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Staff Reporter | 27 March 2023

When they are given the appropriate support and enabling environment, young people in Africa can take advantage of new opportunities, develop innovative solutions, and contribute to building sustainable and resilient agrifood systems, according to a UN report released in 2022.

Africa as a region has the highest percentage of youth in the world with an estimated 420 million people aged 15 to 35, and its share of rural youth is projected to rise to 37% by 2050.

Young people as producers and traders of food, as workers, innovators and entrepreneurs, and as policy actors are already playing an important role in agrifood systems. But they face a range of age-specific vulnerabilities and difficulties, and those living in rural and underdeveloped areas face additional challenges, including fewer opportunities to access quality education and vocational training, and lack of access to information, decent jobs, land, finance and markets.

They are exposed to hazardous work and have insufficient opportunities to participate in policy dialogues and other decision-making processes. They are also confronted with broader challenges in rural areas such as the lack of, or limited access to, basic infrastructure and services, Internet connectivity, and environmental degradation.

Youth as a group is diverse. It is a dynamically changing group characterised not only by age but also by a set of intersectional dimensions, such as gender, education, wealth, ethnicity, health and geographic location.

Additionally, it is important to recognise that young people are more likely than adults to migrate, and their life course often includes periods of mobility and migration, which has an impact on their level of engagement in agriculture and food systems over time.

Young women, especially those living in rural and conflict-prone areas, face additional barriers related to sociocultural norms, additional responsibilities within households, limited freedom and mobility, early marriage and pregnancy. These barriers limit women’s and girls’ ability to take advantage of economic and social opportunities. Gender inequalities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the additional burdens of domestic work, access to education and health services, and access to technology (the digital divide).

Crises have disproportionate effects on young people (especially young women), but they also create spaces for innovation. Conflicts, natural disasters and pandemics disrupt education and destroy jobs and sources of income, leading to migration and displacement, social unrest, and aggravated inequalities.

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has also shown how young agri-entrepreneurs have adapted, moving to online marketing and sales, creating delivery services for transportation of their products, and adding value to primary products.

New employment opportunities

The growing population is projected to triple domestic food demand in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050 and bring about changes in food consumption patterns. The net food imports that are expected to increase to respond to this demand could be offset by increased African production which, in turn, presents opportunities to create decent employment for the youth within the broader agrifood system.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Sahel and West Africa Club in 2018 forecast the creation of 32 million new jobs in the agrifood sector up to 2025 in West Africa, along with an increase in the share of off-farm jobs. Similar findings exist for East and Southern Africa.

In addition, the African Continental Free Trade Area is expected to facilitate regional trade and contribute to the creation of jobs for young people, particularly in the agriculture sector.

Technologies hold the potential to transform the future of farming, making it more attractive and profitable, less burdensome, and more closely tied to markets and consumers. In 2018, almost 50% of the African population owned a mobile phone, with young people being the largest group using cell phones and apps.

The impacts on young people can be life-changing in areas such as education, extension services, social networking, job search and financial services. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of digitalisation and innovation, but it has also exposed existing digital divides.

Capturing the potential benefits of the automation and digital revolution and reducing the digital divide for the youth requires tailored support and new investment in skills development, energy access and connectivity.

Resilient, climate-smart systems

The transition to a greener economy could yield up to 60 million jobs globally over the next two decades. Agroecology and smallholder-based modes of supplying the world’s food needs are perceived as part of the solution for building sustainable, resilient and inclusive agrifood systems. This trend is supported by increasing concerns among consumers about the links between diet and health, food systems and environmental and social issues.

These considerations should be centre stage when prioritising investments, as they will shape the food systems of tomorrow.

Aquatic food systems represent a critical social safety net and source of food and nutrition, particularly in periods of successive crop failures and poor agricultural harvests, or other humanitarian emergencies related to climate change or conflicts. The aquatic food sector employs more than 12 million people worldwide.

Young people play a prominent role in the fisheries and aquaculture economies on the African continent, but their contributions are not reflected in official statistics, sector policies and development programmes.

Finance for investment in food systems

In Africa, less than 3% of total commercial bank lending is extended to the agriculture sector. Development agencies, international finance institutions, private foundations and NGOs are meeting only a fraction of this funding gap. In order to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a combination of public, donor and private funding is essential.

The different sources of finance that are emerging in Africa, such as dedicated funds for young agri-entrepreneurs, crowdfunding models and, more recently, impact investing, have the potential to reduce and share the risk return of investing in young agri-entrepreneurs, who are often perceived as presenting greater risk to investors than their older counterparts.


The design and implementation of youth-responsive interventions are set within the overarching framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063, with five core principles:

  • Universality;

  • Leaving no one behind;

  • Interconnectedness and indivisibility;

  • Inclusiveness; and

  • Multi-stakeholder partnerships.

These principles are in line with relevant youth-related African Union frameworks and strategies.

Youth engagement and empowerment

Young women and men know their own needs best, and they should have a voice in the design, implementation and evaluation of investment programmes that can affect them.

Their capacity to effectively participate is thereby strengthened, and their ideas and proposals are valued and supported. Participatory approaches and meaningful engagement with the youth, notably in governance mechanisms and evaluation processes, can ensure transparency and accountability.

The design of investment programmes takes into account the diversity of young people’s needs and aspirations based on such groupings as age, gender, indigenous identity, disability, levels of education and geographic location.

Equal opportunities are provided for the youth to access productive resources and services, skills development and decent employment opportunities, start or develop a business, and access social protection, particularly in times of crisis.

Investment programmes combine tailored measures to support young women and men in skills development and access to productive assets and services in accordance with market opportunities and territorial potentials, and with regard to sustainable management of ecosystems.

Also taken into account are agricultural and rural transformation, the expansion of digitalisation and technologies, new economic models (such as a carbon-light, circular economy) that can create attractive employment and business opportunities for the youth.

Adequate investment is directed to build youth capacities to capitalise on those opportunities.

Investment programmes provide opportunities for collaboration across sectors and with different stakeholders to aggregate existing data, design joint actions, avoid duplication and enhance the effectiveness of interventions.

Lessons learnt and proven approaches from successful initiatives are shared and cross-learning is facilitated at the national level and through South-South and Triangular Co-operation.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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