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Based on my own practice of the policy debate on youth employment and observation of existing experiences, it seems to me that many programs addressing youth specifics are often at risk of considering youth in isolation, as if they were on an island, while the challenge of youth employment is fully embedded in the dynamics of the economy and society as a whole.
I will refer more particularly to the specific context of late developing countries with challenging processes of structural change, and notably sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where stakeholders have to deal at the same time with the consequences of the demographic transition and a fast growing labour force, and an incipient economic diversification.
The structural transformation of SSA is a major part of the problem about youth employment, and it will be a large part of the solution. Therefore, the policy priority today is not to seek “silver bullets” which would directly give youth access to decent jobs. It is to take seriously into account youth specifics within an overall strategy for an inclusive economic and social development: youth employment will result first from a dynamic process of change, and what is at stake is to identify the indispensable building blocks in order to facilitate transitions.
There is a raging debate today about the best policy option for Africa, with extremely contrasting points of view, raising the potential for manufacturing within the new context of globalisation, reiterating the strong leverage effects of agriculture, and pointing to the opportunities of the service economy or of investing in green growth. Every sector will have to contribute to Africa’s structural change. However, policies need to focus first on the sectorial and regional distribution of activities and people and give attention to what people do and where they live.
Today, the majority of the population in SSA still lives in rural areas (the shift to the urban majority should not occur before the 2040s) and the existing employment structure of the sub-continent shows the overwhelming importance of agriculture – which is primarily family-based –and of household enterprises. Waged labour only accounts for around 15%. These figures give the rationale for a specific attention to rural development, agriculture and rural diversification.
And from here the discussion is about the critical issues to be addressed in order to unlock the potential for agricultural development and diversification of off-farm activities, and the related opportunities for decent youth employment.
I hope there will be space to discuss this further, including the paradox of the growing youth disinterest for farm activities (!) and what it means in terms of policy options and requirements.
Please find attach a policy brief on agriculture and the employment challenge in SSA.