Agriculture offers promising employment opportunities for Africa’s youth-- if they can be convinced the work is worth the reward.
If the world’s poorest continent hopes to feed its growing population and create employment opportunities for future generations, then agricultural initiatives must encourage innovation to advance farming productivity. And with the world’s youngest and fastest growing population, what better way to foster innovative ideas than through Africa’s youth?
Agriculture employs 65 percent of Africa’s labor force and accounts for 32 percent of gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. Yet despite significant improvements in agricultural performance over the last decade, African farm yields are still among the lowest in the world.
Africa’s agricultural sector offers the best opportunity for young people to escape poverty and build satisfying lives, the Guardian notes in a recent article. Yet it will require sizeable change in order to attract the youngest generations searching for rewarding work.
“Today's farming by machete and hand hoe does not appeal to young Africans or to policymakers,” wrote Karen Brooks, Director for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
“Farming is not even viewed as a 'job' by many young Africans, who instead reserve the term for employment that requires clean clothes and a desk,” she said.
But by encouraging youth to innovate creative solutions and technologies to improve agricultural production, Africa could inspire a new wave of young adults who see farming as a fulfilling career.
And the continent has already begun to reap the benefits of youth innovation across a number of fields.
In March 2012, an MIT graduate student from Sierra Leone launched a high school innovation challenge called “Innovate Salone” to promote a culture of problem-solving and tinkering among youth in his home country. Among the finalists was a group of high school students that developed a plan to build fish farms in their communities. The students presented their case as a sustainable way to combat malnutrition by creating affordable and accessible sources of animal protein.
This year the team built upon its success by launching “Innovate Kenya” and “Innovate the Cape.” Finalists from this year’s competitions have proposed a range of projects addressing problems from local sanitation to wildlife conservation, and were rewarded with grants to carry out the projects in their communities.
Technology hubs can adopt an agricultural focus and spark similar interest by hosting competitions among local youth to design and present ideas that promote more efficient farming, and generate more productive land use.
Though it’s no panacea, involving Africa’s youth in creating real-world solutions to agricultural productivity may provide the best promise for swift change and tangible results. And witnessing these results firsthand may be just what Africa’s youth need to continue finding the value in agricultural careers.