Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the world’s youngest population, with more than 60 percent of its 1 billion people under age 25. By 2050, the region’s population is projected to double. Without proper interventions, this rapid population growth will magnify the strains on an already fragile agriculture and food system.
Even before the COVID-19 health crisis, almost one in four persons living in SSA was considered undernourished. For three decades, food security had improved across SSA, but the trend reversed in 2015. By 2018, food insecurity had reached 239 million hungry mouths, with an even higher number of people experiencing moderate levels of undernourishment during a given year (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, 2019).
Agriculture is not only vital to Africa’s current and future economic and food security demands, it also provides a first step to spur economic transformation and growth, especially through youth. As economies develop, productivity increases, living standards improve and poverty declines (Yeboah, 2018, p. 20).
This economic transformation begins in agriculture and is closely linked to towards demographic trends of a significantly younger population, known as the “youth bulge”. The youth bulge is generated when a high fertility rate combines with a decline in infant and child mortality, and creates rapid population growth (IFAD, 2019, p. 74).
Rural, agrarian youth have a built-in opportunity to accelerate and sustain economic transformation and development across the region. However, this process is far from given. Youth-centered agriculture policies and investments are critical to progress. If not appropriately managed, a rising youth population, coupled with a lack of economic opportunities and food insecurity, could lead to disillusionment and instability.
It is for these reasons and more that Africa’s policy makers have prioritized agricultural growth and job creation as a means of economic transformation across the continent.
From the African Union’s Agenda 2063 to the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agriculture Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, Africa’s Heads of States have articulated strategies to eradicate poverty and transform economies through improved education, modern agriculture and environmental resilience.
These policies and commitments are central to youth participation in gainful agricultural employment in both formal and informal sectors. School-based agricultural education aligns with these regional initiatives and is a pathway to propel youth to the forefront of Africa’s transformation.