Youth as key actors for a transformation of agri-food systems

In October, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) adopted policy recommendations ‘Promoting Youth Engagement and Employment in Agriculture and Food Systems’. The continental ‘African Agribusiness Youth Strategy’ (AAYS) recently presented by the African Union also explicitly aims to give young people better prospects in the agricultural sector. Anke Oppermann answers five questions on youth employment in the agricultural sector.

©GIZ, Fabiana Anabel Woywod, 2022

By Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development


The work of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) focuses on combating poverty and hunger and on promoting healthy people in a healthy environment. The BMZ sees itself as a transformation ministry that promotes the worldwide transformation towards a sustainable, climate- and nature-compatible economy and at the same time strengthens peace, freedom and human rights.

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By Anke Oppermann

Anke Oppermann is Director 'Decent work worldwide; food and nutrition security' at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Her previous development policy assignments inside and outside BMZ include international human rights, cooperation with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS), policy planning and parliamentary work.

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Where do you currently see the greatest challenges in youth employment within the transformation of our food systems?

Anke Oppermann: Currently, about 25 million young people enter the African labour market every year, with about 14 million of them in rural areas. The trend is rising. Despite growing urbanisation, the majority of young people live in rural areas – up to 70 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, the world is facing numerous crises. As a result, the pressure on food production and food systems has increased enormously and food has become very expensive. Young people, especially young women, are particularly impacted. We need to continue to raise political awareness. For the BMZ, it remains a political priority to create employment and income prospects for young people in Africa.  


The same applies to other regions as well. We need to address young people as key players for the transformation of agricultural and food systems. After all, it is clear that the young generation plays a crucial role in transforming agricultural and food systems in a sustainable manner. It is also up to them to make rural regions more attractive for young and old.  


Now we need well-educated young people so they can be a part of strategically shaping the future. Therefore, we need to get them ready with the necessary qualifications. Moreover, we need to offer them employment prospects in the agricultural sector.


If we want to make employment in rural areas attractive for young people, we need to provide career opportunities in production, including in upstream and downstream sectors e.g. in processing and marketing, as well as advisory services and innovative, digital solutions. This is the only way for them to contribute to a sufficient, healthy and safe food supply.


How do the recommendations for youth employment by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) fit in with these challenges?

In 2019, the CFS established a youth labour programme and immediately commissioned the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to conduct a study on youth participation and employment in the agri-food sector. The report formed the basis for the recommendations that have now been adopted. I consider it a great success that they were adopted by all member states and supported by civil society. Germany was a pioneer in putting the issue on the international agenda back in 2017 with the G20 initiative for rural youth employment. Five years later, it is still highly topical. I am very pleased that the topic has been taken up in many important international processes.


For example, last year at the Food Systems Summit of the United Nations, it was made very clear that young people are the key actors of future transformation.


We can only feed a growing population on this planet if we succeed in making our agri-food systems sustainable and rural life and work more appealing.


At the European Union, the ‘Year of Youth’ is currently coming to an end. There, the objective of the recently adopted ‘Youth Action Plan’ is to ensure that youth interests are included in the design of EU initiatives. Hence, the recommendations of the Committee on World Food Security are not isolated concepts, but rather another important reference for a common framework for action.  


How does the African Union’s recently launched Youth Agribusiness Strategy fit into this frame of reference? How does it differ from the recommendations of the Committee on World Food Security?

The African Union’s Agribusiness Youth Strategy (AAYS) also combines the super important issues of ‘transformation of agricultural and food systems’ and ‘youth employment in rural areas’. The focus is on skills development for young people with specific examples of entrepreneurship and how to improve integration of young ‘agripreneurs’ into value chains and markets, which need to be adapted to national circumstances.


The AAYS is intended to serve as a framework for African Union Member States to develop and implement agribusiness and employment strategies for and with young people. The goal is to maximise coherence with other African strategies and initiatives, such as the CAADP programme and the National Pathway strategies that have emerged from the UN Food System Summit process. By contrast, the recommendations of the Committee on World Food Security address a wider range of issues. They also identify aspects on which the governments of individual countries (as well as the entire community of countries) should focus in a coordinated manner. In comparison to the CFS recommendations, the AAYS also identifies recommendations for other stakeholders such as the private sector.


What is the BMZ’s contribution to promoting rural (youth) employment and what approaches are being pursued? Are they in line with the recommendations?


Our guiding principle for rural employment promotion is a market-oriented, competitive agri-food sector. This is the backbone of rural areas for increasing local added value and creating employment opportunities.  


The framework is provided by the integrated employment promotion approach of German development cooperation, which has been adapted to the context of rural areas. It consists of three pillars: 1.) Vocational training and qualification measures are used to improve employment prospects; 2) establishment and further development of enterprises is supported; and 3) demand and supply of labour are better coordinated through needs-based job placement opportunities. Our actions are guided by the findings and recommendations of numerous scientific studies and expert reports – from the IFAD Rural Development Report of 2019 to CERES 2030, the UN Food Systems Summit and the CFS recommendations. In this regard, we are aligned with other donors. It is clear what needs to be done. However, that does not mean implementation is easy. The goal must continue to focus on better coordination, combined with additional investment from all stakeholders.


For food security and rural development, the BMZ invests about 2 billion euros annually in projects, global initiatives and multilateral partnerships. These include projects and programme concepts that explicitly target young people, e.g. the Global Project on Youth Employment in Rural Areas and the Green Innovation Centres. In Kenya, our overall strategy is also focused on rural youth employment.


Thinking ahead, what is the relationship between the CFS policy recommendations and the AAYS, and what is their significance for German development cooperation?

Together, the documents form a good foundation for designing national development and employment strategies in our partner countries. For member states of the African Union and the CFS, they even represent a ‘double obligation’. Just the same, they set the direction for German development cooperation and the EU, with whom we have taken a coordinated position in the CFS negotiation process. We now want to implement these commitments, for example through appropriate portfolio design and in the implementation of the core strategy ‘Transformation of Agri-Food Systems’. Youth employment will also be an important topic in our new Africa strategy.

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