Policymakers and researchers in Africa have declared the rising youth unemployment in the continent a “time bomb” that should be quickly “defused” using appropriate policies and initiatives before it “detonates” and wreaks havoc on the continent. They also worry over the continent’s rising food import bill which is estimated at $35 billion annually. This amount, they say, if invested in agriculture could generate jobs and take some youths out of the labor market.
“The youth problem is indeed a ‘time bomb’ but also an opportunity if we can quickly harness the energy in this population and channel it to constructive use,” said Dr Fina Opio, Executive Director, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), who chaired a special session titled, “Promoting Youth Engagement in Agribusiness: the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Agripreneur Model,” at the event marking the 15th anniversary of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in South Africa.
Accounting for about 70 percent of the African population, the youth comprising young men and women have the most education, enthusiasm, and strength, yet very limited opportunities to apply such talents within communities.
However, the recent experience by the IITA Youth in Agribusiness reveals that young individuals between 21 and 27 years old with different backgrounds and academic disciplines (ranging from art, information technology, and engineering to the biological sciences and agriculture) can take on the challenge of self-development with the right environment and encouragement. The initiative, which began in 2012, under the leadership of Dr Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General, has proven that given the proper opportunities and incentives, the urban and rural youth can quickly be directed towards market-oriented agriculture, agribusiness, and agro-services provision, with a huge impact upon the larger farming community.
Dr Opio backed the initiative by IITA and called on donors and policymakers to support it.
“I was in Ibadan and was very impressed with the achievements of these young men and women. This is the way we should go and IITA has shown the way,” she added.
The special session which had other organizations such as the Conseil ouest et centre africain pour la recherche et le développement agricoles / West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD), and the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) among others, recommended the following:
Mainstreaming the youth unemployment challenge at the national and even on regional and continental levels.
Review and change of curriculums on agriculture in schools to encourage youth to go into the business of agriculture and thereby create agricultural entrepreneurs. In addition, the business orientation has to be emphasized and incorporated in the new curriculum.
Provision of access for youths to resources (funds, innovations, etc.) and collective assets such as machinery, land, productive assets, etc.
The position of the special session was reechoed by Dr Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) during his keynote talk at the highlight of the celebration today.
According to Dr Nwanze, if we wait further and do nothing, the ‘time bomb’ will explode.
The IFAD president called on African governments to develop policies that would encourage inclusive growth, giving greater attention to marginalized groups including youth and women, development of rural infrastructure, and provision of social services in the rural areas to curb rural-urban migration.
He said that Africa’s food import bill of $35 billion was a source of concern because the continent’s dependence on food imports was hurting the creation of local jobs which the youth would have benefited from.
The Celebrating FARA event was attended by over 500 policymakers, researchers, and the donor community both from within and outside of Africa.
Dr Alfred Dixon, Head of the Partnership Coordination Office at IITA and Project Leader of the Cassava Weed Management Project, said the event reechoed the magnitude of the youth problem among policymakers, technocrats, development investors, and other stakeholders in Africa. TNPP