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African Agrifood Systems Show Rising Youth Employment

Julie Howard

According to a new study published by Michigan State University, Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector is rapidly changing and can be a key driver of youth employment and economic transformation.

However, 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.

The Agrifood Youth Employment and Engagement Study is one of the first studies to comprehensively examine the potential for and challenges to expanding youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa’s agrifood systems — the set of activities, processes, people and institutions involved in supplying food and agricultural products.

The report includes insights and guidance on key steps required to improve employment options for economically disadvantaged young men and women in Tanzania, Rwanda and Nigeria.

“Turning around youth preconceptions about agrifood opportunities, integrating advanced technologies and greatly expanding private sector involvement can be game-changers in terms of attracting youth to the agricultural sector and ensuring their success,” said study author Julie Howard, senior adviser to the associate provost and dean for international studies and programs.

The study found that, throughout the next decade, expanding investments in Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector 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.

“As incomes rise, Africans — rural and urban, rich and poor — are consuming higher quantities of fruits, vegetables, livestock products and other processed goods,” said David Tschirley, professor of international development in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Natural Resource Economics and a study author. “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.”

While off-farm employment opportunities are growing rapidly, farming remains extremely important for livelihoods and economic growth.

“Investments to transform on-farm agricultural productivity will also help to generate off-farm employment opportunities,” said Kwame Yeboah, a study author and assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Natural Resource Economics. “In Rwanda, 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.”

Key recommendations of the report are to:

  • develop youth employment programming that focuses on the food manufacturing 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 to analyze and 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

“This research is an important addition to the knowledge base on agricultural systems as an opportunity for youth employment and enterprise development,” said Alemayehu Konde Koira, senior program manager, youth livelihoods at The MasterCard Foundation. “We strongly feel this research will inform the programs and services developed by a variety of actors, ranging from government to the private sector, that support youth to develop the skills they need to succeed in the agricultural sector.”

Conducted in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, the study builds on MSU’s depth and breadth of experience to address the critical challenge of youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

– Rachel Warner via MSU Today

MAP (above): Dark and lighter green: Definition of “Sub-Saharan Africa” as used in the statistics of UN institutions. Lighter green: However, Sudan is classified as North Africa by United Nations Statistics Division.

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