Author: UN Women East and Southern Africa Regional Office
Site of publication: UN Women
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: 2021
Creating employment opportunities for youth, who are defined by the United Nations as those aged between 15 and 24 years, is key to achieving sustainable development in Africa. The growing number of youth, who are estimated to account for 60 per cent of the population, brings both challenges and opportunities to the continent. On the one hand, youth could put pressure on the slow growth of agricultural development, less efficient institutions and poorly maintained infrastructure. On the other hand, they offer huge potential in terms of transforming economies, given their capacities and interests in innovations and technologies for improved livelihoods. Youth are drivers and users of innovations, and thus innovations that pay due attention to the aspirations of youth have huge potential to create employment opportunities.
Including youth in innovations in agriculture has dual benefits. First, the capacity and curiosity of youth to innovate could transform family farms, considering that youth are often aware of new technologies and have the relevant education. Second, innovations could create business opportunities for youth in the agricultural sector. Accordingly, efforts are under way, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Digital Innovation aimed at enabling digital innovations for employment creation and empowerment of youth and women by accessing information, technology and markets. These opportunities could have increased impact on the improvement of livelihoods when coupled with efforts that address gender gaps in agricultural productivity. Gender gaps often emanate from women’s low level of access to agricultural inputs, gender norms biased against women, and women’s low level of access to and application and use of digital technologies, such as mobile phones and the Internet. Closing the gender gaps in agricultural innovation plays a critical role in poverty reduction across countries in Africa.
Digitization of agriculture involves technologies and innovations such as blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), big data and precision farming/smart farming. The demand is often associated with the need to reduce poverty and hunger, improve livelihoods, human health and nutrition, and promote sustainable development, which puts social equitability and sustainability of the environment and economy at its centre.
Digitization of agriculture is characterized by increased use of technologies and innovations in addressing bottlenecks in productivity and marketing, among other things. It is also argued that digital technologies could provide an important platform for solving some of the challenges in the agricultural sector and reinforce the efforts to achieve SDGs by 2030. In this regard, digital agriculture requires meeting the diverse interests and needs of actors to enable gender equality. Furthermore, it requires the concerted efforts of governments in creating an enabling environment for youth employment in agriculture.
First, the capacity and curiosity of youth to innovate could transform family farms, considering that youth are often aware of new technologies and have the relevant education. Second, innovations could create business opportunities for youth in the agricultural sector
So far, the implementation of Agriculture 4.0 is limited to a few firms, which have adequate capacity to invest in the technologies. For that reason, there is lack of information on the potential impact of the initiatives supporting Agriculture 4.0 on youth opportunities.
Emerging governance models and innovations for youth employment in Africa
Opportunities for youth in a green economy
In Africa, economic growth in the past decades has sometimes been ‘jobless’ and associated with greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable management of natural resources. In response, efforts are under way to promote a green economy with the hope of developing an economy that creates employment opportunities in a sustainable manner. Accordingly, measures are also under way in the circular economy, which encourages green businesses by employing innovations for generating electricity from waste from farming processes, as illustrated in the Bio2Watt project in South Africa. Other efforts include the development of supportive policies, such as the Climate Resilient Green Economy of Ethiopia and the Uganda Green Growth Development Strategy (UGGDS) 2017/18–2030/31. In the same vein, SWITCH Africa Green (SAG), an initiative launched in 2014, has been promoting an inclusive green economy in African countries, including Burkina Faso and South Africa.26 SAG encourages sustainable consumption and production patterns that generate growth and employment opportunities. However, power relations among actors require attention in designing and implementing interventions in this governance model.
Investment in infrastructure, technologies and equipment could strengthen the efforts towards maximizing the impact of a green economy on youth employment. So far, the investments in a green economy have shown a positive impact on creating ‘green jobs’ while preventing degradation of the environment. Although they have been little explored, opportunities exist for youth to innovate in enabling agroecological farming, such as in addressing soil fertility problems and innovations in integrated soil fertility management, thereby promoting soil health and biodiversity. Above all, renewable energy emerges as a key sector with regard to a green economy, offering immense potential for innovations to provide low-carbon alternative energy sources. The sector is promising as Africa has untapped potential for renewable energy, considering it gets 325 days of sunlight, and only less than 2 per cent of its geothermal and wind power potential and less than 7 per cent of its hydroelectric potential is developed. In addition, increased investment in the applications of technologies in the renewable energy sector could create opportunities for youth to engage in developing and applying innovative approaches in installations and maintenance of energy mini grids and stand-alone systems.
Precision farming employs technologies combining geomorphology, satellite imagery, global positioning and smart sensors. Unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, brought about opportunities to transform African agriculture by providing real-time data on the crops, livestock and fisheries sectors, among other sectors
Similarly, the livestock sector also has huge potential for employing youth in activities from livestock feed preparation to agroprocessing and sales and distribution activities. However, such opportunities require caution in regulating methane emissions. More opportunities for youth employment emerge in apiculture, as observed in successful cases in which youth cooperatives worked on integrated beekeeping and restoration of degraded landscapes. Innovative approaches that combine livestock production with biogas development have shown promising results in reducing carbon emissions.
Opportunities for youth in digitization of agriculture
Internet of Things, big data and precision farming
IoT refers to a network to physical objects, such as devices, instruments, vehicles, buildings and other items with electronics, circuits, software, sensors and network connectivity, that enables the objects to collect and exchange data. IoT enables the generation of huge number of data, whereas big data enables storage, processing and analysis of the data for powerful insights and informed decisions in agriculture.
E-currencies in the region
There is an increased realization that agricultural transformation in Africa requires developing and implementing policies based on big data, which cover the complexity of food and agricultural systems. Big data play an important role in transforming agriculture by supporting actions for resilience in times of crisis. Companies in the agricultural value chains could use big data to store, aggregate and analyse large sets of data, to make informed decisions in their businesses. Big data have the potential to transform the way agribusiness projects are run and to make precision farming a reality in Africa.
Precision farming employs technologies combining geomorphology, satellite imagery, global positioning and smart sensors. Unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, brought about opportunities to transform African agriculture by providing real-time data on the crops, livestock and fisheries sectors, among other sectors.
Nevertheless, using drones for agricultural purposes would require the buy-in of policymakers, as it involves relaxing some strict regulations regarding air regulations. Although some progress has been made in improving the regulatory framework in countries such as Kenya, realizing the impact of drones on the income and livelihoods of farmers might take quite some time in Africa. Similarly, the adoption of precision farming technologies among smallholder farmers producing lowervalue crops is minimal; this is attributed to the lack of diverse business models and broadbased technologies for varied cropping systems.
Blockchain consists of data sets that are composed of a chain of data packages (blocks) in which a block comprises multiple transactions. Blockchain enables a decentralized system of data storage, sorting and sharing along the agricultural value chains, and it enables traceability of products. It uses encrypted codes that can be accessed by those engaging in business in the agricultural sector (i.e. blocks) and serves as a platform on which detailed information about agricultural produce, such as origin, packaging and shipping information, is shared among stakeholders, thereby protecting consumers from frauds. Besides, it reduces the number of intermediaries, such as banks, in the transactions.
Digital divide and gender gap:
Africa exhibits a large digital gender gap, as only 20 per cent of women used the Internet in 2019, compared with 37 per cent of men. Poor women in developing countries, including Uganda and Mozambique, are 50 per cent less likely to access the Internet than men in the same communities, and those who use the Internet are 30–50 per cent less likely than men to use the Internet for improving income and participation in public life. Governments have undergone efforts to create an enabling environment for regulating the use of ICT and promoting access to it. However, these efforts are not adequate considering the deep rooted inequality in accessing resources and services among society. Thus, reaping the benefits of ICT for employment creation in an environmentally friendly and socially equitable manner could be determined by the level of investments geared towards addressing the digital divide.
Once more, the success of the digital technologies and innovations could be determined by whether or not the processes of design and development focus on inclusiveness. Mechanisms of inclusiveness need to be revisited so that outcomes of Agriculture 4.0 can have a positive impact on the actors involved and mistakes of past agricultural revolutions are not repeated. The technologies and innovations that take into consideration the aspirations of youth could enable inclusive business models that develop new markets, derive innovation, employ more youth, strengthen value chains and empower the voiceless actors.
Policies for youth opportunities in agriculture
Policies and youth opportunities in agriculture
Development plans and policies in Mozambique acknowledge the need for inclusive development and job creation, as shown in the government’s five-year programme (PQG) for 2020–2024, and the Poverty Reduction Action Plan (PARP II). The population of Mozambique is youthful; about 46 per cent of the population is younger than 15 years of age, and only 3 per cent is older than 65 years of age. Hence, realization of the development goals relies on creating opportunities across the agriculture, fisheries, and livestock sectors to address the underemployment challenge faced by the population.
Accordingly, the National Development Strategy (2015–2035) provides a comprehensive approach to developing the agricultural and industry sectors to increase employment. The Rural Development Strategy also underlines the important roles of innovativeness and competitiveness in harnessing the potential of the agricultural sector for economic and social development. Similarly, the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Agricultural Sector and the National Agricultural Investment Plan (PNISA) focus on boosting the productivity and competitiveness of the sector for food and nutrition security while ensuring gender and social equity.
The country’s Agenda 2025 recognizes skills development of youth and women’s empowerment in decision-making processes as important strategies for achieving sustainable development. It also underlines that the low level of productivity and innovativeness of the workforce emanates from the inadequacy of entrepreneurial training. In view of this, employment policies and programmes in Mozambique point out that youth unemployment could be addressed through skills development, which enables self-employment across sectors. For instance, the Mozambique Decent Work Country Programme (2011–2015) puts forward that youth employment could be promoted through special programmes such as internships and by supporting self-employment among youth. The Vocational Training Reform Programme also encourages self-employment among youth and women entrepreneurs.
Policies on ‘green jobs’
The National Sustainable Development Plan (PNAS) reveals support for resilient systems by promoting innovations and technologies for enabling sustainable agroecological farming systems. The PNAS promotes a diversified and job-creating economy through (i) increased efficiency and effectiveness in agricultural production processes, and (ii) capacity development and transfer of innovations and technologies in renewable energy in rural areas, among other things. The Environment Strategy also suggests an integrated framework in which food security and socioeconomic goals consider sustainable approaches, such as using renewable energy sources in agriculture and avoiding overexploitation of fisheries and aquatic resources.
Besides, the National Adaptation Plan indicates the need to promote actions that limit erosion and develop sustainable fishery activities, and actions that reduce greenhouse gases emissions. Furthermore, the National Strategy for Adaptation and Mitigation for Climate Change focuses on making agricultural, livestock and fishery systems resilient, and enabling carbon mitigation and development through improved access to renewable energy sources, and increased efficiency of the energy sector. However, the Green Revolution Strategy and PARP II have not emphasized environmental sustainability. They also do not focus on addressing gender-based constraints, though youth, women and marginalized groups have been key actors in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.
Gender gaps to be addressed for youth opportunities in agriculture
The gender-based constraints in accessing digital technologies vary across youth with disabilities, youth with different economic status, and locations across the rural–urban continuum. Gender norms limit the opportunities of women in digital agriculture. Women and men tend to have different needs, opportunities and constraints regarding accessing information, tools and skills. Women usually engage in production and low-technology activities, such as packaging and post-processing activities. For instance, women in Ethiopia engage in postharvest activities around the home and alongside domestic chores and childcare, and thus have little or no access to digital technologies and business skills development. The poor development of ICT infrastructure results in a low level of adoption of smart phone technology in farming communities in Uganda and reliance on radio for climate information services. Such constraints exclude women from the opportunities in digital agriculture because of gender norms that give young men the image of being ‘tech affiliated’, compared with women who have little or no digital literacy.
Youth with low-income levels and with only primary education often have difficulties in accessing advanced digital technologies. The lack of skills, coupled with poor development of ICT infrastructure, the high prices of wireless technologies and limited availability of digital technologies in local languages, could prevent the poor and less educated youth from accessing these technologies. For instance, youth who lacked secondary education had limited opportunities in the initiatives in Uganda and Rwanda to create employment opportunities in private sector extension and advisory services.
For instance, the low level of awareness of and skills in developing and adapting blockchain technology might limit the youth from embracing the technology and applying it in their businesses. Youth equipped with the required skills in technologies and business fit better into a green economy than the less skilled youth. This would in turn determine whether the different categories of youth would drive, catch up with or lag behind the efforts towards Agriculture 4.0. For that reason, addressing the gender gap in accessing and acquiring the relevant knowledge, skills and tools would be required to get the best out of the digital economy in Africa.
A green economy could also affect young women differently, as they are more dependent on natural resources for their income and livelihoods. The transition to a green economy would likely be accompanied by changes in the labour market.
Changes are expected in the labour market as new job opportunities emerge, some jobs change their form to adapt to the demands of a green economy, and quite a number of jobs are potentially lost or replaced with digital innovations. It is likely that women, most of whom do not have the skills to cope with the changes, might not have equal access to employment opportunities in a green economy. So far, discussions on a green economy and digitization of agriculture have paid inadequate attention to addressing gender inequality in accessing information, acquiring digital and business skills, and economic empowerment. Pursuing initiatives without addressing gender gaps could reinforce existing gender inequality and undermine women’s empowerment. Thus, addressing these gender gaps is a prerequisite for the success of initiatives towards Agriculture 4.0 and a green economy.
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