A Call for Urgent Action:  Making Commitment to Scale Up Investments in Youth in Agri-food Systems in Africa

13 July 2021

Despite the largest concentration of young people in the world – 420 million according to African Development Bank (2018) - only 40.0% per cent of young women and men in Africa are employed in reliable decent jobs (ILO,2019), and only 50.3% are engaged in agribusiness enterprises (ILO,2019).

Youth in Africa face tremendous and multi-dimensional challenges seizing employment opportunities and developing innovative entrepreneurial initiatives in agri-food systems. These hurdles are well known, for example, limited skills and training, lack of access to information, land, finance, and markets, few available job opportunities, notably in rural areas - all compounded more recently by constraints generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other demographic cross-cutting dimensions increase barriers for many youths, such as gender, education, wealth, ethnicity, health and geographic location, especially in remote rural areas and fragile states. As technology is improving – youth still have insufficient access to seed varieties advanced farming techniques and innovations.

While emerging trends on the continent and globally are opening up opportunities for youth, including digital technologies expansion, and increasing attention to ‘inclusive development and shared prosperity and growth  – creating more space and entry points is urgent for youth to become engaged actors as workers and entrepreneurs in the agri-food systems sector. It is estimated that a 70 per cent increase in investment is needed to support youth-targeted interventions in the agricultural sector (ILO,2019). More is needed.

More than ever before, there is an urgent need to intensify and accelerate investment in the agri-food systems and wider agricultural sector to promote opportunities targeted to and developed with youth. Young people have vast opportunities to take advantage of the increasingly growing agribusiness and agro-based trade across the continent, whether in export-oriented manufacturing, high-productivity agriculture and agribusinesses, or profitable small enterprises.

In heeding this call, the FAO and African Union Commission sprang to action in developing an Investment Guidelines for Youth in Agri-Food Systems in Africa. The Guidelines is a very practical, “how-to” tool providing concrete operational steps to target and design youth-sensitive investment programmes, and move through the full programme cycle - engaging youth fully as change agents in the entire process.

A multi-stakeholder virtual technical validation workshop was held in July with over 130 representatives coming together from across the continent, including governments, youth leaders, financing institutions and civil society, to exchange and share views towards finalizing the Guidelines, and identify how best to promote its uptake. You can read the Press Release on the FAO website here and here, and the African Union website here. In October, the AUC Special Technical Committee on  Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment is expected to officially endorse the Guidelines, after which a campaign for dissemination and support for country-context adaption and application is envisaged. The Guidelines will be available on this page once published.

The time for action is now.

We make an appeal that - although political momentum and the many proclamations to mobilize youth-inclusive investment programmes and interventions are necessary, they are insufficient. We make an urgent call for concrete operational action – the forthcoming Investment Guidelines for Youth in Agri-Food Systems in Africa has great potential to drive this process and bring investments in youth-focused agri-food systems initiatives to scale.