Young people and agrifood in Africa: is it time for some good old fashioned planning?

What’s important in both those examples is that they start with an analysis of the types of skills that will be needed in the future, and the likely demand for these skills. Just as important is the ability to identify and use policy and other levers to create the incentives that can change young people’s perceptions of the long-term career opportunities associated with particular fields.

Now let’s change gears and focus on agriculture in Africa. Has anyone yet done a serious analysis of the human resources that will be needed in the agricultural sector in 10 or 15 years? Not to my knowledge. Nevertheless, it should be obvious that to be meaningful, such an analysis would have to be based on an explicit vision of how the agricultural sector will evolve over this period.

Is it, for example, expected to remain dominated by small-scale producers using primarily their own and their family’s labour? Or is the expectation that there will be significant consolidation in the sector, resulting in an increase in the scale of farming and greater dependency on both machinery and hired labour? The achievement of either of these visions – and there are many others that could be elaborated – would require very different human resources (in terms e.g. of skill areas, skill levels and numbers). The critical point is that without a vision, human resource planning is futile.

I am not suggesting that the mere existence of a human resource plan will guarantee movement toward the intended outcome. Many other pieces of the puzzle will also be required – including the levers and incentives alluded to above. However, without some kind of analysis and human resource plan, and the coordination and investment needed to achieve it, the chances of arriving at the intended end point are greatly reduced.

National agricultural policy documents do provide visions of the future of the agricultural sector: there has always been, and will continue to be, debate and contestation around these official visions. Unfortunately neither official nor alternative visions for agriculture in Africa are normally accompanied by the kind of human resource plans that would be considered absolutely essential in any other sector of the economy.

In Ghana (or Malawi, or Namibia) in 2022, how many agronomists will be required, trained at what level, with what competences, and to do what?  And how many farm labourers, farmers, agricultural economists, extensionists, food technologists, process engineers, marketing specialists, etc etc? These are the positions through which young people will engage with and contribute to the development of the agrifood sector. However, until we are able to answer questions like these (or at least begin to ask them!) the whole discussion of young people and agrifood in Africa will remain marginal.

We’ll be discussing the future of young people in the agricultural sector at our conference on Young People, Farming and Food next month. If you can’t make it to the conference, you can follow developments and engage with us on this website.