The increasing size of Africa’s young, working age population – set to grow 37% by 2030 – holds promise for a major boost in economic productivity and growth known as the demographic dividend. However, the payout will depend on ensuring productive employment for youth, particularly in agriculture, since farming is the primary source of income and jobs. Learnings from the Mercy Corp Agrifin Accelerate Program (AFA) suggest how digital platforms and customized approaches can broaden employment and earnings opportunities for African youth in agriculture – and do so affordably, at scale, and with high impact potential.
Fully 38% of smallholder farmers are youth aged 16-34 years, according to the Comparative Analysis of Smallholder Farmers in Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania conducted by AFA with Nathan Associates. Young people are technologically engaged, but they need help migrating from the subsistence-style farming of their parents to a more productive approach to farming as a business.
A recent review of AFA’s multiple activities aimed at expanding and enhancing digitally enabled solutions for smallholder farmers offers new insights for supporting youth in agriculture. Conducted by Dahlberg, the study investigated 28 AFA programs and 35 AFA documents. It included six in-depth interviews with AFA program staff, plus supplemental desk research on user-centered design for mobile agriculture, youth programming, and the Gates Psychometric Segmentation Data Set.
What holds youth farmers back, what spurs them forward
The review showed that young farmers face tighter time constraints than older adults and have greater difficulty accessing land, financing, practical skills, markets, inputs, and input-specific extension services. The challenges are more acute for young women farmers, who are even less likely to control resources, be able to engage in lucrative value chains, or exercise autonomy.
However, there are strategic opportunities for youth in agriculture. With rising education levels, their preferences are shifting toward the production of high-value commodities that can be raised on minimal land, such as horticultural crops, poultry, rabbits, honey, and zero-grazing dairy products. Young people also are poised to take part in agricultural value addition and business opportunities (e.g., cold-chain development, processing) beyond direct commodity production.
The young generation of smallholders wants to be connected and use technology to enhance productivity and profits; for example, accessing digital services to find the best market prices, keep records, and get information on new farming practices, technologies, or forms of pest or disease control. Through entrepreneurship and youth networks, they are aspiring to access both formal employment and agricultural self-employment, including digitally-enabled labor markets.