Africa has the largest concentration of young people in the world, according to the United Nations (UN). The share of Africa’s youth population is also expected to increase to 42 percent by 2030. With Africa’s high percentage of the youth population, there is also an employment issue. According to the World Bank, in Africa, youths account for 60 percent of the jobless. To help solve this employment issue, we can look to agriculture and agribusiness. Agribusiness involves the business activities surrounding agriculture. A senior UN official stated that “businesses around farming including processing, packaging, transportation, marketing, distribution, and financial services could create jobs for young people, especially those in rural areas.”
Agriculture should be encouraged and made desirable so that more African youths can choose to enter the industry, especially because Africa has fertile land for farming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 874 million hectares of Africa’s lands are suitable for agriculture production. Agriculture is a key driver of economic development because most Africans are already engaged in farming, but Africa’s full agricultural potential remains untapped. The more interest that governments create in agriculture and the business activities surrounding agriculture, the more Africa’s full agricultural potential can be tapped.
Agriculture should not be seen only through the lens of subsistence farming. There are many micro-enterprises within agriculture that youths can engage. There is a world of opportunities in processing and adding value to harvests. Agribusiness offers many opportunities for youths to find gainful employment along the value chain.
Why then are most African youths unemployed when there are business opportunities in agriculture? Also, how can African governments and development institutions make agriculture something young people want to be a part of? We interviewed one hundred youths, ages of 15-35, across Nigeria and Liberia for their insights on agriculture and making agribusiness attractive. The following obstacles were the most common among our respondents: lack of capital, lack of knowledge or skills, low prestige of agriculture as a career field, hard work associated with farming, and low yields.
Agriculture and agribusiness provide different opportunities for African youths to work in logistics, packaging, innovation, etc. To make agriculture interesting governments and development institutions should reduce the obstacles that limits more engagement in agriculture.
Below, we look at some ways to make agriculture more appealing to a younger demographic based on the responses we received. These suggestions need to be worked on as a collective and not individually. For example, you cannot provide capital without providing knowledge and skills. You also cannot provide knowledge and skills without giving the right tools to increase yields, etc.
Almost fifty percent of our respondents mentioned not having the funds to enter agriculture. Some respondents stated that their families owned lands in the village, so land ownership was not particularly an issue for them; what these respondents complained about was the lack of funds to buy tools and all materials needed to get involved. Even the respondents who complained about not having lands to farm on added that they would purchase land for farming if they had the capital.
To make agriculture more viable for the younger age group, provide funding. Since most financial institutions consider youths, usually with little collateral, too risky, governments and development institutions should make available zero-interest loans to young people and agripreneurs without a long list of collateral requirements.
African governments should set up funding programs for youths to go into agriculture. These programs can be in the form of small loans given through financial institutions. Governments should also raise awareness for the funding program through media campaigns to encourage young people to apply. In addition, leaders should remove or reduce barriers to access funds. A young person who is declined funding for any reason should not be sent away empty-handed. Those denied should receive training in agriculture to develop their skills instead, so they are better prepared to receive funding in the future.
Provide knowledge & skills training
About forty percent of respondents also cited that they lacked the knowledge and skills to run a farm or business. Of our unemployed and tertiary educated respondents, over forty percent said they did not acquire agricultural knowledge or skills from the university. Making agriculture attractive would require providing training for youths. This demographic misses out on the opportunities available in agriculture simply because they lack skills in agriculture.
Agriculture and entrepreneurship training should be a requirement in secondary and tertiary education. Governments and academic bodies need to make deliberate efforts to incorporate agricultural training into the current education system as a compulsory subject. Governments should also promote conferences and seminars aimed at promoting the study of agribusiness.
Present Agriculture as a Reputable, and Respected Field
Seventeen percent of our respondents mentioned that they did not feel agriculture was a reputable career choice. When asked why, they said that agriculture does not hold the same prestige as an accountant or lawyer, for example. Youths often have an image of agriculture that has to do with subsistence farming, which has a low reputation. Young people in Africa either grow up in the village or have family members engaged in subsistence farming. More than sixty percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa are smallholder farmers.
When some youths move from the rural areas to the city, they are saying goodbye to subsistence farming. They have seen what it is like, and they want to move away from that. Even children hardly say they want to grow up to be a farmer. We asked ten different children what they want to be when they grow up, and the common fields that came up were – footballer, doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, accountant. These fields are considered reputable and prestigious career fields that make one and their family proud, even if the salary is not as attractive.
Some respondents perceived agriculture as a field for unsuccessful people. Ten percent of respondents who said they are already involved in agribusiness still considered themselves unemployed because they did not regard agribusiness as full-time employment. Not perceiving agriculture as full-time employment means, when the “right” jobs come along, they will drop their agribusiness.
The narrative surrounding agriculture needs to change if we are going to make agriculture more inviting for the younger generation. People’s perceptions of agriculture being a path to success needs to change, and governments need to encourage more young people to be agric-preneurs as early as secondary school. Governments should avail well-trained career counselors to schools and universities to encourage students to view agribusiness as a worthy career that they could build a life around. Primary and secondary school education should include modules on farming details from growing to selling crops. Actions like these could help young people see agribusiness as a potential career.
Also, to increase agriculture’s appeal, African governments should work with national and international publications to frequently feature profiles of successful agripreneurs. Reputable magazines and media outlets should showcase the success stories of farmers and others involved in agriculture. Additionally, governments should recognize individuals nationally and regionally who work all along the agriculture value chains to promote the narrative that agriculture is a successful field. Governments should support smallholder farmers to help them increase their output and their financial gains. These actions will show young people that agriculture is a financially reliable and reputable career choice.
Subsistence farming requires a great deal of effort and endurance. The amount of physical energy exerted while using traditional tools, like cutlasses and hoes, discourages some people from going into agriculture even though they might be interested in it. Our survey showed that over four percent of the respondents identified out hard work as one reason they were discouraged from going into agriculture. Some people still view agriculture as more difficult compared to other professions, despite jobs like construction demanding equal or more physical energy than farming.
Mechanized tools, like tractors or bulldozers, that make the work in agriculture less physically demanding are available. Since smallholder farmers cannot afford these machines, governments should create programs or cooperatives to make modern machinery available. In Ghana, Trotro Tractor, a Ghanaian owned company, lets farmers rent shareable tractors to ease the burden of farming due to the high cost of obtaining and maintaining tractors. Such initiatives like this should be encouraged and sponsored by governments and other stakeholders in Africa.
Providing machinery will make agriculture more productive and easier, and it could also increase people’s interest in the field. Mechanized tools can help reduce the cost of labor for farmers. Supporting farm mechanization would help make agriculture more appealing. Modern machinery has made agriculture more efficient and led to mass production. In place of hoes and cutlasses, make new tools like plows, harrows, ridgers, sprayers, etc., available for farmers.
Improve Yields Return
A few of our respondents said that agriculture did not attract them because of the low yields and the length of time it took to get a return. Our respondents, essentially, said that farming work is too hard considering the small output gained both through the harvest and financially. Low quality yields also result in low financial gains. Quality seeds can help to improve yields and increase the productivity of farmers. Seeds are one of the most important factors influencing agriculture output. Low yields reduce the potential of agriculture to be profitable. Increasing farmers’ yields can provide them with a chance to escape poverty and improve their quality of life.
If agricultural productivity is increased, there could be two to three times more yields. Improved seeding could also help improve the harvest output and quality for farmers, increasing the return on their investment.
Having quality seed is the basis for increasing crop yields. The quality of the seeds should be taken into consideration to maximize overall agricultural productivity. For example, use hybrid seeds that are naturally inclined to grow faster, stronger, and often bred to produce larger fruit, higher yields, and resist disease.
In conclusion, once agriculture becomes appealing, it would encourage more youths to gravitate to agriculture and agribusiness thereby leading to more jobs created. Making agriculture attractive requires that the costs of farming and doing business are improved while at the same time productivity is increased. Encouraging young African to find employment in agriculture will require major investments in capital, knowledge training, mechanization, improving prestige, and increasing yields.
African governments should strive to make the market available and accessible to agric-preneurs by investing in infrastructures that would enable transportation of produce to the market which could increase financial gains for agric-preneurs. A report by Mckinsey notes that sub-Saharan Africa will need eight times more fertilizer, six-time more improved seed, and an $8 billion investment in storage. Investment is also needed in roads, ports, and electricity with improvements in policies. All these investments will work cumulatively to make agriculture and agribusiness attractive to youths in Africa and create employment for the record numbers of youths now and in the future.