Agriculture policies in many African countries are failing to recognise the true needs and priorities of their young people, say authors of new research published today by the Institute of Development Studies. Unemployment among young people in Africa is increasingly recognised as a first order development challenge. There is widespread economic growth in many parts of the African continent– but ‘jobless’ economic growth combined with the world’s youngest population threatens progress in many African countries. Given that the majority of Africans live in rural areas, the continuing importance of the agricultural sector to most African economies, and the very slow emergence of employment opportunities in the formal sector, it is not surprising that policy and development practitioners frequently look to agriculture as a key source of opportunity for young people. Yet the way they approach the ‘problem of young people and agriculture’ may be flawed, say authors of the new IDS Bulletin on Young People and Agriculture in Africa. “Young people are often portrayed as potential saviours of the agri-food industry, bringing energy and new ideas,” said Jim Sumberg, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and co-editor of the Bulletin. He continued, “But at the same time, they are labelled in some quarters as underemployed, vulnerable and prone to crime and violence.” Despite increased commitments to evidence-based policy, many strategies are based on assumptions, ‘common knowledge’ and anecdotes about young people. The Bulletin authors argue that the evidence base on which to build policy and programmes is “frighteningly thin”. The result is policy that is well intentioned, but unlikely to address the underlying social or agricultural concerns, particularly when the problems being addressed are associated with complexities such as poverty, livelihoods, agrarian transitions, social justice or sustainability. According to World Bank figures, young people make up 37 percent of the working-age population in Africa, but 60 per cent of the total unemployed. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and its ranks are set to double by 2045. The agri-food sector – which includes farming, but also producing, retailing, exporting and marketing – is an important potential source of jobs for young people in Africa. The authors of the Bulletin argue that more attention should be given to increasing the opportunities open to them, through access to key resources, support from networks, and information, knowledge and skills. “The first step in refocusing the policy lens is to bridge the evidence gap. Until we have policy relevant research focusing on the dynamics of livelihood building among rural young people in Africa, development policymakers and practitioners risk failing Africa’s ‘lost generation'”, urged co-editor Jim Sumberg. To interview Jim Sumberg or to request further information please contact Carol Smithyes in the IDS CommunicationsTeam on +44 (0)1273 915638.