In agriculture, we can tame the youth unemployment in Africa

Monday November 2 2015

By Nathan Were

Last week, the MasterCard Foundation, a global philanthropic organisation, brought together nearly 300 young people from across sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa to deliberate and craft strategies that can arrest the unemployment problem among the youth and perhaps explore how African countries can harness the opportunities that exist within the agricultural sector.

The summit, whose focus was on best practices and effective approaches for preparing young people for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agriculture, came a few months after the release of the Global Employment trends report 2015 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO report not only shows an increase in the number of unemployed youth in sub-Saharan Africa, but also indicates that the nature of available work is changing with informal, part-time and precarious work increasingly becoming the norm. From the report, three aspects stand-out;
l Young African workers don’t have the educational qualifications for the jobs they occupy. In sub-Saharan Africa, research shows that two in three young workers do not have the standard educational requirements for their current position. This results in loss of labour productivity and wages for young workers and points to broader mismatches in technical and transferable skills with the available work.

l Informal and precarious work and mixed livelihoods (a variety of activities at one time to pursue an income) are the norm. In low-income countries, three in four young people are engaged in work that is characterised as irregular. This includes youth engaged in own-account work, family work, and/or casual paid or temporary labour. The informal and precarious nature of work forces young people to adopt mixed livelihood strategies to ensure adequate income. In addition to lower wages and sporadic hours, informal work doesn’t provide important elements of social protection such as written contracts, paid leave, health insurance and other benefits.

l Transition from school to decent work takes long and adversely impacts youth and the labour market. The school-to-work transition surveys data show that for young people in low-income countries, the transition from school to work is short. However, across all countries, the transition from school or training to a ‘good’ job - if it happens - can take an average of 37 months, or more than three years. This is not only a loss of productive labour, but it also has negative impacts on the young people who are unable to benefit from productive employment.
The ILO findings paint a gloomy picture for the youth across Africa with many countries, including Uganda, struggling with very young populations and an army of youth completing or dropping out of educational institutions at different levels. It is feared that in Africa, 11 million young people will enter the labour market annually over the next 10 years, further worsening an already bad situation.

The ILO findings, however, provide us with an opportunity to invest in sectors that have the strongest potential to generate jobs - agriculture being one such sector. Africa is home to the largest amount of arable land that, if well utilised, has the potential to increase job creation 11 times more than any other sector.
We thus need to find creative ways of pulling the young people into the sector. Leveraging technology, building clear linkages to inputs, markets; strengthening extension, designing financing schemes that would target and attract promising youth in agriculture and using successful young people as role models for their peers would greatly help.

Mr Were manages a large scale financial inclusion programme for sub-Saharan Africa. [email protected]