More than just a seat at the table

Africa is home to the world’s youngest and fastest growing population. For many young people, agriculture could offer a job perspective. But to improve the living conditions and job prospects of young people in rural areas, political reforms and investments are desperately needed, as these people will be at the centre of agriculture and agricultural development in the future.


Workers at the rice mill Labana Rice Limited in Birnin Kebbi/Nigeria. © Thomas Imo, GIZ
Workers at the rice mill Labana Rice Limited in Birnin Kebbi/Nigeria. © Thomas Imo, GIZ

Welthungerhilfe (WHH)


Welthungerhilfe is one of the largest private aid organizations in Germany and is committed to a secure diet, the development of agriculture and the conservation of resources.

Africa is home to the world’s youngest and fastest growing population. The average age in sub-Saharan Africa is 19.3 years. Around 12 million young people join the labour market every year. For many of them, agriculture could offer job prospects. Today, more than half of 18-24-year-olds work in the countryside.


But working in the countryside and in agriculture also involves risks - climate change, wars and conflicts, the consequences of the corona pandemic to name a few. In order to improve the living conditions and job prospects for young people in the countryside, investments are desperately needed, as they will be at the centre of agriculture, agricultural companies and agricultural development in the future.


Most young people consider striking a balance to be the best option: They do not want to do farming exclusively, but they certainly want to do some agriculture.


There is very often the assumption - including in literature - that young people do not find employment in agriculture to be desirable as it produces “poor men”. Instead, they would rather move to the city or even abroad.


However, many studies, including from the University of Hohenheim or IFAD, show differing results. Almost half of the young people surveyed in Zambia could certainly imagine employment in this sector because they believe it to be good and profitable. However, others see agriculture as strenuous, risky and undesirable. Most consider striking a balance to be the best option: They not only want to work in agriculture, they also want to become teachers or craftsmen or open a tailor shop in addition to running a farm. As such, young people see a variety of strategies to make a living; agriculture would be one of several sources of income. This reduces the risks of employment in this sector.


Addressing gender inequalities

In any case, economic opportunities for young people in rural areas are not only available in husbandry or agriculture, but in many other sectors of the agricultural and food system, such as buying and selling agricultural products in markets or selling agricultural equipment in shops. Work outside the farm also improves the income opportunities for young women in the countryside, as well as their position.


This is urgently needed since they have poorer access to land and find work on farms to be particularly strenuous. A study on Zambia conducted by the University of Hohenheim shows that 14% of the young men but 40% of the women surveyed would prefer not to work in agriculture at all.


Junge Frau beim Reisumschütten in Tanguiéta. Nach der Ernte muss der Reis mehrfach gewaschen, gesiebt, gekocht, getrocknet und schließlich in der Reismühle geschält werden. Anschließend wird der Reis auf lokalen Märkten verkauft. © Ursula Meissner, GIZ

There is no doubt: Agriculture must become more attractive for young people.  Many would like a better house, increased production. Safety nets for crop failure or climate change. Technology, such as tractors or smartphone apps, can be offered to boost attractiveness. But this will not be enough. Investments in the countryside must also address social inequality, particularly the inequality of young men and women. Better equal opportunities should always be considered an important goal when investing in rural areas, even if they cannot replace political reforms.


In addition, political reforms and investments should help to give young people, particularly young women, access to land, water and loans. They particularly need better access to land that they can farm.


Risks and opportunities

Investments in climate resistance are also essential to make rural areas more attractive to young people. More and more young people will be dependent on agriculture in the future. Yet agriculture in Africa will increasingly suffer from climate shocks and therefore be more vulnerable if effective countermeasures are not put in place.


Scientists, however, do not consider focussing solely on digitising agriculture to be particularly promising. They believe that most young people do not have the basic skills. There are also major barriers, such as poor internet connections and high operating costs for smartphones. The effects of the measures already taken in this area are certainly low.


Young people want to be part of self-determined political dialogues, not just with a seat at the decision-makers' table, but with their own voice.


A particularly interesting but so far neglected target group is young and potential agricultural experts. They have or would like to do a university degree e.g. in agricultural sciences, either at home and abroad. But they simply do not know enough about career opportunities in research and development. They also do not have the ability or the knowledge to influence political decision processes.


Development banks have been trying for some time now to show that agriculture is not only a basis for survival for small-scale farmers but also a promising economic activity that can create prosperity for the nations. Such claims are only credible if politics also work with young people, not just for them. They want to be part of self-determined political dialogues with more than just a seat at the table where these decisions are made; they want a voice because, after all, these decisions affect their future.


This information is based on three articles from the current journal Welternährung der Welthungerhilfe:


Thomas Daum: How young people in Africa see their future in agriculture


Athur Mabiso, Rui Benfica: Is Africa’s youth turning its back on agriculture?


Emily Ongus: Young agricultural experts are challenging politics


The journal can be ordered here free of charge.

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