Dr. Kakoli Ghosh, Strategic Program for Sustainable Food and Agriculture Management Team, FAO, Rome, Italy
Africa has the fastest growing young population in the world. This is at a time when the future of work is also undergoing a major process of change. Every year more and more youth are in search of employment and better opportunities, but without core skills and technical competencies many are being left behind. To combat this challenge in the continent, there is a renewed demand for re-energising the education sector by developing new curricula and linking higher education and research with skill-based practical applications on the ground to promote entrepreneurship and local development solutions. There is a broad recognition that innovative education, interdisciplinary linkages and development of practical skills can offer far more opportunities to youth to engage gainfully, innovate and grow in the future.
Within the food and agriculture sector, the issue of youth employment is a particularly sensitive matter. A majority of the young population are employed in the informal economy with low–paying or unskilled jobs. Agriculture itself is at cross roads dealing with the challenges of climate change, depletion of natural resources, inadequate access to inputs, financial resources and opportunities. It is not a surprise that farming is not considered an attractive job option amongst young people and many want to abandon it in rural areas. The situation becomes more desperate for youth during humanitarian crises and conflicts which aggravates vulnerabilities and increases the flow of migration.
To renew and strengthen interest in food and agriculture linked professions, young people could benefit from focused skill-based training combined with direct opportunities for applying their academic knowledge in practice, such as internships or project placements. They would also benefit from mentorship, opportunities for mobility, programmes and resources for continuous learning for building core skills that provide the ability to learn and adapt to job market demands, listen and communicate effectively, think creatively and solve problems independently. The tremendous potential of linking youth energy with local, community-based needs can lead to new employment demands and more effective linkages between agriculture, education and development pathways. In Africa, there is a need for continuously building strong partnerships between the academic institutions, farmers’ organisations, private sector and the civil society organisations to support a comprehensive youth skill development program that would respond to the local agricultural development needs.
With RUFORUM an initiative is underway to encourage youth to strengthen linkages between academic knowledge and research and their ground-based applications. Graduate students from several agriculture universities from Sub-Sahara Africa are undertaking a six-month Community-Based Field Attachment to share their knowledge and research experience with rural communities and receive feedback on their specific research areas. It is expected that such an interaction will provide the graduate students an opportunity to learn about the needs of the rural communities linked to agriculture, food security and nutrition issues, fine –tune their research as well as disseminate their research findings amongst the farmers. From a skilling perspective, the experience will also allow students to gain practical-experience to better understand and contextualize application of research findings in the field. These community-based placements provide an opportunity for knowledge exchange with the members of the local government institutions, farmers and producer organizations as they will be involved in a mentorship role to advice the student during their field placement. The overall goal of this program to increase employability of the highly educated young people in the local context and engage them in addressing local issues in rural communities, linked to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition. The initiative promotes youth support to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and in particular, SDG2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
It is conceivable that such engagements can be amplified if they add value and can also lead to new academic research or foster ag-entrepreneurship. To expand and grow however, it will require both the passion of the youth to engage with their communities as well as a network of partnerships at the local level including with the local governments, academia, small and medium business enterprises, farmers and their organizations among others, who would be ready to encourage and support youth employment through scaling up similar initiatives and programs. Such a mobilization of stakeholders across multiple sectors combined with skill development of young generation can create better opportunities for employment and poverty reduction and directly contribute to achievement of food and nutrition security.
 University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin; University of Lesotho, Lesotho; Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya; University of Nairobi, Kenya; University of Eldoret, Kenya; University of Free State, South Africa Gulu University; Uganda; Makerere University, Uganda