Closing the gap between the youth and agriculture in Africa

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Thapelo Moleleki | Absa

Agriculture and youth are a compatible pair, particularly in the African context: as one of the continent’s most critical industries and biggest sources of income, contributing a quarter of Africa’s total GDP and employing 70 percent of the labour force, it has the remarkable potential to empower what will be the youngest and biggest workforce in the world by 2040.

Africa has an increasingly youthful population. Already half the population is under the age of 25, and 72 percent of these young people are either unemployed or vulnerable. These astonishing statistics show no signs of diminishing either, with over 330 million young Africans set to enter the job market in the next 20 years and only a third of that number forecast to be able to find wage jobs.

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What this indicates is a growing need for workable solutions for the youth to become productive and part of the economic mainstream. This is especially true for agriculture, which has the potential to create jobs across the continent and serve as a driver of growth. However, the industry is currently lagging in building this growth largely because of a lack of access to knowledge, skills, education and land.

Financial literacy and land issues are currently the main barriers to increasing participation in the sector by young people. Access to arable land is difficult to come by for the majority of young citizens, even if they are interested in pursuing a career in the agricultural industry.

In Mozambique, for instance, rights of access to land are tightly controlled as land is owned by the state. The legal framework is currently not in favour of ordinary citizens, but it is heartening that privatization is being debated and access to and use of land is being explored as a means of reducing poverty and creating opportunities for the country’s people.

Mozambique is by no means the only African country facing these types of concerns surrounding land. Land issues are typically driven by policy – or a lack thereof – and in order to overcome these barriers, there is a need for policy makers that understand the intricacies of the industry and respond to the need for change. More robust and focused policies are required to bring young people into farming, so it will be necessary to bring in and hone policy makers that are dedicated to promoting farming to the youth.

Also key to bringing greater numbers of young people into agriculture is the use of tech and innovation. There are already a raft of successful solutions in several markets, including 2Kuze in Kenya and eKilimo in Tanzania, which was introduced by payments technology company Mastercard to bring farmers and buyers together through their phones and digitise the agricultural value chain. With the continued growth of mobile all over the continent, the introduction of these types of solutions will ramp up and help young citizens make a living through agriculture.

Technology on its own will not be able to transform the sector and encourage the youth to follow a career in the area, though. There is a need for investment in the industry through partnerships between both public and private sector organisations. One such example that is bearing fruit is the partnership between the US Agency for International Development (US Aid) and the government, civil society and other private sector allies. The agency is collaborating with partners across the continent, but there have been particularly noteworthy strides made in Ghana in bringing the youth into the farming fold.

Among other things, the organisation’s partnerships are helping it close the gap between young people and the financing they require to work land and build successful careers in the sector. In November last year, for example, US Aid introduced a loan facility of up to $24 million to assist cashew, cereal and fruit smallholder farmers in West Africa.

We have seen that growth at Absa too – with our book growing from $15 million to $52 million. This indicates that there are massive opportunities for growth if the sphere is strengthened and more young people are encouraged to join the industry.

There is much room for development to harness the potential of agriculture in young people’s lives, especially if investment is made in the critical areas of improving financial literacy, building tech and innovation skills and creating a new breed of policy makers in order to see the implementation of better policies. By reinforcing these priorities, agriculture’s role as a creator of jobs and driver of economic growth will become increasingly recognised and respected.

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