BlogField Focus Blog

Nov 17 2020

Could youth land rights hold the key to transforming agriculture and stimulating economic development in Africa?

This blog was originally published by Land Portal.

By Tizai Mauto

Over 60 percent of Africans are under the age of 35 – a well-documented “youth bulge” representing both an enormous challenge and a tantalizing opportunity for the continent.

While 10-12 million young Africans enter the labor market each year, only 3.1 million formal wage jobs are generated, a shortfall that pushes millions of youth into low-paying and precarious informal employment.

At the same time, the potential and the talent in Africa’s rising generation also represent a “demographic dividend.” Given the opportunity, these millions of youth could help boost agricultural productivity, enhance food security, and generate broad economic development across the continent.

To properly leverage the immense potential of youth to transform the agricultural sector, government policymakers must first address a fundamental barrier to productive youth engagement in agriculture. Youth land rights are essential to ushering in Africa’s rural and agricultural transformation, providing the foundation on which youth can stake their future and invest in agriculture and farm-related productive activities. If properly harnessed, Africa’s nearly 420 million youth will be the continent’s greatest asset and its engine to grow agricultural productivity and food security while reducing poverty.

The challenge of youth land rights

Only about 10 percent of land in sub-Saharan Africa is formally documented, with much of the remaining 90 percent held under customary land tenure systems, where rural youth access land primarily through inheritance and customary land allocation.

These customary land systems are frequently dominated by conservative traditional leaders who favor adult men, making it challenging for young men and nearly impossible for young women to gain secure land access, use, and ownership. Research shows that landlessness and lack of economic opportunities are important drivers of youth migration and farming career decisions in both land-scarce and land-abundant countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

And for those youth (mostly young men) who can inherit land, inherited land parcels are often of poor quality and too fragmented to support a sustainable income.

Young rural women and men can also access land through government land redistribution programs, or through land markets. But these systems also come with multiple constraints hampering youth access to land: many youth lack resources to buy or rent land; formal land sale and rental markets are often under-developed; awareness of and legal protections for youth land rights are inadequate; and state-sponsored land redistribution programs often fail to account for the needs of youth.

Land scarcity compounds challenges for low income youth, especially in densely populated regions. One estimate shows that 91 percent of Africa’s uncultivated arable land is concentrated in just nine countries, with increasing land scarcity in most African countries.

Although steep, the obstacles to youth land rights are not insurmountable. Organizations are noting promising progress toward youth land rights.

From Liberia to Zimbabwe and Benin to Tanzania, advocates, legal experts and members of civil society are dismantling barriers that young women and men face in accessing land, helping to build a new generation of farmers across the continent.

To learn more about this important work, join co-hosts Landesa and Yilaa Friday, Nov. 20, from 1 – 3 pm West African Time (7 – 9 am EST) for an expert discussion on the role youth can play in reforming agriculture and promoting economic development across the African continent. The webinar, Practices of African Youth Access to Land for Prosperous Agriculture, will provide insights into the current state of youth access and rights to land in Africa, current efforts to promote youth engagement in agriculture and lessons learned. Both English and French language options will be available.

Registration is open online here.

Youth land rights have the potential to boost agricultural productivity, generate inclusive and sustainable economic growth and help a generation of young Africans realize the dignity and security found in meaningful, productive work. The ripple effect on food security, peace and security and economic prosperity across the continent cannot be overstated.

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