Young people in Africa do not see agriculture as a profitable sector and many are unemployed because, they believe, there are too few opportunities to make money as farmers. Unlike their parents and grandparents, whose work in the fields was often the main occupation, for the new generation farming is synonymous with drudgery and poverty. If in developed countries the truly affluent are farmers, in Africa a whole stereotype is attached to those who embrace the sector.
Yet the potential of the agricultural sector for Africa is enormous. In Benin, for example, agriculture is the leading economic sector after services. Its contribution to GDP is about 32%. In addition, it accounts for 75% of export earnings, 15% of government revenues and provides about 70% of employment. It also and above all contributes to ensuring the country’s food security. The same is true for almost all sub-Saharan African countries where the agricultural sector is the driving force of the economy.
Thus, agriculture is both one of the main solutions to the employment challenge in Africa and an activity that is no longer able to attract young people. Is it really an answer to youth unemployment? On what terms?
A farmer in Sékou, in the commune of Allada, Atlantic department, in the south of Benin, Mr Noubayé Hounkpossi is a senior advisor to the Economic and Social Council. He was confronted with the problems of unemployment at an early age after his studies, but he carved out a career in agriculture with aplomb. Today, his fortune makes him a man of great renown in his field. Yet this wealth is the fruit of the earth. “The profits from the palm oil alone contributed more than 20 million to the construction of that building you see there (he says, pointing to a giant building on an estate of more than a hectare). This is an affirmation that the land, the source of wealth, is being abandoned.
Diversity of production
Diversification of agricultural production provides greater food diversity for direct household consumption. However, diversifying into a wider range of crops can be a major challenge for many African farmers. The diversity of Mr Noubayé Hounkpossi’s production makes him a versatile farmer. “I produce maize, cassava, pineapple. I have a citrus plantation. I have a palm farm and a small factory for processing palm nuts into palm oil, not to mention sheep farming.
Market integration difficulties
The main limitation to the development of agriculture in southern Benin is the availability of land. Even with an area of forty hectares under cultivation, Mr Hounkpossi is constantly faced with this difficulty, which is no small one. “The problem of agriculture in the south of Benin here is to have land first, that is the diploma of a farmer. I am currently farming 40 hectares and I am still looking to acquire more without success,” he said.
In African countries, small-scale agricultural production is often insufficient to meet basic household nutritional needs. Thus, farmers who manage to produce a surplus that they could sell struggle to find outlets because of poor market access. “Then, it is the market problem that arises at all levels,” complains the member of Benin’s Economic and Social Council.
”Young people who cling to diplomas do not know the value of the land…”
The potential of agriculture for Africa is well established. If young people could work the land and reduce food imports, the agricultural sector could generate thousands of dollars for African economies. According to Councillor Noubayé, “when you are a farmer, you never lack for food. This means that embracing the agricultural sector means ensuring food self-sufficiency.
Furthermore, the farmer deplores the fact that young people nowadays want to sit in administrations and abandon the land which is “the very source of wealth”. To convince us, the counsellor says, “If I had been in the civil service, I would not be able to reach this level today even if my salary was 500,000 francs.
He also points to the fact that by wanting to become “administrative executives”, young people, over the years with no great resources, end up embezzling the country’s assets. “What will the young people who cling to their diplomas become? Certainly politicians, everyone runs to politics today in order to steal the state’s assets,” laments the sixty-year-old.
It is clear that agricultural entrepreneurship is an indispensable response to the problems of unemployment in African countries. Its contribution to the economy is not to be underestimated. Therefore, encouraging young people to enter the sector would be ideal not only to ensure food security but also for the development of youth.