The young need a future
In 2030 one in every three people looking for work will come from Africa. Today decent work is still a rarity on the continent, but developing the rural areas can solve the problem.
The village of Mandu lies in the Sierra Leone bush, four hours’ drive over dirt tracks from Bo, the provincial capital. A rice mill clatters away in a clearing, with young men shovelling the crop into the machine. After the grains are de-husked and polished, the white rice goes into sacks for selling. Right next door, at the Agriculture Business Center, women process cassava roots into crisps. Five hundred smallholder families have formed a cooperative in Mandu. Fifty young people are given training and paid work here, supported by the German aid organisation Welthungerhilfe’s ‘Skill up!’ programme. However, apprenticeships and jobs like these are rare in rural Africa.
Globally there are two billion people under the age of fifteen, with another 1.2 billion aged between 15 and 24. In numerical terms that is the largest generation of young people in history: a mammoth task not only for governments, but for industry and development cooperation too! At present seven out of ten young people in sub-Saharan Africa have at most precarious employment; 64 per cent of all those in work live on less than 3.10 US dollars a day, and 220 million go hungry. And this happens where food is actually produced – in rural areas. At the same time small-scale farming is still the main source of income for 90 per cent of the poorest people. That is why it is precisely in rural regions that there is an urgent need for new jobs, to give young people prospects for the future.
Socially responsible structural change is needed
Cropland is becoming scarcer, but yield increases are comparatively small in the absence of training and environmentally sustainable farming methods. Young Africans are familiar with the hardships of daily life: they have been ‘born’ into farming – with no proper training. Everyday life in a farming family is back-breaking work, mechanical aids are seldom available and incomes are poor. It is hard to access markets and loans, and crop losses are high, due not only to extreme weather but also to poor storage facilities. Structural change is urgently needed, in terms of both working practices and social responsibility: as well as on the modernisation of rural agriculture, it depends on the creation of new jobs in agricultural produce processing as well as in skilled trades and the service sector.
There is seldom electricity or clean water in African villages, and schooling often fails to lead to the necessary qualifications. When people want to transport goods, they have to contend constantly with worn-out roads and corrupt officials to boot. No wonder, then, that in times of globalisation many young people dream of a better life. If, with their limited qualifications, they migrate to the cities, they can mostly find only poorly paid casual work. This is because in Africa, in contrast to other regions of the world, industrialisation – and with it job creation – has so far happened in very few cities. There remains the option of migration to other countries or continents – a way out that offers opportunities but is also fraught with risk. If the local job market cannot absorb young adolescents, it may be that, in view of their lack of prospects, young men in particular choose this path. Or, in a worst case scenario, they join rebel or terrorist organisations.
A sound education is the key
Much has gone wrong in the last decades. African governments have neglected to invest in agriculture and rural regions, for example in transport routes, energy supplies, communication, health care and education. Likewise there has been little private sector investment, in part due to a lack of state economic reform. International development cooperation has also failed for decades to promote rural development.
For young African men and women a sound vocational education is the key to a globally integrated world with growing knowledge communities. New career and training opportunities – and new jobs, too – should be created in rural areas, specifically with a view to combating poverty and hunger. Appropriate qualifications not only facilitate increased production and better-quality agricultural produce, but also ensure a higher income. Outside farming additional jobs can be created in agricultural produce processing, thus adding value. Ideally this would be done by small and medium-sized businesses in the small towns in rural regions. Experience shows that growing staple foods for the home market, often in combination with produce for export, has positive repercussions for food security in rural areas; it is a key factor in diversification and thus in ending hunger and realising the human right to food. More jobs in skilled trades and the service sector can follow in the wake of promoting the local economy.
Boosting trade relations between rural producers and the growing number of urban consumers offers further opportunities: direct marketing in networks raises farmers’ incomes, and in return consumers get healthy and affordable food. In this way buying power at local markets can increase, villages become more attractive and the urban population has to depend less on imported goods and unhealthy fast food.
Shaping their own future
African governments must take responsibility. They need to support rural areas with investment to alleviate poverty, principally in infrastructure, health care and the education of young people, and girls in particular. In the Malabo Declaration of 2014 the heads of state and government of the African Union earmarked a minimum of ten per cent of government expenditure for this. However, they also need to implement long overdue reforms designed to enforce the rule of law and promote private-sector initiatives. In turn Germany and the EU, as well as other industrial countries and emerging economies, must ensure fair cooperation with Africa, especially with regard to more coherent policies on agriculture, trade and finance. Investment from the private sector is urgently needed to create new income opportunities specifically for young people – men and women. Obviously this would all have to comply with internationally applicable employment and social standards and with requirements for the greatest possible transparency.
In the 2030 Agenda the international community pledged to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. In Africa this will be decided in rural areas and will be reflected in the fate of the young. They aspire to a decent life, to earning a living wage and most of all to having the chance to shape their own future. A prerequisite for this is not only peace and security, but also political participation and the opportunity to develop their own abilities. Because a ‘good life’ consists not only of having the basic necessities, but also of justice and the freedom to live as one chooses.