In the face of the predicted impacts of climate change on ecosystems and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, addressing inclusive economic growth, food insecurity, and ecosystems management shall require a renewed effort by the African countries that recognizes the need for inclusion and participation of the growing youth population in Africa. According to the World Bank, 200 million Africans are aged 15-24 years, and approximately 11 million young people join the workforce every year. Most of these remain unemployed, pausing further potential risks to ecosystems, socio-economic and political stability of African countries. Governments, therefore, need to think of how to tap into the young workforce and channel their energy into addressing food insecurity, maintaining healthier ecosystems, and hence, steer sustainable development in Africa.
According to EBAFOSA, ecosystem-based approaches to agriculture provide opportunities for increasing agricultural productivity, improving human well-being due to increased incomes, maintaining healthier ecosystems, and expanding the agriculture value chains hence diversified work opportunities for a variety of people. The diversified opportunities in EbA-Driven Agriculture are unique in that they are knowledge and labour intensive, and require increased human capital, thus likely to attract the growing, unemployed, yet relatively educated youth population in African countries. Furthermore, the emergent opportunities are green and have the potential of becoming decent jobs if governments and other stakeholders prioritize i) mainstreaming EbA approaches in their national development policies and plans and ii) including young people as key actors in the implementation of these policies and plans.
For the latter, governments must take advantage of the youth dividend who bring along innovation and flexibility, but are also largely cut off from productive work in the formal economy. We must first acknowledge the impact of the ongoing efforts to increase youth opportunities in the agriculture sector in the last six years. The 2014 African Union Heads of States reaffirmation of their commitment to the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) was followed by a commitment to create 30 percent of youth employment opportunities in the agriculture value chains. Governments of Kenya, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, and Ghana have created youth employment and entrepreneurship funds to which young agripreneurs are currently benefitting. Institutions such as ANAFE, IITA, and CGIAR ‘youth in agriculture programmes’ that deviate from their usual research focus indicates the significance of young people as new actors in African agricultural transformation. The private sector and the overall public-private partnership environment has grown leading to initiatives such as UniBrain, YPARD, CORY among many others. Donors and development agencies have increased their support to youth agribusinesses such as the MasterCard Foundation, IFAD, AGRA, Commercial Banks, among others.
However, the main challenge of the ongoing initiatives is their failure to fully integrate EbA approaches in the emerging agricultural opportunities. More so, the existing national policies have barely established guidelines of including EbA principles into agriculture to an extent that new farmers can adopt such practices. There is also the factor of policy interplays that influences the impact of regional and national policies on youth opportunities in the agriculture value chains. For instance, the unresolved land tenure conflicts and policies in most African countries limit young peoples’ access to land which is a pre-requisite to farming. However, liberal trade policies and urbanization have opened up new markets and encouraged young people to invest in small-scale and medium-scale enterprises. Likewise, policies on education, health, infrastructure development, natural resource management, and climate change often open up or limit young peoples’ opportunities. Some of the policies which have a positive interplay with EbA policies include country development visions; micro, small and medium enterprises development policies; employment policies; national youth policies; education policies; and gender policies. There exists great potential for interplay between climate change, green economy, and youth employment policies as they intersect at the point of low carbon development and green and decent employment. EbA-driven agriculture is just one of the opportunities to achieve these multiple benefits.
Principally, the extent to which regional and national policy-making processes consider EbA principles and practices important approaches to addressing sustainable agricultural transformation, will determine the outcomes of policies targeting agricultural development and addressing environmental conservation, climate change and economic growth. The recognition of young people as key actors in the design and implementation of any policy is then a key determinant of their chances to engage in EbA-driven agricultural opportunities. The perceptions and attitudes of those in power influence how young peoples’ interests are included in policy-making and implementation processes.
On the other hand, new studies point to increasing interest among young people to become entrepreneurs rather than pursue formal and white collar employment. While this could be attributed to job insecurities and high unemployment rates, it is also evidence that new and expanding markets, including in the agricultural sector, are opening up opportunities for young people to engage at different levels of the value chain as entrepreneurs. Therefore, the rhetoric that young people are disconnected from national development and disinterested in agriculture must change and instead our focus should be on the mechanisms through which African youth can be facilitated to make meaningful contributions to African economies through agriculture value chains. Our optimism that young people can drive an EbA-driven agriculture is based on the premise that this knowledge and labour intensive approach offers viable livelihood opportunities which with the right policy environment, supporting infrastructure development, access to resources and widening of the value chains, is capable of providing decent jobs to young people while safeguarding the environment and improving the economies in the long-run.
Policies aiming at increasing young people’s knowledge and skills base, particularly in technical know-how and agribusiness management must be promoted and their implementation continuously monitored. The ongoing emphasis on agribusiness knowledge acquisition for young people must also include ecosystem-based approaches to agribusiness planning and management. There is need to introduce and support policies that aim at accelerating and up-scaling the agribusiness incubator footprint that has started in some African countries especially to capture more young people in diploma and college level who are more likely to establish small enterprises after graduating. Institutions that guide review of curricula in agriculture, agroforestry, and natural resources, such as ANAFE, must provide guidance to universities and colleges based on new knowledge and practices that links EbA to green business initiatives. These policy initiatives must also recognize and include in their plans, the significant role played by informal learning platforms, including the role of indigenous knowledge in shaping sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Finally, advocacy and capacity building are needed to drive these policy changes. Civil society organizations in collaboration with research institutions and policy think tanks must lobby governments to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture as required by the African Union Maputo Declaration. A significant share of this budget must go towards assuring opportunities for young people in the EbA-driven agriculture value chains. Importantly, advocacy on land reforms, restoration, and management must consider the role of young people in steering EbA-driven agriculture in the long-term. In addition, lobbying for the harmonization of government policies will reduce existing gaps, while innovative financial mechanisms, institutions, and collaborative networks help in realizing the vision of scaled-up EbA agriculture in Africa through youth engagement.