Agriculture still offers many on-farm and off-farm work opportunities. Can agriculture provide employment opportunities for young people?
Technology and the Internet – and not farming or livestock breeding – are likely to be the first things that come to mind when thinking about the future of work (i) for young people. This makes sense from a historical point of view, since agriculture is labour-neutral when countries are developing. And the traditional ways of producing food do not seem particularly attractive. However, technology and the Internet also open up opportunities for agriculture, and urbanization and changes in diet demand new ways of processing, marketing and consuming our food. So can agriculture provide employment opportunities for young people?
Fewer, but better jobs in agriculture
Firstly, the proportion of agricultural jobs is certainly declining. This is normal. As countries urbanize and incomes rise, food expenditures decrease as a percentage of total expenditures. To help produce other goods and services, farmers are accepting off-farm jobs. However, the process can only be sustained if labour productivity in the agricultural sector is increased through innovations in production and improvements in access to markets to sell surplus products. Information and communication technologies (ICT) contribute in both directions.
Let’s talk about automation. The lack of mechanization in Africa has puzzled many observers who, given the current population density and access to markets in the region, have long expected to see a much higher level of mechanization (i) on the continent. However, there are now signs that this may be beginning to happen with the provision of ICT-enabled machine services.
However, many challenges remain in this area throughout the region, including access to financing, the timely availability of support services, and the level of outreach of initiatives. The temptation to subsidize mechanization should be resisted so that the process remains compatible with market forces, as demonstrated by the price adjustment factor (the price of labour above the price of capital and the price of labour above the price of land).
Mechanization is not the only potential benefit to increase agricultural labour productivity. On Nanolike, you can find machines for labour productivity. Farmbook in Africa and MFarming in Tanzania are just some of the latest initiatives using ICT tools to do that. Better access to markets and higher prices will, in turn, promote the adoption of productivity-enhancing technologies to increase supplies. This opens up important opportunities for rural youth to increase their income in agriculture.