text size: smaller reset larger



Young people and the agri-food sector in Africa

What could make agriculture attractive to young job-seekers? (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
What could make agriculture attractive to young job-seekers?
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Despite urbanisation, agriculture remains the largest employer in many countries. But it is too often seen as an 'employment of last resort', avoided by young people, especially by those with secondary and tertiary education. Yet millions of youth remain unemployed and governments appear incapable or unwilling to formulate policies that could provide young people with employment in the fast-changing agrifood sector, bringing consequent economic and social benefits. But what could make agriculture attractive to young job-seekers?

An international conference on "Young people, farming and food" was held at the University of Ghana at Legon in March. Initiated by the Future Agricultures Consortium and Institute of Statistical and Social Economic Research (ISSER), the focus was on Africa but offered ideas undoubtedly applicable elsewhere. We offer some of the speakers' thoughts and opinions on practical options to simultaneously address the challenges of engaging currently wasted youthful talent and energy, and meeting the demand for increased agricultural production for domestic needs and for export.

Agriculture needs to harnesses the energy of youth (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Agriculture needs to harnesses the energy of youth
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Challenges to young people's participation in agriculture

Conditions are increasingly challenging. There is less land, there are more market pressures, and there are fewer labour opportunities. So it is a really, really important policy challenge to find a space in the agricultural sector for young people.
Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies, UK

People perceive agricultural work to be for rural people, non-educated people, people who are poor or aged or who do not really have any other option except to do farming work. But how best can we change this mindset?
Ebenezer Anor, BSE Agriculture student, Ghana

Apart from having an entrepreneurial background you actually need a capital incentive to be able to start, and I think that's where the challenges have been: having the land and having the capital. So those are the major things that they need to be able to make it in the agricultural sector.
Ruth Smith Ajay, General Manager, Blue Skies, Ghana

What young people offer to agriculture

How do you engage currently wasted youthful talent? (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
How do you engage currently wasted youthful talent?
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

If we could challenge the African countries to put one million youths into farming on ten million hectares in the next ten years they would be capable of producing 40 million tons per year, feeding two hundred million people; and they would wipe out the deficit of food in Africa. Clearly we have a dynamic pool of people who can change the face of Africa, not only agriculture but the economy.
Namanga Ngongi, President, AGRA

Agriculture has always been on my mind because it has been the backbone of every nation. Looking at past, recent and then the present of every developing country you realise that agriculture has been the basis for development. So I find myself in that sector because I want to get involved in that development in my country.
Ebenezer Anor

If you do not give young people the chance then they are not going to get experience at all. We think young people are the future. We think young people can make what we mature ones have not been able to achieve because we are quite cautious. They are daring and they are willing to take on a new challenge.
Ruth Smith Ajay

We need an agriculture that harnesses the energy of youth, that takes youth seriously in the crazy ideas that they normally have. We have all these technologies that the youth are really techno-savvy on, and they can use these and develop agriculture. There are so many things that youth are capable of coming up with that can improve agriculture.
Sithembile Ndema, Project Manager FANRPAN

Existing policy failures and problems

Most of the policy spaces, like seminars and workshops, have been excluding the young people. The young people do not participate in those kinds of policy spaces yet. And also these policies there are rhetoric, and on the ground they are not supported by financial resources so that they can be fruitfully implemented.
Conrad Murendo, ICRISAT, Zimbabwe

Young people rarely participate in policy dialogues (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Young people rarely participate in policy dialogues
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

I think agricultural policies have not been very responsive to the youth and their situations. So what is required is mainstreaming of the agricultural policies so that they are aware of the youth situation and conditions in order for them to encourage strategies and interventions for youth to participate in agriculture.
Elosy Kangai, Centre for African Bio-entrepreneurship, Kenya

There is a lack of or limited implementation of youth policies in agriculture. Also, we tend to be telling the youth what they should be doing instead of the youth identifying what are the right projects for themselves.
John Omiti, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA)

Most policies in the agricultural sector do not really involve youth in the policy formulation, and as a result you realise that the impact is not really felt by the youth because they do not even know about it. So I believe that if the youth were involved in some of the policy making, they'd have a stake in it and then they would also do the necessary follow up.
Solomon Allavi, Global Youth Innovation Network

Agriculture is seen as something that is done by the poor. There has not been a drive to make agriculture attractive for the youth. But also we have not created enough spaces in our dialogues to actually engage the youth. We have not taken the youth as a serious constituency that can actually contribute something towards policy development in Africa.
Sithembile Ndema

Youth friendly agricultural sector

Agriculture is too often seen as an 'employment of last resort' (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Agriculture is too often seen as an 'employment of last resort'
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

If you want young people to be in agriculture they cannot be satisfied to be producing one metric ton of maize per hectare. If it was two tons, three tons, four tons, now you are talking about keeping a young person excited. To obtain four tons per hectare, what do you need to do? You have to have good seed, access to fertiliser and small-scale irrigation, if that is possible.
Namanga Ngongi

Most young people want a quick return. They do not want to get involved in a sector which will take a long time. So it is good to try to attract young people to join enterprises like horticulture, which is really coming up and which can really yield a good return.
Yasin Mahardi, Camco Advisory Services, Kenya

Governments must understand that farming is changing; that a lot of young people are not going to be fulltime farmers, or smallholder farmers; that they are going to have other jobs at the same time and that that can actually enhance the agricultural activities that they get into. I think that they need to understand that a lot of young people are going to be getting education first, and using that education to increase the outputs of those farms.
Courtney Paisley, Coordinator, Young Professionals Platform for Agricultural Research for Development

Land preparation can be done by a service provider, with simple mechanisation. You need service providers who can add value to the production; agro-dealers, people who are serving the communities by selling the inputs that farmers need. So there are many things that can be done by young people. Everybody does not have to be a producer.
Namanga Ngongi

They do not have to be farmers. They can be involved at other stages in the value chain working in value addition, in transport, in a whole array of things using new skills for new forms of agriculture. I think we have to look at the agr-food system as a whole, rather than just imagining a new generation of farmers to replace their parents.
Ian Scoones

Education priorities

I think the government should be investing in changed perceptions of the agri-food sector, especially from the primary school level up through the whole education system; from agriculture as subsistence to agriculture as a business.
Esther Kihoro, KARI, Kenya

The agri-food sector needs skilled young people (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
The agri-food sector needs skilled young people
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

There is a need of investment in skills development and training so that we can create a new breed of new environmentalists, scientists or agriculturists, who are much more informed on the current affairs of agriculture.
Cleopatra Mbali Masinga, Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

Young people have to come with the skills that a modern agro food sector needs. So we have to get education into the act; and it is not just education for people who are going to grow food but education for people who can participate all the way through the value chain.
Jim Sumberg, IDS, UK

African governments should be targeting their investments at the education sector, looking at the totality of how education leads to action, how education leads to empowering a whole community, whereby after young professionals have gone through the education system they are able to make use of their skills.
Grace Mwaura, Kenyan Student at the University of Oxford, UK

Policy and investment priorities

The governments should invest in lowering transaction costs, investing in the right infrastructure, increased ICT facilities, storage, cooling facilities to increase profits for the farmers.
Esther Kihoro

We ought to be creating the most dynamic, opportunity-oriented agricultural agri-food system possible. If we succeed in doing that, that will create jobs and opportunities that will attract young people back in; interesting important jobs, that pay a living wage. Then I'm sure young people will come.
Jim Sumberg

Government policies could provide young people with employment in the fast-changing agrifood sector (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Government policies could provide young people with employment in the fast-changing agrifood sector
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

African governments must avail resources for the youth to channel their energies, their passions and their creativity in producing foods that are nutritious and that can meet industry needs. For undergraduates who are joining the agriculture workforce, mentoring programmes are very important; government must partner with industry to train students so that their skills are relevant to the needs of agricultural industry.
Abdul-Halim Abubakari, Ghana Institute of Horticulturists

African countries must be producing new generations, not only of skilled farmers but of informed consumers; to actually educate ourselves as to the types of foods that we are eating, where food actually comes from, how it's being produced and what greater part of the food system it's embedded within. I think that that is the real key policy imperative.
Laura Pereira, Future Agricultures Consortium

Governments cannot act alone. Governments have to bring in other stakeholders especially the private sector and make sure that educational opportunities and business opportunities exist for youth.
Michele McNabb, Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, USA

Date published: May 2012


Have your say

Youth is most capable than old man that cannot even think wi... (posted by: otun Peace)

Our government are always paying lip service to the issues c... (posted by: Ayinde Olatunde)

It is essential that the youth in agriculture are encouraged... (posted by: Andy Frost)

I also share most of the comments and suggestion: Not every... (posted by: kettema Yilma)


The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Read more