Africa has over 360 million youths aged between 15 and 35, and the number is projected to double by 2045. This large number of African youths who are fairly well-educated are transiting into the employment market at the rate of 10-12 million youths per year. With high unemployment rates at 60%, the rapid transition is a potential time bomb since the large number of well-educated youths fail to get employed in gainful jobs. Agribusiness is a promising frontier to curb the runaway unemployment in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). The potential of agri-food value chain is currently underexploited with many opportunities still available in value addition, research and extension, integration of technology, as well as training and consultancy services. There is need for governments in SSA to adopt multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary approach to address the constraints that currently incapacitate agribusiness growth in the region. Education system needs to be re-oriented to emphasize on skill development and training with entrepreneurial concept for the young future agripreneurs. This can help accelerate adoption of new technologies to improve yields, reduce losses, and maximize returns on investment in the agri-food value chain. Inaccessibility to agricultural land and credit facilities for agribusiness need to be addressed and the markets streamlined to provide impetus to the many youths who are yearning to venture into agribusiness, only being held back by these constraints. By streamlining agri-food value chains, SSA region stands to gain much in economic growth as the youths will find gainful employment, food production will improve thus eliminating over-reliance on imports, industries in the agri-food value chain will thrive leading to more revenue for the governments.
Agri-food value chain, agribusiness, agripreneurship, youths in agriculture
The United Nations projects that the global population will increase by more than 2.5 billion by the year 2050, with most of the growth expected in developing countries. Notably, FAO (2018) anticipates that the youth shall account for more than 50% of the projected global population growth by 2050.
Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) boasts of the largest youthful population coupled with the largest share of arable land in the world. In line with FAO (2018) reports, more than 65% of Africa’s population ranges below 35 years.
Different SSA regions define the youth age bracket differently. Nigeria’s and Eswatini's youth age bracket fall in between 12 and 30 years while Botswana’s and Mauritius’ youth ages range from 14 to 25 years.
As the global population increase, Africa’s youth population remains above 20%. Ameyaw & Maiga (2015) report that more than 15 sub-Saharan countries have more than half their population aged below 18 years.
FAO (2018) projects that the average community for more than 75% of the SSA population will be 20 years old by 2020. These statistics prove that the economy of Sub-Sahara Africa is in the hands of its youths.
Figure 1: Regions with the youngest populations in the world 1950-2050
(Source: World Population Prospects, 2015)
Tapping the potential of the young population
The growing youth population has strategically positioned SSA as one of the regions with sufficiently affordable labor supply. According to Payumo, Lemgo, & Maredia (2017), SSA has witnessed steady economic growth ranging between 4.7% - 5.8% in the current decade.
More than one-quarter of SSA countries grow at a rate of 7% or more. Unfortunately, this growth has occurred in sectors that produce less employment for the youth, resulting in massive rates of unemployment. More than 10 million youths in SSA enter the labor market annually, widening the unemployment rates in SSA large (Minde et al., 2015).
The unemployment scenario in SSA continues to be a problem because there is a general focus on accessing wage jobs while disregarding the potential of establishing much more productive and pro-poor interventions such as agriculture (Bezu & Holden, 2014).
Agriculture and agribusiness ventures have the potential to accelerate creation of employment opportunities for the unemployed youths. This will in turn enhance their standards of living, which will have a gross positive impact on the national economies of the respective countries.
Agriculture can mitigate the unemployment menace in SSA
Agriculture has been documented as a critical sector in most of the SSA economies, absorbing more than 65% of the region’s total labor workforce (FAO, 2018). Even though recent studies have recorded a decline in the relative population of workers in the agricultural sector, agriculture still contributes to the most significant portion of the SSA GDP.
Yami, Feleke, & Alene, (2019) posit that Africa is not exempted from the highly aging phenomenon of the agricultural labor force observed in most developed countries. The average age of farmers in SSA is estimated to be 60 years, despite more than 60% of its population falling below 24 years (Njeru et al., 2014).
However, Agwu, Nwanko, & Anyanwu, (2014) argue that the challenges involved in feeding the growing SSA population will demand approaches that would engage the youth in the agricultural sector which has been flooded by an aging labour force. Besides, these approaches will assist in closing the age gap of the agriculture and agribusiness value chain participants.
Future demand for food outstrips projected supply
In line with the significant population growths projected, FAO (2018) estimates that the global demand for food will potentially increase by more than 60% by 2050. This is below the projected demand for food in SSA countries, which is 64%.
To satisfy the additional requirement for food in the regions, governments need to engage strategies aimed at luring youths into the agriculture and agribusiness value chain. There should be sound policies to address the negative impacts of climate change on agricultural productivity.
However, unfavorable policies in the sector limit their access to strategic entry points in the farming sector. Such aspects include adverse legal framework, limited access to arable lands, limited access to markets, and supportive financial services.
Also, the absence of adequate youth-oriented organizations, as well as limited individual professional capabilities in the agricultural sector, discourage youth participation in the SSA agricultural sector (Minde et al., 2015).
Constraints to Youth Involvement in Agribusiness Value Chains
Despite efforts to attract the interest of the youths into agribusiness, there are specific challenges that face SSA youths who engage in agribusiness. A wide range of the issues revolve around unfavorable policies, difficulty in accessing funds as well as improper government engagement in measures that would improve agroprenuership.
Agroprenuership entails steps that avail training, more extensive access to financial credit facilities as well as enhancing the access to underlying factors that are necessary for production (Agwu, Nwanko, & Anyanwu, 2014).
The principal constraints to youth participation in agribusiness include:
- Negative perception of agriculture and personal disinterest,
- Limited access to land and agricultural space,
- Lack of proper skills and capacity to carry out agribusiness,
- Limited access to commercial credit facilities, and
- Absence of committed organizations focussed on youth development.
a) Negative perception and personal disinterest in agribusiness
SSA youths, in general, have a limited drive to participate in agriculture and agribusiness. For instance, Njeru et al., (2014) established that Kenyan youths perceive agriculture as a punishment meted on poor academic performers, or sometimes a supplementary activity to other jobs. They also found out that, in some areas, some youths hardly consider agriculture as a viable economic activity.
However, Bezu & Holden, (2014) found out that most Ethiopian youths are skeptical of agribusiness due to the insecurities around farming and food value chain. They state unpredictability of the climatic conditions, the volatile costs of farm inputs, as well as fluctuating costs of food products as the main hindrances to venturing into agribusiness.
In Nigeria, most youths consider agriculture as an activity unbefitting of the social status and lifestyle they desire (Adesina & Favour, 2016). They deem it as an endeavour for the poor and the uneducated.
b) Limited access to land and agricultural space
FAO, (2018) suggests that for a significant proportion of the African youths effectively transition into agribusiness, they need to have unlimited access to land as a critical factor of production. Land is considered an essential resource in agriculture and the ease of its access paves the way for one's participation in agriculture (Ameyaw & Maiga, 2015).
Legal and cultural guidelines that govern land ownership and access in most SSA regions is a crucial constraint to agribusiness participation among the young generation. In Nigeria, as with many other SSA countries, the aged parents and grandparents hold titles to agricultural land that would instead be put into productive agriculture by the youths (Yami, Feleke, & Alene, 2019).
Wossen & Ayele (2018) corroborate this assertion by adding that the land tenure system in Ethiopia challenges the access of agricultural land by women and youths since the two groups are mainly excluded from documented ownership of property.
This, therefore, limits the chances of women and youths to access financial credit facilities that would be instrumental in improving agriculture (Minde et al., 2015). The constraints to land access discourage youth participation in agribusiness.
c) Absence of committed youth-oriented organizations
Among the critical factors that hinder youth participation in agribusiness, lack of structures focussed on youth development is key. Sulo et al., (2016) suggest that the various factors that hinder youth participation in agriculture can be mitigated by implementing schemes and organizations that are oriented to youth development.
Most SSA governments have failed to include agriculture among the focus areas in the formulation of national youth development policies. Lack of adequate emphasis on agriculture in the education system has eliminated proper role models in the agricultural sector. Lack of such structures that play the role of rallying, financing, providing machinery, bridging production and technological skills and boosting the attitude of young people towards agriculture.
Properly coordinated farmers clubs and monitored youth groups have the potential to attract production resources, pooling and acquiring financial resources, influence change of perception and attitude, and influence political goodwill. Besides, the roles played by these groups could extend further to increasing returns of agricultural production and reducing the total cost of labour used in production (Bezu & Holden, 2014).
d) Limited access to capital and financial credit services
Today’s agriculture has been revolutionized by technology-based production, large amounts of capital, and high costs of labour. FAO, (2018) outlines that capital is a significant factor of production in agribusiness, and without it, processes that aim at attracting and retaining young people into agriculture might be throttled.
Youths in SSA lack the financial resources to indulge in modern and more productive agriculture. Those engaged in agribusiness mostly utilize resources inherited from parents. Although agriculture is a pro-poor intervention in eliminating poverty, the poor promotion of agriculture and agribusiness has limited its consideration by financial institutions.
Increasing programs that depict agriculture as a lucrative sector both in the print and electronic media could boost its chances of consideration by the financial organizations. Creating awareness of the importance of agriculture has the potential to expose youths to funding sources.
Opportunities for Youths in Agribusiness in SSA
a) Agribusiness unusual
Agribusiness promises sustainable employment opportunities for the many unemployed youths in SSA. Besides, the participants will boost food production and availability in many areas across the region. The financial gains realized will help them improve their standards of living, and enhance economic and social development (Payumo, Lemgo, & Maredia, 2017).
However, well-thought strategies must be implemented at every stage to hook up youths to profitable opportunities in the agribusiness value chain. Kaneene, Haggblade, & Tschirley, (2015) postulate that multiple opportunities at different stages of the agri-food value chain can be harnessed to create both direct and indirect streams of income. These opportunities manifest at the production stage, research and consulting as well as information generation.
b) Agricultural production value chain
The production level in agriculture attracts the largest mass of workforce and promises the most substantial employment opportunities for youths in Africa. According to Minde et al., (2015), SSA is yet to fully exploit its agricultural potential. As the general African population continues to grow, the demand for food products also grows in tandem.
To satisfy the demand for food while reducing the continent's dependence on imported food, there is need to diversify the sources of food. South Africa entirely depends on imported rice and wheat, which are two of the country’s staple foods. African countries need to expand their engagement in sub-sectors such as livestock, fish farming, rice, cereal farming, and dairy farming (FAO, 2018).
c) Agricultural consultancy
Educated youths have the opportunity to enter agriculture as experts in research, consulting, and general agricultural skills and capacity development. As most governments in SSA continue to link educational curricula to current affairs and new events in the agriculture sector, youths have an essential role to help in redesigning, aligning, and actualization of the taught skills and technologies into production (FAO, 2018).
d) Agricultural training
Opportunities are available in the form of on-the-farm training of youths and farmers on new skills, hooking up farmers to new technology in production, and training on agricultural enterprise development. Such technical trainings could help to equip farmers with soft and business skills such as those that aid communication and trade. Tapping into such opportunities can open up avenues for income and career exposure among youths in SSA.
The agricultural sector will require hastening of the transition into advanced technologically integrated approaches to agricultural production in order to impress agribusiness to the youths. According to Payumo, Lemgo, & Maredia (2017), SSA has a commendable rate of ICT adoption with Ghana and Seychelles having the highest penetration of ICT.
In Benin, close to half the population of farmers use mobile phones in their day to day agricultural practices. The development of advanced services such as the I-cow, widely used in Kenya, has been critical in improving the productivity of agricultural production. As SSA governments strive to encourage innovative and technology-reliant agriculture, youths with vast knowledge on information technology can tap into the opportunity.
Participation in the establishment of databases that offer information, production skills, access to markets as well as other agribusiness activities. Integration of cyber application into agriculture will potentially open up the entreprise part of agriculture and create innovative sources of income for the young population.
Sub-Sahara Africa continues to experience a growth in its population, with more than 65% of its population below 25 years of age. However, misprioritization of employment creation has created employment opportunities into sectors that do not absorb as much labour as agriculture.
There is need to change the general perception of youths towards agriculture by mitigating bottlenecks that deter them from venturing into agribusiness. Addressing these issues can help the youths to tap into opportunities available across the agribusiness value chain in production, supply, processing, technical training, and technological innovations.
Some of the recommendable interventions towards achieving a significant transition of SSA youths into agriculture include;
- Tapping into the youth's innovative potentials and engaging new technologies that are relevant to school going children will intrigue their interest in agribusiness. This should continue through school by availing technological training programs that are agriculture-oriented.
- Improving the current state of production approaches and widening the scope of agricultural training will potentially help address the foul attitude of youths towards agricultural
- Strategically position youths to align with opportunities availed by large-scale investors in the agricultural and food value chain likely attracts their participation in the sector.
- Involving youths in agricultural and land policy formulation and enactment.
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