John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: Agriculture and Employment in Africa

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
September 4, 2012

A Rwandan tea picker works in a field at Mulindi estate, about 60 km (40 miles) north of the capital Kigali, August 5, 2010. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with USAID.

This year 10 million young Africans will enter the workforce. This number will continue to increase until 2030 when it will peak at about 18 million annual new entrants to the workforce.

With seventy percent of the African population (and poverty) firmly rooted in rural areas, and development strategies focused on agriculture, will farms be able to absorb these numbers? Demonstrably not.

Africa today is the only region in the world where agriculture continues to play the leading role in economic growth and employment. But subsistence farms are already too small to absorb additional labor. Commercial farms are dependent on improving productivity, by definition labor displacing.

African leaders recognize agricultural employment cannot keep pace with population growth, and are promoting a shift towards manufacturing, and other types of industrial production and services.

What does this mean for public policy? First, that a development strategy focused almost exclusively on agriculture is only half right. True, agriculture is necessary to provide increased food supplies and higher rural incomes. And agriculture will have to play an important role in the transition to other types of economic activity, such as enlarging markets for urban output. But, as noted above, agricultural success carries with it a declining relevance to the growing pool of employment seekers.

Second, a shift from agriculture to industry will not necessarily guarantee enough jobs to meet demand. Today’s labor markets are characterized by informality, inequity, and unreliability – this largely the result of the laissez faire, free market approaches promoted by the international development and economic communities.

Public policy must play a role – a policy regime that extends beyond agriculture (PDF) (and even labor markets themselves) to macroeconomic policy, financial institutions, international economic arrangements, territorial development, demographics, migration and gender policy.

Third, neither the desired sectoral shift nor employment goals will be accomplished automatically. In addition to public policy, they will need an international development and aid strategy that links to and is supportive of that policy.

Today, African thinking and direction stand in uneasy tension with the fixed focus of the international development and economic communities on agriculture and their insistence on the primacy of the market. This tension exists despite the aspirations of the Paris/Accra Declaration on AID Effectiveness (PDF).

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  • Posted by JimV

    To say that “labor markets are characterized by informality, inequity, and unreliability … largely the result of … laissez faire, free market approaches promoted by the international development and economic communities” is the height of absurdity. Instead, it is the diversion of development finabce through more than 47,000 worldwide development organizations that is the culprit here.

    What is needed is a zero tolerance polivy for stunted children, emphasis on a strong primat education as a precodition for higher levels of education, local oversight, strict accountability, and the elimination of far too many middlemen from the statist and NGO complex. .

    Alluding to poliitical tags as the author does is never the distinction it appears to be, As Robert Heinlein said, “The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” This overbearing and elitist attitude is at the core of the problem in Africa. A primary school system that emulates the successful methodologies in Finland and South Korea — not at all like our abysmal system in the US is the answer. That’s just a start, but it’s where we must start. Every aid dollar must be tracked and abuses must end, with most of the abuse and malfeasance taking place before those aid dollars reach Africa. It should also be changed from “aid” to :”investment” dollars because the world-at-large is in dire straits without a modernized farm sector in Sub Saharan Africa and employment growth and opportunity that naturally follows. There shoulde be no authoritarian directives; empower the people and they’ll do fine.

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