By Museka Fredrick
University of Zambia.
At the core of Africa’s youth unemployment dilemma is a set of complex interconnected issues, including a skills deficit, outdated education system, obsolete technologies, and limited income creation opportunities, especially in rural areas. This article focuses on multi-pronged solutions to address the problem of youth unemployment by focusing on agriculture.
Perceptions on how most young people look at agriculture sector investment is very worrying among the African youths. There is consensus that a strong involvement of Africa’s youth in rural development, agriculture and natural resources management will boost food security in the continent. However, youth participation in land-based sectors in many African countries is very low, largely because of the perception that activities in the primary production sector such as agriculture and natural resources are characterized by drudgery, minimal financial returns and therefore meant for the least educated in society. This perception is reinforced by the labor intensive nature of agriculture.
In addition to these fundamental problems, many more challenges, such as insecure land tenure systems, restricted access to funding, uncertain markets, and limited opportunities for value addition further limit the attractiveness of primary sector activities to the youth. The poor participation of Africa’s youth in agriculture and natural resources management is a critical threat to the continent’s food security. It must be urgently addressed.
Therefore, the time for the youth agricultural paradigm shift is now; the African youths must focus on opportunities in Agri-business. What the youth should understand is that there is even more returns in agri-business than most other businesses as it is dealing with renewable resources and of course the services that are of a continuous nature. This will require multi-level innovative interventions in many fronts, including: changing the current misconception by the youth; addressing meaningfully the agricultural profitability issue as well as the issue of long term nature of natural resource-based investments, mitigating the land tenure constraint and that of youth access to financial services.
However as modern technologies help Africa to leapfrog old communications systems, as demand for organic and fair trade products grows and as research into locally relevant and sustainable agricultural systems expands, there should be greater opportunities for youth in agriculture and in return bring the agricultural paradigm shift in young people.
There is also need for opportunities to ground youth in Africa’s economic transformation and development. Agricultural education and training institutions need to transform their curricula which is often outdated and focused narrowly on farm production rather than encompassing markets, agribusiness, processing and other life skills required by young entrepreneurs.
In summary, what is needed is to better prepare the youth to meet the challenges so that they are more entrepreneurial, more creative, innovative and determined; with the skills to take advantage of new opportunities, with the commitment to improve the livelihoods of the rural poor.