Are ru­ral youth job prospects in Africa a mi­rage?

Business Daily (Kenya) - - EDITORIAL & OPINION - RAGHAV GAIHA, pro­fes­so­rial Re­search Fel­low, Global De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute, Univer­sity of Manch­ester. There will be vast op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­va­tive young peo­ple in agri­cul­tural sys­tems IPS

Many re­cent ac­counts tend to dis­miss pro­duc­tive em­ploy­ment of youth in ru­ral ar­eas in Africa as a mi­rage largely be­cause they ex­hibit strong re­sis­tance to ek­ing out a bare sub­sis­tence in dis­mal work­ing and liv­ing con­di­tions. On re­cent ev­i­dence of agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion, this view is overly pes­simistic, if not largely mis­taken.

The 15–24-year-old age group rep­re­sents 20 per cent of sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa’s pop­u­la­tion to­day and, un­like in other re­gions, its share will re­main high and stable (19 per cent in 2050). In ab­so­lute terms, sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa’s youth will grow from nearly 200 mil­lion in 2015 to nearly 400 mil­lion in 2050, and its share in the labour force will re­main the high­est in the world, even if fol­low­ing a de­clin­ing trend.

Agri­cul­ture has a sub­stan­tial role in meet­ing the youth em­ploy­ment chal­lenge fac­ing Africa. Even in a most op­ti­mistic sce­nario, non-farm and ur­ban sec­tors are not likely to ab­sorb more than two-thirds of young labour mar­ket en­trants over the next decade. But there will be vast op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­va­tive young peo­ple in agri­cul­tural sys­tems as they adapt to a range of chal­lenges in the near fu­ture. Th­ese chal­lenges re­late to rais­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity in a sus­tain­able way, in­te­gra­tion into emerg­ing high value chains, and healthy di­ets.

While the chal­lenges are daunt­ing, the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of ad­dress­ing them are enor­mous. Higher prices, more in­te­grated value chains, widen­ing con­nec­tiv­ity to mar­kets in some ar­eas, and greater pri­vate and pub­lic en­gage­ment in the sec­tor are creat­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties. A ma­jor bar­rier is, how­ever, strong neg­a­tive pref­er­ences/at­ti­tudes of the youth to­wards agri­cul­ture.

A sur­vey of ru­ral in- and out-of school young peo­ple to­wards agri­cul­ture, based on field-work in two re­gions in Ethiopia, is re­mark­ably rich and in­sight­ful (IDS Bul­letin Vol­ume 43 Num­ber 6, 2012). Life as a farmer was tied to life in a vil­lage which most re­spon­dents saw as hard and de­mand­ing. Par­tic­i­pants in both re­gions con­curred that agri­cul­ture has changed sig­nif­i­cantly over the last decade. The in­tro­duc­tion and adop­tion of agri­cul­tural in­puts such as im­proved seeds, fer­tilis­ers and bet­ter farm­ing meth­ods (such as slash plough­ing, sow­ing seeds in rows, wa­ter pumps, mod­ern bee­hives) have pro­duced sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in pro­duc­tiv­ity and earn­ings.

There were com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives on whether agri­cul­ture was be­com­ing more de­sir­able to young peo­ple as a re­sult. Par­tic­i­pants felt that th­ese de­vel­op­ments were mak­ing agri­cul­ture more and more prof­itable and there­fore more ap­peal­ing. But they felt that there was a huge ob­sta­cle in en­gag­ing in it – scarcity of land.

Al­though the dom­i­nant view was that young peo­ple are dis­in­ter­ested in agri­cul­ture, some par­tic­i­pants pointed out that this was not al­ways the case.

Al­though the gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers ru­ral ed­u­cated youth as in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing about a trans­for­ma­tion in agri­cul­tural skills, knowl­edge and pro­duc­tiv­ity, it has not ef­fec­tively ad­dressed either the at­ti­tude of many young peo­ple to­wards agri­cul­ture or the ob­sta­cles prevent­ing their en­try into the sec­tor.

To cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties com­men­su­rate with the num­ber of young peo­ple who will need em­ploy­ment, con­straints on the ac­qui­si­tion of cap­i­tal, land, and skills must be re­moved or re­laxed.

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