Africa needs young people to get into agriculture

New era for land reform programme

Are you young, creative, ambitious and need a job? Africa’s agriculture sector needs you.

This is a potential sales pitch to Africa’s “youth dividend” to make a living from agriculture, considered a less attractive sector for a career but the mainstay of a number of economies on the continent.

Agriculture is keeping 1.1 billion Africans fed but those who produce the food are not
young, well resourced and technologically savvy – or with the convincing image to boot.

Development researchers say unless young people are attracted to farming, any financial
and technological investments into agriculture will not guarantee food security in Africa.

Young farmers like Beauty Manake, from Botswana, have taken the challenge head-on
and have found success.

Manake left a career job at 25 and started farming. Today she runs horticulture, livestock farms and two agriculture enterprises, she says are the best business investments she has ever made.

African farmers, many of whom are smallholders, cultivate an average of two hectares of
land. They are not getting any younger to keep pace with the demands of farming.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the average age of farmers in Africa is over 60, bad news
for agricultural production given that family farmers who cultivate more than 80% of the arable land are responsible for the bulk of food production on the continent. But are aging farmers and youth disinterest in farming the real obstacles to food security in Africa?

Jim Sumberg, Agriculturalist and Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, thinks otherwise.

Writing in the Future Agricultures blog, Sumberg argues that claims about an ageing
farm population, the increasing risk of food insecurity and a lost opportunity to bring
young people into agriculture need closer scrutiny.

Citing the problem of generally poor quality official statistics, especially demographic data in much of Africa, and clarity of the definition of what constitutes a farmer, much more is needed, Sumberg says an analysis into the trends and developments that African agriculture over the last decade is necessary.

Behind the call for “youthing” African agriculture is the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa which, at its annual Africa Green Revolution Forum in Lusaka, in September, dedicated discussions on the participation of youth and women in agriculture.

Africa has almost 200 million people aged 15-24 making it the youngest continent according to the AU, which says that 10 million young Africans enter the workforce annually.

However, opportunities for them in agriculture are hampered by a combination of factors
such as limited access to land, financial credit and improved technologies. Young people lack practical skills and basic literacy while social norms largely exclude them from decisionmaking and vest control in older generations.

Strong research evidence based on demographic and constraints faced by youths in entering agriculture will build a stronger case for effective policies and continued investment in the sector.

As Africa seeks to hopefully implement the new sustainable development goals, could
priming policy makers to create conducive policy frameworks and get governments to
accelerate investments in agriculture be the seeds for growing the continent’s future food producers? Food for thought.

Busani Bafana is an IPS correspondent