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Africa’s Rural Youth: A Policy Priority

By Liz Wilson Last month the International Monetary Fund told the UK government to pull up its economic socks. In addition to recommending more monetary and credit easing, the IMF signalled that unemployment – including youth unemployment – was still too high. The level of youth unemployment – high on the UK political agenda since it rose to 1 million in late 2011 – is accepted to be an important development indicator because of the associated present and future economic costs and social impacts. Youth unemployment is a global issue. The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s latest report on Global Employment Trends for Youth, published on 22 May, indicated that nearly 75 million youth are currently unemployed around the world, an increase of more than 4 million since 2007.  As Agriculture for Impact’s work is concerned with equitable, as well as sustainable and productive, agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, I wanted to find out more about how rural youth are being affected by these global trends. There is no doubt that Africa’s rural youth is a key demographic group for development planning and policy. A new report ‘Small-scale farming and youth in an era of rapid rural change’ by Felicity Proctor and Valerio Lucchesi shows that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the proportion of rural youth is increasing, and will continue to increase until 2030 or 2040. The proportion of the overall population who depend directly on agriculture for their livelihood and wellbeing is 55%, although there are significant variations within different countries in the region. According to the ILO the overall youth unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa was 11.5% in 2011, a rate that has remained stable since 2005. But – as Proctor and Lucchesi set out in their report – there is little data available on the unemployment rates for rural youth. This in part is because young people’s work is not always recognised or remunerated as ‘employment’ in rural areas, and they do not fall into statisticians’ standard jobseeker criteria. The African Economic Outlook 2012 published on 28 May, has a special focus on youth employment in the continent. Using Gallup World Poll Data from 2010, the report shows that 38% of working youth in Africa are in agriculture (compared to 2% in OECD countries). But the proportion changes dramatically from country to country, according to whether it is a low-, lower middle- or an upper middle income country (see chart below). Where Young Africans Work Source: African Economic Outlook 2012 calculations based on Gallup World Poll (2010)  The importance of agriculture for rural youth is also apparent in other Gallup World Poll data which show that the proportion of young people engaged in agriculture is greater that the number of adults (see chart below). The report suggests that this might be because the number of other more highly-paid work opportunities is decreasing owing to shrinking public sector work forces, and agricultural work requires few qualifications and is easier for young people to obtain. Youth and Adults by Population Source: African Economic Outlook 2012 calculations based on Gallup World Poll (2010) But despite the fact that agriculture is likely to remain a key sector for young people in much of Africa, it has an image problem. The key informants of the Proctor and Lucchesi study spoke of the ‘dismal profile of the agriculture sector’ with problems such as lack of political support and societal recognition of the importance of agriculture. In a speech ‘The Role of Young People in Africa’s Agricultural Revolution’ to a conference on Young People, Farming and Food in March 2012, the former President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa Namanga Ngongi said that the poor participation of young people in farming and the agricultural economy directly threatened the future of Africa’s agriculture and rural economic transformation. Furthermore, the lack of support to improve productivity and bring innovation into the sector had in pushed people away from business opportunities in agriculture and into more attractive sectors like information and communication technology or finance. So there is a need to act fast: both to improve the prospects of those young people who live and work in rural areas now and in the future, but also to ensure that the agricultural sector becomes a more productive and attractive profession. Africa’s food security, as well as its equitable economic transformation, depends on it. Without a clear policy strategy for engaging this rising group of rural youth, Africa’s leaders and the development partners that work with them risk creating an economic time bomb for their successors. But more importantly if policymakers fail to find finance for and include rural youth in rural policy and development planning processes, our development legacy in rural sub-Saharan Africa will be a missed opportunity to transform the lives of this and the next generation. Source: Agriculture for Impact Read Original post on this Link: Africa's Rural Youth: A Policy Priority