20 July 2014

Zimbabwe: 'Engaging Youth in Agriculture Increases Productivity'

Policy makers need to adopt a comprehensive approach to the challenges of youth unemployment by prioritising higher productivity in agriculture, the World Bank has recommended.

The recommendation follows a recent report by the World Bank and Agence Française de Development titled, Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa which projects increased dominance of small scale agriculture and household enterprises in their economies.

Speaking on the sidelines of a youth conference hosted by the University of Zimbabwe last week, World Bank senior financial sector specialist Jennifer Chien said government would need to adopt a holistic approach tailored for the needs of young people.

"The policy advice we would give is to adopt a very comprehensive approach, so as not to just focus on vocational training and not to focus on just increasing manufacturing (sector activity), as well as not focusing on entrepreneurship because not everybody wants to be an entrepreneur," she said.

Chien said small scale agriculture and household enterprises which employ less than five people and are predominantly in the informal sector would continue to dominate economic activity.

"Policy makers need to prioritise higher youth productivity in agriculture as well as enable rental markets for land," she said adding that tailor made solutions could be adopted despite the majority of land in Africa being customarily owned.

Zimbabwe is presently reeling from the negative economic effects of low foreign direct investment, low agricultural and manufacturing sector activity as well as a high youth unemployment rate estimated at above 80%.

Chien said that new opportunities existed in agriculture but youth needed land and support to make it productive.

"There is growing demand for food produced on Africa's farms, both for domestic consumption and the export market. A manufacturing strategy will not solve today's youth employment challenges but will help the next generation," she said.

Youths were subdivided into various cluster groups at the conference to deliberate on matters affecting their enterprises.

One youth from an agriculture cluster presented the group's findings which were centred on the need for security of land tenure.

"We noted that there is need to depoliticise the agricultural sector so that it becomes all encompassing. There is need to look at agriculture purely from a business perspective and not just a place of occupation," he said.

The World Bank also noted that expensive or limited financing prevented firms from investing to improve productivity and also kept productive firms from growing.

"Banks in Africa set high collateral requirements and high risk premiums partly because they lack the credit information systems that help lenders to evaluate prospective customers. This problem can be addressed by policy and regulatory reform," the report reads.

The report also states that improved creditor rights and contract enforcement would also allow borrowers to use a broader range of assets as collateral.

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