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Reaping Africa’s demographic dividend

Agriculture is the foundation on which job opportunities for the youth can be built, argues Dr Richard Munang and Mr Robert Mgendi



“It is the young trees that make up the forest”. With up to 60% of Africa’s population being youthful, Africa is richly endowed. However, while this is an opportunity to generate a demographic dividend, the fact is that 60% of these young people are unemployed. By 2035, the number of Africans reaching working age will exceed the rest of the world combined. Already these numbers are generating a number of security challenges on the continent. This includes terrorism (because disenfranchised, jobless and poor young people are more easily lured into terror groups) and illegal migration: Up to 70% of illegal immigrants are in search of economic opportunities. Given this predicament, the demographic dividend seems lost. 

Agriculture is not only a source of food but also of livelihoods for a majority of the African population, employing on average 64% of the entire continent. While this is good news, climate change, the degradation of ecosystems and low value addition lowers productivity and the ability of this sector to create these jobs.

Regarding climate change, the science tells us that in a below 2°C global warming scenario, the agriculture sector will be hit by yield declines of up to 40%. Regarding value addition, Africa’s postharvest losses (PHLs) are at a high of US$48 billion annually. This means that food is wasted but also that income is lost, as is job opportunities in processing and value addition, leaving us with a situation where the continent earns as little as 10% of the total extractable value from its agro-value chains. Its productivity is 2000% lower than that of developed regions due to inadequate value addition. For example, in the cocoa value chain – where Cote d’Ivoire is the largest producer – of the more than US$100billion in revenue made from chocolates alone, Africa receives a dismal 2%. 

The implication is that Africa urgently needs to maximise the productivity of its agriculture (which is also the most inclusive sector of its economy) to create jobs for the youth and reap the demographic dividend they represent. Achieving this will require the following: enhancing productivity, eliminating inefficiencies along the entire agro-value chain through ecosystems enhancement, reversing degradation, building climate resilience into food systems and moving away from primary production to prioritise value addition that eliminates PHLs and maximises earnings.


This picture taken on February 19, 2014 shows auctioneers and buyers conducting a sale of the “golden leaf” at the annual Zimbabwe tobacco market that officially opened in Harare at the Tobacco Sales Floors. Zimbabwe hopes to boost agricultural output by almost 10 percent this year with an increase in tobacco production, already the country’s biggest export: Photo:JEKESAI NJIKIZANA

How can we make agriculture more productive?

While agriculture is foundational in driving Africa’s transformation, it stands out as highly climate sensitive and dependent on healthy ecosystems. Its productivity can therefore not be maximised for jobs and driving transformation unless it is climate-proofed and the productivity of the ecosystems that underpin production is enhanced. For this, targeted actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as called for under the Paris Agreement, are needed to maximise the productivity of two catalytic and complementary areas: clean energy and sustainable Ecosystems Based Adaptation (EBA) Driven Agriculture. These sectors are critical to eliminating inefficiencies in Africa’s agriculture to create socioeconomic opportunities of food and income security while simultaneously mitigating carbon and enhancing ecosystems to combat climate change.

Read: Cape Town hard hit by climate change

The foundation of this solution has already been laid at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). The 16th AMCEN decision on “Investing in Innovative Environmental Solutions” adopted in June 2017 in Libreville, Gabon, sets the pace for environment and climate action as a solution to accelerate socioeconomic transformation and create much needed wealth. Maximising the productivity of clean energy and sustainable EBA-driven agriculture was highlighted as the strategic thrust. The approach adopted by Ministers at AMCEN is to integrate and maximise impacts (rather than working in isolated silos) to establish clean energy-powered sustainable agriculture-led processing and value-addition industries. These will ensure that carbon is mitigated (by scaling clean energy), climate adaptation built and ecosystems enhanced (by scaling EBA) simultaneously with enhancing economic productivity, food and income security (by establishing agro-based industries that eliminate postharvest losses, with the knock-on effect of creating additional job opportunities along the entire agro value chain, including ancillary supply chains of clean energy).

While agriculture is foundational in driving Africa’s transformation, it stands out as highly climate sensitive and dependent on healthy ecosystems.

What policies should we adopt to reach our goals?

1) Scale EBA-driven approaches to build climate resilience, reverse ecosystems degradation and safeguard future increased yields: Countries should be helped to bridge policy and operational gaps and integrate EBA approaches into their agricultural practice. EBA is known to restore ecosystems and build climate resilience. For example, in Malawi, 28 000 trees were planted to restore 15 hectares of previously degraded land along river banks. This has resulted in the restoration of perennial flow in a key river, the Ulungwi River, which was drying up. Now there is water for agriculture in that area. In Mozambique’s coastal communities, which are highly vulnerable to coastal flooding, UN Environment supported the rehabilitation of depleted mangroves. Crab farming was brought in as an alternative livelihood for communities that were previously encroaching on mangroves to harvest fish and the trees for food and income. This action is restoring mangroves, which are natural soil stabilisers, preventing the loss of nutrient-rich soils.


With commodity prices declining, Africa will have to bank on the agricultural sector for sustainable growth

2) Prioritise value addition to extract value from the entire value chain and not just from primary production:

a) Integrate clean energy development with agriculture development and Information Communication Technology (ICTs) to develop clean energy-powered agro-industries with efficient ICT-enabled linkages to markets and supply chains: Clean energy development must be expanded beyond domestic use to include industrial use and to power the agro-value addition and processing industries. This is to ensure that while carbon is mitigated through clean energy use, additional income and job opportunities can be created along the entire post farm-gate supply chain and in clean energy through the value addition aspect. For example, Cameroon is integrating off-grid small-hydro to power sustainable, EBA-produced cassava and Irish potato processing into varied product lines in rural areas. These are then linked to markets and supply chains across the country using ICT mobile apps that are efficient and have a smaller carbon print than the conventional, non-digital paper processes. A total of 10 youth groups who work in ICT, clean energy and marketing have been engaged. This means that green jobs have been created for approximately 100 young people. Also, more than 500 women farmers now have access to value-addition services and as a result they have cut their PHLs to increase their income stability and the community’s food security.

b) Market standardisation: Countries are being supported to establish an “EBAFOSA compliance” standard to ensure quality control along the agro-industrialisation chain. This enhances the marketability of products. This standard will be applied universally across EBAFOSA countries and will be enforced by National Standards regulators in each of these countries. This will create a continent-wide market for EBA-grown and clean energy-processed agro-products across Africa. This would mean that certified products would automatically qualify for access to a market in any of the countries. Practically, through EBAFOSA Compliance certification, a farmer in southern Africa can sell their goods to markets in neighbouring southern Africa and in East, West, Central and Northern Africa. This compliance standard is contributing economically by expanding markets and increasing earnings along the agro-value chain. It is also contributing to climate action by incentivising EBA-driven actions. One of the first products to be standardised is atteke, a staple food in Cote d’Ivoire. EBAFOSA Cote d’Ivoire has mobilised cassava farmers to plant using EBA and process cassava into atteke, using clean energy. This product will be standardised and is set to be marketed first in Kenya and then in the rest of East Africa. ICT will be used to enhance supply chain and payment efficiency between producers in Cote d’Ivoire and consumers in Kenya and the rest of East Africa.

3) Innovative financing: Through EBAFOSA, countries are being supported to establish risk-sharing facilities. These will de-risk enterprises along the EBA-based, clean energy-powered agro-industrialisation continuum. For example, in Nigeria, EBAFOSA is working with the world-renowned Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing Facility for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and expanding it to cover the entire EBA-based, clean energy-powered agro-industrialisation chain. The aim is to cover key risk factors of climate risk (driven by climate change-induced crop failure) and financial risk (driven by repayment defaults) and catalyse affordable private-sector lending along this continuum. Through EBAFOSA, NIRSAL will cover entrepreneurs engaged in various levels of clean energy-powered value addition, such as solar-powered irrigation, small-scale solar drying and solar-powered milling operations, among other clean energy processing actions. Through EBAFOSA, NIRSAL will also cover farmers using various EBA approaches, such as agro-forestry and organic fertiliser, as well as ICT actors enhancing agro-value chain efficiencies.         

4) Policy harmonisation: Through EBAFOSA, countries are being supported to establish policy task forces to harmonise policies that are being formulated by the relevant ministries to ensure that they work in a complementary way. For example, through EBAFOSA, Sierra Leone is harmonising finance, industry, energy and agriculture sectorial policies to establish tax concession incentives for agro-based industries powered by clean energy in rural areas. These are set to attract investment into these areas to fuel job creation and to decongest the urban areas of the millions of young people who flock to towns and cities across the continent in search of jobs.

Read: Africa is feeling the heat: Turning the challenges of climate change into opportunities


5) Inclusive partnerships to drive implementation: In line with section 5 of the Paris Agreement, which calls on collaboration among state and non-state actors to combat climate change, UN Environment is catalysing, through EBAFOSA, voluntary but mutually beneficial partnerships among state and non-state actors. For example, in Kenya, clean energy vendors are working with micro-finance banks and farmer cooperatives that are using EBA approaches. The end result is tailored financing that allows farmers to acquire clean energy technologies, like solar-powered micro-irrigation, solar driers and now a 10Kw decentralized plant, to process cassava that has been grown using EBA approaches. The end result is that banks sell their loans, clean energy companies get clients and the farmers pool their resources, diversify risks and acquire equipment to enhance their productivity and their revenue. In the process, EBA and clean energy is scaled up. All this is happening under EBAFOSA Kenya, which has brought these diverse actors together.


“He who is unable to dance says that the yard is stony.” This African proverb teaches us that excuses are for the defeated. The challenge of youth unemployment is not beyond Africans to solve. It is therefore time to reject all excuses, and through EBAFOSA, build partnerships that will get the youth to work

Dr. Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change and Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang

Mr. Robert Mgendi is the Adaptation Policy Expert


The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which they are affiliated