Samuel Bruce Nyarko, Policy Analyst
Samuel Bruce Nyarko, Policy Analyst

Youth unemployment is a major challenge facing many economies in the world today. Countries are struggling to meet the employment needs of their youthful populations. This situation is highly intense and very disturbing in Africa where governments, every year, grapple with an increase in the number of unemployed young people.

For these governments, addressing youth employment is their most serious problem and the most pressing arduous task. According estimates, about 10 to 12 million youth join the labour market but only 3 million formal jobs are created each year in Africa.

Some critical predictions have been made in the face of these staggering figures. In 2015, Africa’s population was 969 million. The staggering projection is that this figure will increase to 2.168 billion in 2050, with 420 million being youth. This means many more youth will be searching for non-existing jobs. The situation is particularly dire in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the region is touted as the region with the largest number of young people within the world’s population because it has about two-fifths of its population within 0–14 age bracket and nearly one-fifth in the 15–24 age bracket.

According to the 2018 edition of the FAO Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition report, the main challenge is how to create employment for the millions of youths who join the labor market yearly. The report intimated that if youth employment rates remain unchanged, then nearly 50 percent of all non-student youth will be unemployed by 2025.

In the 2017 African Union roadmap on ‘Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth, the importance of youth employment is sufficiently articulated and high on the agenda. The roadmap clearly states that “harnessing the demographic dividend presents a great opportunity to building the resilience of young people and addressing the root causes of many of the key challenges facing Africa, including forced migration.

Youth employment in Africa

In Northern Africa, youth unemployment is nearly 30 percent and is about 3.3 times the adult rate. In contrast, youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa stands at about 11.1 percent. Although it is a little lower than the world average, the rate is twice that for adults in the region, and about 60 percent of the unemployed are youth.

About 16 million of 15–24 year-olds found employment in the period 2000–2008. However, most non-student youth work is in the informal economy as contributing family workers, subsistence farmers, home-based micro-entrepreneurs or unskilled workers, and are classified by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as being in “vulnerable employment” due to the informal nature of these occupations. These young persons typically earn low wages in casual or seasonal employment, and often face unsafe, exploitive working conditions with very limited opportunities for skills development.

The precarious economic and working conditions, coupled with environmental vulnerabilities and social exclusion, increasingly drive rural youth to migrate to urban areas and abroad, depriving rural areas of a vital and potentially most dynamic share of their workforce

Unemployment and underemployment pose a threat to the welfare of the affected youth and, more generally, to the stability and socio-economic development of the society they live in. About 40 percent of young people who join a rebel movement do so for lack of employment and other income-earning opportunities, according to the World Bank.

Young persons, even when they have found work, often struggle to meet basic needs, including food. Based on a sample of 22 countries, 42 per cent of young people in work are food insecure, and for those in vulnerable employment, the figure is 50 percent. Many youth are working, but are poor.

Agriculture is an indispensable Avenue for youth employment

Although agriculture will remain the largest sector in many countries, it is shrinking in comparison to other sectors, in particular services. A study from 19 African countries shows that the share of labour engaged in agriculture fell by 10 per cent while those engaged in services and manufacturing increased by 8 and 2 percent, respectively.

This process is normal for countries that are experiencing a period of structural transformation. However, several studies show that in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture holds considerable promise in terms of growth and jobs. The increase in population and growth of GDP per capita will propel significant growth in demand for agricultural products.

In response, agricultural output would need to be more than double by 2050 to meet increasing demand. Overall, agriculture and agribusiness markets are projected to grow from US$313 billion today to about US$1 trillion in 2030.

Not only will demand for food expand significantly, but with rising incomes, lifestyle changes and greater female participation in the workforce and the composition of diets, substantial changes will occure.

FAO tackles constraints to youth employment

The youth lack skills and access to information and education. Particularly, they lack training for particular and relevant skills. Although new entrants are receiving sufficient education, with 59 per cent of 20–24 year olds predicted to have a secondary education in 2030 compared to 42 per cent today, quality education and skill matching are still lacking. Nearly 80 per cent of youth, aged 25–34 working in agriculture have primary school education or less, including 40 per cent with no education at all. Access to vocational education, especially for young women, is also lacking and this limits their productivity and the acquisition of skills. Overall, in sub-Saharan Africa, three out of five young workers do not have the level of education expected to make them productive on the job.

Access to land is a serious constraint, and in addition, many young people do not have adequate access to financial services, markets and involvement in producer groups and policy dialogue. Youth and farmer associations can play an important role in helping youth get access to agricultural extension, financial and advisory services.

Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS), developed by FAO, is an innovative approach that trains vulnerable rural youth in agriculture, business and life skills needed to earn a decent living, and to become more productive members of their communities. To date, over 25 000 young women and men in over 20 countries have benefitted from JFFLS.

National agribusiness platforms that facilitate the interaction between youth, the private sector and government can be effective mechanisms for addressing the specific needs of youth, as exemplified by the Rwandan Youth Agribusiness Forum (RYAF).

The use of modern Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), such as mobile phones and SMS, social media and online TV, videos and radios, can be especially powerful in this regard.

Story By: Samuel Bruce Nyarko, Policy Analyst

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