, education and economic opportunities for youth is vital to reduce poverty and hunger, and to stimulate development.
Investing in Improved Tools, Business Training and Skills-Building
Despite smallholder farmers making up a large portion of the population, there has been minimal investment in smallholder farming and agribusiness opportunities, including value addition. Agricultural technology markets have long prioritized large-scale, highly motorized and expensive tools. Small-scale farmers, however, have little money to invest in large machinery that could take multiple seasons to generate a return on investment. This means work continues to be conducted mostly by-hand, with manual tools. Processing crops and producing food is grueling, inefficient and unprofitable. Along with limited job opportunities for youth, these challenges for smallholders make farming unattractive for African youth to invest their time, skills and energy. Yet over the next couple of decades, agricultural development will require the creative and innovative energy that youth can provide to the industry.
At Bountifield, we prioritize ending hunger and poverty by investing in postharvest solutions that support cultivating the business potential of smallholder farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs. This investment includes providing access to more affordable technologies that mechanize labor, making farming and the postharvest process more efficient and less time-consuming. It includes investment in skills-building and training for developing agribusinesses and access to markets that will expand product distribution to a wider audience of consumers. It envisions an industry that embraces the creativity of youth and fosters ideas for innovations resilient to climate change and successful response to the demands of a rapidly growing population. It acknowledges the need to include culturally and vocationally appropriate education and trainings that empower youth with applicable skills for the trade so they smoothly transition into the labor force.
The future of agriculture and the sustainability of smallholder farming will depend on youth engagement and involvement. While much of our work at Bountifield focuses on investing in the entrepreneurial growth of women, we recognize the particular needs of youth will require gender-inclusive investment to create opportunities for both young men and young women in the agricultural sector. Not only for the short-term impact for rural farmers, but also for the long-term impact for youth and the sustainable growth of food production throughout Africa.