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Bringing youth back to agriculture in Southern Africa

Youth represent huge undrawn democratic dividend

Young farmer near Harare grows diversified crops to supply local schools, shops and markets.

31 October 2017, Harare - Making agriculture more attractive to young farmers and creating decent employment opportunities in rural areas could reverse migration of youth to urban centres and abroad. The migration of youth to urban centres increases the burden on African cities and leads to the proliferation of slums.

In this regard, FAO is seeking innovation ways to make the agricultural value chain more attractive to youth to curtail ‘distress migration’ as well as unlock the potential of the sector in providing decent employment and improved livelihood as part of addressing Sustainable Development Goal 8 which calls for productive employment and decent work for all.

Speaking at a two-day workshop on “Fostering decent jobs for rural youth in Southern Africa,” held in Harare (24 – 25 October 2017), the FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri, said the issue of youth employment occupied a front burner in practically all the sessions during the recently held 11th Subregional Office for Southern Africa Multidisciplinary Team Meeting.  Delegates at this meeting recommended that the issue of bringing youth into agriculture be one of the priority areas to be tabled by the Subregion at the 30th FAO Regional Conference for Africa scheduled for Khartoum, Sudan, in February 2018.

“The majority of youth do not want to work in the core agriculture sector because they consider agriculture as not attractive enough. Luckily, all that is changing, as many of you in this room would attest to; but we need to scale up success stories,” said Phiri.

Trends show new efforts to tap into the huge demographic dividend

Africa has the youngest population in the world. There were 226 million people aged between 15 and 24 in 2015, about 19 percent of the global total and this figure is expected to double by 2045. Southern Africa also has some of the highest youth unemployment rates on the continent, with 53 percent of young women, and 43 percent of young men, not employed  Making agriculture attractive to the young will thus be critical in mobilizing human capacity depository to spur economic and social transformation.

Desire Sibanda, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth Development, Empowerment and Indigenisation of Zimbabwe, who was the keynote speaker during the meeting, said there were vast opportunities to be realized through engaging the youth in agriculture.

“The 2014 Malabo Declaration includes specific targets on youth engagement in agriculture, the creation of jobs in the agriculture value chains and the support and facilitation of preferential entry and participation for women and youths in gainful and attractive agribusiness opportunities”, said Sibanda. This policy initiative, he added, recognized the importance that the agriculture sector plays in the economic development of the continent, as most nations were predominantly agricultural economies with a massive pool of young people.

Making farming attractive and rewarding

Peter Wobst, FAO Senior Programme Advisor, Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction, said the youth population in Africa, South of the Sahara was likely to double by 2055, but the youth continue to be many times more likely than adults to be unemployed. Wobst added that the majority of working youth are poor and employed in vulnerable, low-quality jobs, in the informal sector.

“Africa’s rural youth face particular barriers to accessing productive employment: young women and men tend to encounter challenges in accessing adequate knowledge, information and education, they have insufficient access to land, inputs, financial services, markets and ultimately, limited involvement in policy dialogue,” said Wobst.

Dismantling barriers to youth participation

FAO has put in place several programmes aimed at dismantling barriers to active youth participation in agriculture in the Subregion. In Zambia, for example, a joint FAO and ILO project, Yapasa, launched in February 2016, has helped youths break into aquaculture and created decent jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities for young men and women.

The project equips young farmers with requisite skills, facilitate loans for inputs including fingerlings and link the youth to market for their products. Yapasa FAO Portfolio Manager, Mpulu Makayi, said the project was vital because there was a ready market for fish as the country had a massive deficit.

In addition to being the primary source of employment in Africa, the agri-food sector hosts an untapped reservoir of new productive and rewarding employment opportunities. Beyond production, the development of the post-harvest section of food value chains, including processing and retailing, could have significant impacts on job creation.

The Harare’s workshop provided guidance and gave room to experience sharing between FAO and national counterparts from the countries in Southern Africa on practical ways of fostering rural farm and off-farm jobs for youth.

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