Africa’s youth in agriculture: challenges and opportunities
By Odette Mavunga, ISAN communications officer
Africa has the youngest population in the world. According to the World Economic Forum, 9 of the top 10 ‘youngest’ countries by population in the world are African with average ages ranging from 17.6 years in Zambia to 15.2 in Niger. The Forum notes that nearly 50% of the world’s youth live in sub-Saharan Africa. This presents both challenges and opportunities.
In 2019, the Government of Rwanda and the African Union Commission held a regional workshop in 2019 on youth in agriculture. They found that youth are reluctant to enter the agricultural sector because they don’t think of it as a lucrative occupation or one that is respected in society. Farming is regarded as ‘uncool’ and an occupation for older people, according to YALI Voices. It is also seen by youth as too much hard work for too little compensation.
How do we change the way that youth view agriculture? To change how youth view agriculture, we need to position it as the lucrative market that it is. The World Bank’s report Growing Africa:
Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness notes that there could be a trilliondollar food market in African by 2030 if farmers were better supported in accessing technologies, electricity and irrigation, as well as finance.
How we envision this food market – one driven by the global industrial food regime or one driven by agroecological principles that stress inclusivity, access and availability, nutrition, ecologically sound production and fairness – will determine our food futures. The growing number of movements in Africa focused on ecological organic farming and food systems note that transitioning to sustainable food systems also combats challenges around climate change, biodiversity loss and unemployment. So, there is money to be made in farming, throughout the agricultural value chain from primary production through processing to distribution and markets. But how do we tackle the notion that farming is ‘uncool’?
Farming is physical work, but it is also spiritual and intellectual work. It takes intelligence to build up knowledge of agricultural ecosystems and all the plants and animals that live within them, and to then apply that knowledge at the farm level. It takes keen observation skills to notice changes in plant behaviour over time. And it takes innovative thinking to understand the links between weather, productivity and pest and disease patterns and make considered decisions as to what and when to plant.
Social media can play a role in shifting the perception of farming from ‘uncool’ to very sexy! According to Youth Rise for Agriculture, the rise of social media and its attraction among young people with access to the appropriate technologies could be a route into agriculture if the two could be linked in some way. Mobile phone use in Africa is growing rapidly and people are now much more connected to sources of information and to each other. Using these channels to promote agriculture and educate young people could go a long way in engaging new groups of people with the sector. Growing numbers of youth are tech savvy as access to mobile technology grows. This provides opportunities to engage and train youth online and to link existing young farmers and those that want to be farmers with each other, as well as with global youth food and farming movements.
The Farming First Organisation notes that there are many young farmers working all around the world and that it is vital that they are given a voice, and heard in decision-making circles. There is also a need for innovative financing options to support youth in entering the agricultural value chain – direct grants, micro-franchising and soft loans are some options.
We need young farmers – those that are passionate, smart, compassionate, driven, dreamers and leaders – to build the food system that will deliver us, them and their children with nutritious, safe, affordable and appropriate food. It is youth in food and farming systems that will shape our futures.