Young people and agriculture in Africa: where is the evidence?

During the last decade the language of evidence-based policy began to permeate the world of African agricultural policy. At its best the evidence-based policy movement encourages us to think critically about the nature of evidence and the ‘evidence base(s)’, and the relationship between evidence and policy. In relation to the former, in agricultural policy a diversity of kinds and sources of evidence is now recognised and utilised including: national agricultural censuses, living standards surveys, village studies, success stories, randomised control trials (RTCs) and systematic reviews. While by no means the only outlet for evidence-based and policy-relevant analyses, peer-reviewed journals – the academic literature – are usually thought to be central to agricultural policy debates and processes.

What then does a very rapid review of recent academic literature tell us about the ‘agriculture – young people nexus’ in Africa?

The Web of ScienceSM is a searchable database covering 10,997 academic journals in the sciences and social sciences. It holds records of millions of articles from throughout the world. In late October 2012 a topic search (of title, abstract and keywords) was conducted using the string:

(youth or “young people”) and (rural or agric* or farming) and (Africa or Nigeria or Ghana or Burkina or Togo or Benin or Mali or Senegal or Ivoire or Ivory or Cameroon or Congo or Kenya or Ethiopia or Tanzania or Angola or Mozambique or Rwanda or Botswana or Namibia or Sudan)

This search yielded 301 hits, of which 88 were published in 2010 or 2011. A rapid analysis of these 88 most recent titles indicated that:

  • 57 (65%) addressed issues related to HIV/AIDS, sexual behaviour, sex work or health
  • 7 (9%) addressed some aspect of the ‘agriculture – young people nexus’. These included:

Adinya, I. B., E. E. Enun, and J. U. Ijoma. 2010. Exploring profitability potentials in groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) production through agroforestry practices: a case study in Nigeria. Journal of Animal and Plant Sciences 20(2): 123-131.

Fataar, A. 2010. Youth self-formation and the ‘capacity to aspire’: the itinerant ‘schooled’ career of Fuzile Ali across post-apartheid space. Perspectives in Education 28(3): 34-45.

Greiner, C. 2010. Patterns of translocality: migration, livelihoods and identities in Northwest Namibia. Sociologus 60(2): 131-161.

Kiara, J. K. 2011. Focal area approach: a participatory community planning approach to agricultural extension and market development in Kenya. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 9(1): 248-257.

Porter, G., K. Hampshire, M. Mashiri, S. Dube, and G. Maponya. 2010. ‘Youthscapes’ and escapes in rural Africa: education, mobility and livelihood trajectories for young people in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Journal of International Development 22(8): 1090-1101.

Tacoli, C., and R. Mabala. 2010. Exploring mobility and migration in the context of rural-urban linkages: why gender and generation matter. Environment and Urbanization 22(2): 389-395.

Thorsen, D. 2010. The place of migration in girls’ imagination. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 41(2): 265-+.

The apparent dearth of research centrally addressing the ‘agriculture – young people nexus’ in Africa raises two important questions:

  • Given that both agriculture and young people are said to be high on the development agenda, why is so little research being published (and presumably conducted) that links these two together?
  • What evidence is being used to inform current policy debates about young people and agriculture?

It is not as if there is a lack of questions: Are rural young people in fact turning their backs on agriculture en masse? If so, is this due to their changing aspirations and expectations of to the limited availability of key resources such as land? What role do education and training play in discouraging / encouraging young people’s engagement with agriculture? What evidence supports the idea that an entrepreneurship approach can significantly increase employment opportunities for young people in the agrifood sector? Questions such as these are a start, but in addressing them researchers must be dogged in asking which young people (think: gender, age, education level etc); where; and under what circumstances (think: policy, peace/war etc)?

It is this lack of published work addressing the multiple dimensions of the ‘agriculture – young people nexus’ in Africa that prompted FAC and ISSER to organise the upcoming conference on Young People, Farming and Food in Accra in March 2012. The hope is to use this conference to both re-frame and re-energise research and policy debate in this area, and is so doing contribute to a brighter future for Africa’s rural young people.

*Answer: In theory they all belong; in practice, evidence (of any kind) is too often missing.

For further information contact the conference organisers: