The Future Is Safe If We Invest in Africa’s Youth
Africa is beaming with the radiance of its youth; however, their future doesn’t seem so bright. Africa stands out as the youngest continent with 60% of the current 1.4 billion population falling under the age of 25. This represents a population that is in its prime years to contribute to the workforce, as well as produce innovations that can increase gross domestic product (GDP) for Africa's countries. This blessing also represents a curse for the continent, as it lacks the capacity to provide sustainable, dignified jobs for the youth. According to African Development Bank (AfDB), one-third of African youth are unemployed and discouraged, while another one-third are vulnerably employed. Only one in six have wage employment.
At the same time, Africa has a massive deficit in attaining sustainability of the food system, with a large portion of the population suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Approximately 250 million people suffer from hunger, which is around 20% of the total population. Over 333 million Africans are affected by severe food insecurity, as shown in Table 1 below. The continent, meanwhile, imports food worth $40 billion annually, and this is set to increase to $110 billion by 2025. Increasing the production of food for consumption within the continent could help ensure healthier diets and increase youth employment.
Import substitution represents a big opportunity for the youth to be involved in the food system to make a decent living from the production and sale of products and services along food and other value chains while solving Africa’s food system problems. Many youths have already seen this opportunity and have taken the bold step of starting their agripreneurship enterprises. Their hope is to earn a decent living building their enterprises while resolving African issues, while employing more youth along the way. Their solutions are diverse, ranging from youth using technology to train smallholder farmers, and transforming waste into feed and fertilizer, to developing mobile applications linking farmers to finance, as well as new innovations in livestock feeding regimes, among many others. Their vibrant and innovative minds are, however, met with numerous persistent challenges as they try to scale their ideas.
Most African businesses fail at start-up within the first six months. This is not because of their mismanagement, but because of the unending challenges the African youth have to face. COVID-19 has amplified these challenges and has brought even more businesses to a close. Political instability, the impacts of climate change, lack of financing, insufficient or noninclusive business development services and mentorship are some of the challenges that these youth-led businesses face daily on their agripreneurship journey.
A lot of investment has been put in by different investors to try and resolve these challenges (see Youth Employment Interventions in Africa), but results are not keeping pace. There is a lot of overlap in the interventions, with much duplication and lack of coordination. Generation Africa is a partnership initiative formed to tackle these challenges. It functions as the thematic platform on youth within the African Green Revolution Forum. Generation Africa is running a program to strengthen the national ecosystems supporting young African agripreneurs. The program, dubbed Y-EDF (Youth in Ag Ecosystem Development Framework), aims to have different actors collaborate better to catalyze success and ensure that the youth are supported as they venture into their agripreneurship journey.
Governments must play a central role in coordinating interventions and creating the enabling policies and incentives to encourage all actors to develop a more systematic and sustainable enabling environment for youth agripreneurship on the African continent. With the momentum of the United Nations Food Systems Summit, stakeholders are taking action to better collaborate and find synergies to create millions of improved decent jobs for youth in sustainable agri-food systems, including agripreneurship, by 2030 and beyond.
For Africa to reap benefits from the agility and dynamism of its youth, there must be support for them through their agripreneurship journey, a demand that can be achieved through different players collaboratively working together. The future is safe if we invest in the youth.