Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Creating an Enabling Environment for a Youth-Powered Agrifood System Transformation in Africa

Africa’s population and labor force are expanding rapidly but opportunities for decent employment are growing very slowly. Even under the most favorable growth projections, less than a quarter of the 11 million young Africans entering the labor market each year will secure wage employment in the formal sector (Losch 2016). Without pragmatic strategies to expand economic opportunities, a growing disaffected youth sector could be a source of increased migration and social unrest that could result in costly military interventions and humanitarian assistance. 

Rapidly rising demand for food fueled by population and income growth offers an enormous opportunity for agrifood systems to accelerate economic transformation and job creation, if Africa’s agriculture could become more productive, profitable and inclusive (Tschirley et al., 2015; Yeboah and Jayne, 2018). Building an inclusive and productive agrifood system in Africa will require widespread adoption of new technologies and innovations addressing key constraints such as inadequate access to information, financial services and markets. Young people are generally receptive to these innovations and could be vital change agents to facilitate technology adoption and accelerate the agricultural transformation process.

Strategic investment in key areas is needed to create an enabling environment to fully harness young people’s innovativeness and energies for inclusive agricultural transformation. In a recent report in the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Youth for growth: Transforming economies through agriculture, we suggest three key areas of investment for a youth-powered agricultural transformation. First, there is a need for investment in broad-based agricultural productivity growth to raise incomes of those in agriculture, increase the competitiveness and resilience of local food production systems to food imports and generate the growth multipliers to expand jobs in agricultural value chains and in the overall economy. Investments that have been shown to generate the greatest impacts on agricultural productivity growth are: agricultural research and development; physical infrastructure (rural electrification, road, rail and port infrastructure); policies that reduce the costs of private sector investment and promote competition; and agricultural service delivery and extension systems that facilitate farmers’ access to productivity-enhancing technologies and markets. The challenges that young people face are part of systemic structural challenges and need to be addressed holistically. Therefore, to ensure long-term success, it is essential that interventions for broad-based agricultural growth do not focus solely on youth-specific constraints but also address the overall physical, social and environmental challenges hindering agricultural productivity growth for the benefits of all social groups.

Second, investment in education and skills development is needed to empower and prepare young people to spot and amply take advantage of existing and emerging wage employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agricultural value chains and the labor market. Education will also make young people more competitive in the future labor market, which is expected to be more knowledge and technology intensive. Doing so successfully requires long term investments on multiple fronts including early childhood nutrition and health programs, especially during the first 1000 days of a child’s life, to avert stunting and its negative effects on learning abilities; investment to improve access to quality education at all educational levels; promoting greater participation of private sector in training and the design of educational curriculum to address skills mismatch, particularly in technical and vocational education and training.

Third, investment in research systems and capacity building programs are needed to nurture an environment for responsive policymaking on youth development. These systems must foster continual learning to understand the changing needs of young people and labor market conditions as well as empower young people to effectively participate and share in the formulation and implementation of agricultural transformation strategies. This is necessary to ensure the transformation agenda aligns with the future that young people envision for themselves.

This post was written by Felix Kwame Yeboah.


Losch, B. (2016). Structural transformation to boost youth labour demand in sub-Saharan Africa: The role of agriculture, rural areas and territorial development.” Employment Working Paper No. 204. ILO, Employment Policy Department. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_533993.pdf

Tschirley, D., Snyder, J., Dolislager, D., Reardon, T., Haggblade, S., Goeb, J., Traub, L., Ejobi, F., & Meyer, F. (2015). Africa’s Unfolding Diet Transformation: Implications for Agri-food System Employment. Journal Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies 5(2), 102-136.

Yeboah, F. K.  and Jayne, T. S. (2018) Africa’s evolving employment trend. Journal of Development Studies, 54(5), 803-832.