Agriculture, the backbone of Africa’s economy, is threatened by an ageing production population as young people turn away from farming, often thought to be difficult, time consuming, risky and not very profitable.

In Ghana for instance, majority of farmers are interested in empowering their children to take up professions other than farming as their future economic activity.

“No farmer is expecting the child to land on the farm because we don’t make agric a very good profession for it to be very attractive to the farmers themselves to be able to introduce their children into the practice,” observed Emmanuel Arthur, Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Company Limited, a farmers’ cooperative.

According to him, there is the urgent need to reflect on agricultural policies to ascertain business ideals and attractiveness to the youth, otherwise “we’ll get to a point that we’ll not be able to produce the food we eat, the cash crop that we export and the country could be in serious crises”.

Majority of the people engaged in agriculture are believed to be over 50 years old, hence calls for Africa to think critically about how to attract the youth to replace the aging farming population.

Suggestions include the integration of agriculture into school curricula, easy access to land, capital, technical knowledge and equipment for successful ventures.

Dr. Samuel Kojo Dapaah, a Special Advisor to Ghana’s Minister of Food and Agriculture, believes the youth should be better off so long as their concerns with agricultural mechanization, transportation, water and other basic amenities are provided.

However, there is growing advocacy to rather encourage the youth to get higher up in the agricultural value chain.

Some African researchers involved in the GDN Global Research Project, ‘Supporting Policy Research to Inform Agricultural Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia’, have strongly pointed to the need to shift from actual production at the farm house to value addition ventures for the youth.

At a recent workshop to present five policy briefing papers to help shape debates on agricultural policies in sub-Saharan Africa, Prof. Chris Ackello-Ogutu at the University of Nairobi, stated that young people would be more interested in value addition than actual production.

He said whilst it is important for the youth to change their mindset and attitude towards agriculture, they should be pushed to the value chains.

“We need to push for policies and strategies that can engage the youth in value addition higher up in the value chain and there are opportunities for that; providing extension services at the lower level and investing in processing and packaging and in public relations in the provision of market information,” stated Prof. Ackello-Ogutu.

Other opportunities for the youth in agriculture have been identified in food retail, catering, input supply and research – but these jobs generally require higher levels of education and different skills.

The 2012 international conference on “Young People, Farming and Food” debated research findings and policy options for youth engagement in agriculture.

It was observed that the agrifood sector in Africa, in the coming years, will undergo significant transformation that will result in both challenges and opportunities for young people.

Experts at the forum noted that policy interest in linking young people to agriculture should not ignore important drivers, trends and developments that are impacting on both young people’s aspirations and the structure of the agrifood sector.

Prof. Saa Dittoh, Head of Food Nutrition and Security at the University of Development Studies, Tamale says the marketing component of the agricultural value chain should be promoted.

According to the GDN policy paper on ‘Long-term Challenges to Food Security and Rural Livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa’, Africa’s urban populations and incomes are growing and with that will come greater demand for marketed food.

“The youth are becoming very innovative, so looking at the value chain and where they can fit in and not necessarily just on the farm but find out what they can do with the produce, is going to be very important”, observed Prof. Dittoh.

In November 2012, hundreds of public and private sector players in agriculture will be participating in an international conference on agricultural value chains in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Though the event has no specific focus on youth, youth employment may be touched on by the session being organized by International Labour Organization (ILO).

Senior Technical Advisor for Market-Led Development at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Andrew W. Shepherd is uncertain “how policies could drive people into value chains as value chains depend, primarily, on satisfying consumer demand, but as demand increases for processed and semi-processed products there will be more employment opportunities”.

As the experts meet to develop a greater understanding of the factors necessary for value chains to thrive, it is expected that young people in Africa would share in the knowledge and experiences to venture the agricultural value chain for gainful employment and contribute to food security.