Denting youth unemployment through agriculture
By Busani Bafana
Agriculture is not glamorous. It suffers from entrenched negative perceptions. In the minds of many African youths, a farmer is someone like their parents, doing backbreaking labour in the fields and getting little to show for it. Nonetheless, agriculture is the engine driving many African economies. If it were to get the same political support and financial investment as the mining sector, agriculture would be capable of providing more decent jobs and filling millions more stomachs with nutritious meals.
Francisca Ansah, an extension officer with expertise in agriculture and rural services, works with farmers in the Upper West region of Ghana. At a farmers' conference in Ghana last year, she said the image of poor, ragged and weather-beaten farmers puts off many young people. Having seen their aging parents go through the traumatic experience of farming using basic equipment, these young people opt to settle in urban areas in search of employment. "Young people have second thoughts about agriculture as the source for jobs," said Ms. Ansah.
Despite the negative perceptions, the agricultural sector employs as much as 60% of Africa's labour force, according to the Africa Economic Outlook Report 2013, published jointly by the African Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the UN Development Programme. Yet because of low productivity, the sector accounts for only 25% of the continent's gross domestic product (GDP).
Despite such grim statistics, the sector has huge potential. The World Bank estimates that African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. For that to happen, there must be improvements in electricity and irrigation, coupled with smart business and trade policies. An agribusiness private sector working alongside government could link farmers with consumers and create many jobs.
Jobs for young people
Fast-growing economies that can cut poverty and create meaningful jobs, particularly for youths, require political will from leaders and huge injections of investment in agriculture, according to Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, a Zimbabwean researcher and land policy analyst. "Africa is still on average 60% rural in population. The African Union has defined the immediate future around agriculture as the main force in social and economic transformation of the continent," says Professor Rukuni, who has published widely on African agriculture.