International conference on youth, jobs and agriculture

yff1FAC’s international conference on the future of the agrifood sector in Africa was held at the Centre for African Wetlands, University of Ghana at Legon, Accra, on 19-21 March 2012.

FAC partners, led by Jim Sumberg and Nana Akua Anyidoho, who organised the event, ensured that the discussions added to the evidence base from a variety of cross-disciplinary angles in order to examine:

  • How young people engage with the agri-food sector in Africa as producers, entrepreneurs, employees, consumers and citizens
  • Changes in the agri-food sector and what this means for young people
  • The implications for young people of alternative policy approaches to the development of the agri-food sector.

The conference highlighted that in relation to the “young people and agriculture” problem in Africa, policy advocates and policy makers rely heavily on “common knowledge”, anecdote and narrative to develop and argue policy alternatives. Much concern is expressed from both the agriculture (e.g. ageing farm population; loss of farm labour; constrained access to resources such as land) and social perspectives (e.g. unemployment and underemployment of young people; migration to uncertain and risky urban environments).

However, the search for appropriate responses is hampered because of: i) A lack of analysis that is theoretically and historically informed, conceptually sound and context sensitive; ii) A very weak base of empirical research relating to either the nature of the “problem” or the potential impacts of particular policy responses; and iii) A limited cadre of researchers and policy advocates who are actively working on and informed about these issues. Consequently, common policy responses including training in entrepreneurship, targeted distribution of agricultural inputs, micro-credit and mechanised “block farming” can be in tension with young people’s own imperatives, aspirations, strategies and activities.

The conference was co-hosted by FAC and the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research. FAC members who contributed to the event included Jennifer Leavy (co-convenor of FAC’s Youth theme), Amdissa Teshome, Samuel Gebreselassie, Ian Scoones and John Thompson.

The FAC conference produced a number of outputs, including newsletters, keynote speeches and a range of papers, a web space for presentations and a blog report. These are helping to shape the debate about the future of youth engagement with agriculture and agricultural policy processes. Further outputs in the pipeline include an IDS Bulletin in November 2012 on Young People and the Agri-food Sector in Africa and an edited book.

Beyond the FAC website, the findings from the discussions have been disseminated via social media including Facebook and Twitter, and substantial media coverage of the conference, particularly across Africa.