Uganda: How Agri-Food Sector Could Unlock Millions of Jobs for African Youth

Kampala, Uganda — Africa's agri-food sector holds significant untapped potential to deliver millions of jobs and livelihoods for the continent's rapidly growing youth population, according to a new report unveiled on Feb.14 in Kampala.

The report is published by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of leading African and international experts from the fields of agriculture, ecology, food security, nutrition, public policy and global development.

The Panel's reports seek to inform and guide policy choices to accelerate progress toward the ambitious goals of the African Union Commission's Agenda 2063, the Malabo Declaration and the global development agenda. The panel works with African governments and civil society organizations to provide support and evidence-based research that facilitate the identification and implementation of policies that enhance agriculture, food security and nutrition.

Launched at the 13th Malabo Montpellier Forum in Kampala, the report reviews four systematically selected African countries - Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - as case studies of how innovative policies and institutional reforms "can shift the needle on youth empowerment in food systems."

It highlights how 11 million young people join the African labour market each year, yet only 3.7 million jobs are being created. At the same time, the African agricultural economy is now the fastest growing across all continents, powered by a rapidly rising processing sector, with combined food and beverage markets forecast to triple in value to US$1 trillion by 2030.

The report titled: "Youth Ahead: Policy Innovations to Create Opportunities for Young People in Africa's Agrifood Systems" notes that agrifood systems provide an important channel for solving the unemployment and underemployment challenges facing African youth and strengthening them will reduce poverty and bolster food security on the continent.

With the right innovative policies, the report notes, African governments can stimulate new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people along agribusiness value chains, while equipping and incentivising youths to join the sector, the authors found.

"Africa's agrifood sector offers extraordinary potential for attractive, profitable, and sustainable jobs for our rising youth population, that will in turn help address the continent's food security challenges," said Dr. Ousmane Badiane, the executive chairperson, AKADEMIYA2063, and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

"Innovative strategies to attract and support Africa's youth to succeed with the right skills, technology, and policy environment would boost the pace of employment creation to meet the growing labour demands in the decades ahead. Our report recommends policies to help create these opportunities, including targeted education, training, enterprise creation and growth support, and technology infrastructure."

According to the report, the youth across the continent are pivotal to transforming Africa's agrifood systems and to attaining the continent's job, growth, and health goals. "While African governments have long recognized that turning the youth bulge into a demographic dividend must be a top policy priority, efforts must be redoubled to ensure that Africa's young people are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and supportive environments that they need to thrive and to play their role in sustainably transforming and elevating food systems across the continent."

Africa's ever bulging youth population

Currently, around 60% of Africa's population is younger than 25 years and more than one third is aged 15-35 years. The median age across Africa is 18 years. In 2020, Africa's population aged between 15-35 years was 454 million or 23% of the world's total youth population.

According to the report, between now and 2100, Africa's youth population is expected to grow by 181%, while Europe's will shrink by 21% and Asia's by 28%. It's expected that by 2063, there will be over one billion young people aged between 15-35 years in Africa.

By 2100, almost half of the world's youth will be from Africa. However, as Africa's youth continue to shape the continent's demographics, they face increasing economic headwinds such as unemployment and underemployment, notes the report.

With Africa's rural economies currently unable to absorb its young population as workers, Africa's urban labour markets are feeling the pressure of young people migrating from rural areas into cities. As a result, a growing mismatch between the supply and demand for labour is one of the main drivers of high youth unemployment and underemployment rates.

Put differently, there is a mismatch between the qualifications and skills that young people across Africa have to offer and what the African labour market needs. However, while the lack of decent jobs for young people currently presents an immense challenge, it can also be a great opportunity, particularly in Africa's rapidly transforming food systems.

Africa's agrifood systems hold significant promise for improving youth employment and livelihoods thanks to Africa's growing urban population and middle-class which are demanding more varied, nutritious, processed and ready-to-eat foods. This increased demand can generate new jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people along African agribusiness value chains.

Despite increased attention to and financing for African agrifood systems over recent decades, the sector's potential remains largely untapped with young people often viewing agriculture as outdated, unprofitable and drudging work.

What the youth

While presenting the report findings, Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the former commissioner for rural development and agriculture at the African Union Commission said the report had been informed by a survey and forum which were organized both virtually and physically to gather views of African youth. The youth noted in the survey that they were not sufficiently pursuing the opportunities in the agri-food sector because it is not attractive enough for them.

The sector, the youth noted, has challenges and barriers including; limited access to modern tools, technology and machinery, lack of youth friendly loans and financial services, poor infrastructure,and lack of favourable policies which would help the youth access agricultural inputs across the value chain.

"Many youth also lack data which is vital in decision making," Tumusiime said, adding that, the youth on the continent are also grappling with the lack of digital skills, poor access to markets and negative perception of the agri-food sector.

Still, 80% of the respondents agree that the agri-food sector offers them opportunities for employment and many of them could be involved in providing extension services, animal rearing, crop production, food marketing, food processing, food trade and provision of inputs.

This suggests that there is widespread belief in this sector to provide meaningful employment. According to the report, there are numerous opportunities across the agri-food system value chain including; harvest and post-harvest stages (cleaning, storage, processing, packaging, transportation, marketing and trade).

The report also notes that Africa's agri-food processing segment is rapidly transforming. It offers application of novel digital technologies and tools for innovation and higher incomes but only 14% of the youth surveyed for the report said they were involved in this segment.

The report provides examples of successful and emerging interventions being implemented across the continent to empower youth and facilitate a thriving environment for their leadership and engagement in sustainable food systems transformation.

It identifies opportunities to unlock decent jobs and livelihoods along the agri-food value chain, from crop breeding and research and development to harvesting, processing, and trade. The authors make a critical recommendation for African governments to diversify education and training programmes to develop and upgrade skills that facilitate entrepreneurship and employment for young Africans in agriculture and agribusiness.

In Ghana, for example, initiatives such as the Youth Employment Agency Bill and the National Youth Policy were cited as examples of efforts to upskill and support youth to enter the agri-food sector. As part of its plan to industrialize agriculture, increase food security and employment opportunities, and lower poverty rates, the country launched the Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP), which deployed youth-focused initiatives to change the negative perception of farmers as uneducated, unskilled laborers with low economic returns.

The authors also found that youth-focused institutions and programmes in Uganda, such as the Presidential Zonal Industrial Hubs, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute Innovation Centre, and the Youth Livelihood Programme are providing young people with marketable skills in agri-food processing and product development, ICT, agricultural mechanization, and entrepreneurship.

To further support digital transformation, the government of Uganda launched the Digital Skills Acceleration Program and the Digital Transformation Programme, which aim to increase access and usage of ICT by vulnerable groups, including small-scale farmers.

In Zambia, the government set up the Skills Development Levy to mobilize resources that can be invested in youth empowerment, notably in strengthening the infrastructure of technical and vocational training institutions.

Through the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA), the TEVET bursary enables vulnerable youth to benefit from skills training, including courses in general agriculture, food and beverage production, automotive mechanics engineering, electrical engineering, and computer studies.

The report also looks at policy interventions in Zimbabwe, highlighting the innovation hubs in higher education institutions that provide technical and research-based solutions for skills enhancement in the country's labor force.

Introduced under the framework of the country's Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Policy, these hubs equip students with specific industrial skills to enable them to operate entrepreneurially with the capacity to incubate any businesses they create. Beneficiary sectors include agriculture, energy, and mining.

"Attracting youth to the agrifood sector and enabling them to play an active role in shaping African food systems must go hand-in-hand with leveraging the potential of new technologies for the industry," said Eng. Dr. Dorothy Okello, Dean, School of Engineering, Makerere University, and Malabo Montpellier Panel Member.

"Harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of Africa's youth alongside developments such as AI and emerging technologies while investing in transferable skills training in areas such as computer programming and embedded systems, data science, and business studies, will maximize the potential of young people to advance Africa's agrifood and economic transformation."

Other recommendations to support African governments in empowering youth in agrifood systems include addressing trade barriers and investing in technology infrastructure for jobs, involving youth in policy formulation and decision-making, and addressing green growth and employment agendas with youth as investors.

"The active involvement of young people in Africa's agrifood systems is essential for the continent's economic development and peace," said Prof. Joachim von Braun from the Centre for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn, and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

"Reaping the full benefits of the enterprising spirit of Africa's youth will require access to finance, skills and land, and respect for youth voice in political decision-making processes."

Going forward, the report notes that Africa must accelerate its transition from mainly producing and exporting raw materials and importing processed foods to establishing a thriving and competitive agro-processing sector that delivers on the African Union's Agenda 2063 targets of economic growth, wealth generation, and employment.

"Failure to do so will mean continued food import dependency, heightened vulnerability to global supply shocks, and lost opportunities for significant wealth generation among both rural and urban populations.

According to the report, a thriving agro-processing sector, in particular, offers a multitude of benefits," the report reads in part.

"Transforming, preserving and preparing food for intermediate or final consumption brings together the best of the agricultural, manufacturing, and services sectors. A flourishing food processing sector will alleviate seasonal shortages in food supply, stabilize market prices, reduce post-harvest losses, unlock demand for nutritious foods, and improve food safety standards."

Hailemariam Desalegn, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia who is also Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum attended the Kampala meeting. He said there is urgent need to address the pressing situation African youth are facing (daunting and sometimes frustrating task of seeking for employment).

He said governments could create decent jobs in the agrifood sector by deliberately initiating a number of policies followed by concrete action points and institutions. These would ensure skilling the youth, improving their access to finance, improving infrastructure and most importantly, changing the mindset of the youth toward the agri-food sector. "Our problem is that we do have good intentions and good policies but many of these remain on the shelves," Desalegn said.

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