Home|[in] focus|Modernising Agriculture to address Youth Unemployment in Africa
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by Institute for Global Dialogue


Categories: [in] focus

by Institute for Global Dialogue


According to the study report “Putting young Africans to work” by Brenthurst Foundation, Africa is the youngest continent with an estimated population of 200 million, age between 15-24. However, 70% of this total population is without jobs. As a result Africa faces increase rural-urban migration as rural youth migrate to cities for better opportunities. In North and West Africa, East and Central Africa and Southern Africa, cities such as Cairo, Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa and Johannesburg are the most populous. This puts a strain on the continents development, leading to scarcity in government’s provision of productive socioeconomic resources such as education, health, water, sanitation, electricity and employment.2

The dilemma has also placed a threat on Africa’s peace and security. Young people have resort to violence and armed conflict due to the deficit of hope further worsened and instigated by poverty, hunger, food and job insecurity. The groups that these young people tend to gravitate towards are normally labelled as rebels, terrorists, extremists and nationalists, usually tend to demonstrate their desire for change through violent behaviour such as civil wars, militant Islamist groups and terrorism as in the case of West Africa (e.g. Nigeria, Libya and Mali), East Africa (e.g. Somali, South Sudan and Kenya) and North Africa has been the case of Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. Central Africa is now characterised by armed rebellion, the case of Seleka in CAR and M23 in eastern DRC.4 The Southern Africa has reoccurring cases of civil and labour unrest and high crime rates. In such situations women, girls and children become targets and weapons of war.

Meanwhile, agriculture remains a major source of food security and economic growth in Africa. According to African Economic Outlook 2014, agriculture is the main exports trade commodity in Africa valued at USD 57 billion. More foreign investment in this sector leads to approximately 60% of the total employment in Africa. The agricultural sector creates 80 % to 90% employment in countries like Burundi, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Guinea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi. On the other hand, the sector only accounts for 25% GDP, negatively influenced by low productivity, low economic growth rates and climate change.5

Zille and Benjamin argue that it is at this point that African leadership should realise that the high levels and rate of growth of young African population is actually Africa’s gateway to economic growth and development. Therefore, Africa should create more space for a young labour force through minimised formalities of the job market and strict employment measures, also provide better socioeconomic opportunities such as easy access to funding, relevant education, vocational training, in service training aligned with the current trends in the ever changing dynamics of the employment sector. As quoted in their chapter, Africa’s Youth Bulge – Boon or Bust? Policy Choices to Assist Unemployed Youth’, the two authors states that “when a large youth group is both educated and provided with sufficient opportunities for work, the bulge becomes a boon for development.”

On the other hand, in his book “The Solidarity Economy Alternative”, Vishwas Satgar argues that the current global financial crisis is the result of the neoliberal capitalism. He indicates that solidarity economy is essential as it provides for human basic needs and challenges capitalism; it ensures a transformative and human capacitated society. Satgar argues that Agricultural produce and consumption should be controlled by workers and society through cooperatives, giving this a term “food sovereignty”, to increase sustainable inclusive economic growth and development.

Furthermore, Africa has to carefully examine the possible future implications of global governance and global economy. Countries of the global south should have one voice and position in terms of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) decisions that affect their trade and investment needs and interests. These countries should take full participation in such decision makings to ensure the relevance and feasibility of such in regard to their national policy interests.6

African leaders should also address the issues of Inequality as a direct implication and an underlying cause to higher level of youth unemployment, hunger, and poverty. Inequality can be in various forms of age, gender and location. For instance, young women are less likely to acquire education, employment, land and funding opportunities as oppose to their male counterparts. At the same time, young people are at a disadvantageous position compared to older people when it comes to employment, land and funding due to their lack of skills and experience. Urban youth are exposed to more opportunities than rural youth in terms of better education, infrastructure and employment and socioeconomic and environmental exposure. Although rural youth might have an advantage in agricultural employment, it is mostly informal with low payment and exploitation due to their lack of education and skills.7 A more balanced approach to close this gap is highly necessary.

There is need for Africa to revisit, revise and reform its policies and implementation strategies.

Anna Xoyane is a Research Assistant at Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and her ideas do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD, UNISA.

1 AU Press Release, Available at:
2 Zille, P and Benjamin, J. (2011), ‘Africa’s Youth Bulge – Boon or Bust? Policy Choices to Assist Unemployed Youth’, Chapter in “Putting Young Africans to Work – Addressing Africa’s youth unemployment crisis”, Study Report, Johannesburg: The Brenthurst Foundation,
3 ibid
4 Dersso, S.A. (2014), ‘Annual Review of the African Union Peace and Security Council 2013/2014’, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies
5 AfDB, OECD and UNDP (2014). African Economic Outlook 2014: Global Value Chains and Africa’s Industrialisation
6 Keet, D. (2000) ‘The challenges facing African Countries regarding the WTO Trade Regime since the Third Ministerial Meeting in Seatle’, Braamfontein: Institute for Global Dialogue.
7 Zille, P and Benjamin, J. (2011), ‘Africa’s Youth Bulge – Boon or Bust? Policy Choices to Assist Unemployed Youth’, Chapter in “Putting Young Africans to Work – Addressing Africa’s youth unemployment crisis”, Study Report, Johannesburg: The Brenthurst Foundation,


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