How to Enhance Young People’s Employment and Entrepreneurship Opportunities Within Africa’s Agri-Food Systems
From Farm to Fork for Real
Agriculture is a major source of employment opportunities, so it is imperative to seize opportunities for youth employment and economic participation in the agri-food system. As young Africans, we face barriers and challenges that affect our pursuit of dignified and fulfilling work within the agri-food system. We are constrained by exclusion from decision-making processes that affect our lives, and by limited access to resources, knowledge, and expertise. We are not just the leaders of tomorrow; we need to lead today to pave the way for a brighter future. Youth engagement in decision-making platforms is critical to ensure we participate actively in development opportunities, have access to resources, and encourage the development of youth-inclusive policies and governance structures within the agri-food system.
We, as young African women and men, are inhibited by broad structural factors in our pursuit of sustainable economic opportunities in agri-food systems:
Africa is a net importer of agricultural products and spends over $50 billion annually on food imports. This negatively impacts young people at the local level as it limits domestic demand for local products, contributing to further barriers across the value chain.
Youth face practical and regulatory barriers to participate in trade. These need to be addressed through youth-responsive trade policies at the continental level. With increased investment in inter-African trade, this is an urgent topic for young people.
Young African women face additional challenges when seeking meaningful opportunities in agriculture and in agri-preneurship. Women make up a substantial part of the agricultural labour force yet there are few investments made to support women-led businesses in Africa, which make close to 60% of the agriculture sector.
The impact of climate change is significantly affecting Africa’s economic growth and resilience of the agri-food systems. Young people have innovative ideas and the technological adaptability and capacity to create solutions. However, we currently do not have adequate resources and support to implement these solutions.
We have come together from all regions of the continent in one voice, to present our recommendations to key stakeholders, on how to maximize youth employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. We believe that youth voice and participation in decision-making is imperative to building a robust, resilient, and sustainable agri-food system in Africa.
POLICY & ADVOCACY
At the continental level, many laws and policies are not youth-informed, nor do they proactively promote youth involvement in the agri-food system. We call on government, policy makers and civil society to create policies which empower youth to participate fully across the value chain, from production to trade. Realizing the following youth-inclusive policies would unlock opportunities for young people across the continent:
Favourable tax policy reforms and subsidies that focus on reductions in the percentage of tax paid by youth-led agri-businesses (i.e. free import duty, low interest rates).
Increased government procurement opportunities for youth agri-businesses.
Policies that facilitate seamless cross-border trade across the continent in accordance with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
CAPACITY BUILDING & SKILLS DEVELOPMENT
From our collective experience, young people, parents, and educators are often skeptical toward work in agriculture. It is associated with poverty and considered as a sector with limited opportunity for growth. Africa’s current education systems require reform to shift mindsets and equip young people with the knowledge and skillset to realize their potential in the sector. African governments, academics, researchers, and private sector actors should:
Implement education reforms from the primary to tertiary levels, with a curriculum focused on a combination of indigenous pedagogy, climate action, and inclusive practices.
Develop inclusive Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs that equip students with industry-relevant skills for employment and economic participation in agri-food systems.
Foster entrepreneurial ecosystems (i.e. agribusiness hubs) to bridge education, research, and industry, offering mentorship, funding, and market access to women and youth startups focused on sustainable agri-solutions.
AGRI-ENTREPRENEURS & PRODUCERS
A large share of young people who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods practice farming using traditional methods that have been characterized by unpredictable production cycles. While some African nations have seen modest increases in food production over the years, food insecurity in Africa remains pervasive. Youth are at the core of the solution to food insecurity, and we ask private sector actors, governments, philanthropies, and civil society organizations to:
Support investment in sustainable agriculture, climate-smart agriculture practices for youth farmers to produce more resilient crops and provide incentives and subsidies for agricultural inputs like fertilizers.
Government and the private sector should promote a technology credit revolving scheme to ease access and repayment of farm machinery, alleviating financial burdens that youth-owned businesses face.
ACCESS TO FINANCE & TRADE
Access to finance and markets play crucial roles in shaping the agri-food system in Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) could boost regional trade and reduce the continent’s trade deficit, yet most farmers, women and youth are still faced with challenges of inadequate infrastructure, and lack of access to modern technologies and funding. We believe that adequate access to finance and improved intra-Africa trade together can dramatically contribute to food security. Development partners, financial institutions, agri-businesses, governments, and civil society organizations should:
Advocate for adherence to the Malabo declaration to increase budgetary funds allocation to agriculture, infrastructure, and value chain development.
Promote equitable financial inclusion through Public-Private Partnerships for tailored climate resilient financial packages, such as de-risking agriculture, favourable insurance products, and microfinance models to support women, and youth agri-businesses.
Invest in improved market and trade data to enable value chain integration and youth access to premium markets.
Government and private sector investors should collaborate to establish trade houses across the continent that will promote local agricultural products and create market linkages within the continent.
Increase global supply of bilateral and multilateral funding to support African governments in financing their climate responses.
Through partnerships, collaborations, and commitment by all stakeholders identified, Africa’s rapidly growing youth population can realize its potential to secure its food supply, create decent jobs, create sustainable livelihoods, and boost inclusive economic growth. The young people of Africa will continue to be agents of change and inspire our fellow peers to be engaged in agri-food systems. The time is NOW to listen to our voice and embrace the power of African youth.
Extracted from the Africa Food Systems Forum 2023, September 2023
Watch the full panel discussion here:
The Above Piece was Written by:
Antoinette Moleele, Capacity Development Consultant, Hendylite Consultancy (Botswana)
Drissa Tessougue, Country Representative, YPARD (Mali)
Fatawu Bakari, Public Relations Officer, Ghana Society for the Physically Disabled (Ghana)
Harriet Cheelo, Knowledge Facilitator and climate advocate, AgriEN Network (Zambia)