4 Insights for Better Youth Training in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa


Agriculture is the primary source of income for many rural populations in Africa, but keeping youth involved in the sector is a major challenge. Training opportunities are often limited, and income is inconsistent across the seasonality of many crops. As a result, many rural youth engage in a plethora of economic activities to support themselves, ranging from formal agricultural production to informal cash-paid labor. A recent year-long study by The MasterCard Foundation has shone some light on the diverse economic lives of rural youth in Ghana and Uganda. These findings could provide development program designers with new insight into how to design capacity-building programs that are immediately relevant to youth.

To construct the report Invisible Lives, researchers asked families to keep financial diaries to record financial flows. Surveyors then conducted bi-weekly visits with families asking a specific list of questions regarding expenses, income, savings, and economic behavior in general. These diaries provided information about behavioral changes throughout different periods of the year, as well as insight into how income fluctuates.
Mixed livelihoods are the most prevalent trend. Rural youth juggle a portfolio of income-generating activities, including agriculture. These side jobs are often related to agriculture production but can be started and stopped very easily depending on need, according to risk analyst and report co-author Claudia Pompa. “Rather than the concept of entrepreneur in the developed economic sense, these businesses work depending on opportunity, perhaps during a season or during certain days of the week,” she told Devex.
Pompa urged groups working on capacity building to develop their programs around the reality of mixed livelihoods, rather than the traditional focus on specialized skills. She believes the livelihood trends revealed in the survey likely extend to broader sub-Saharan Africa, given the surprising number of similarities in lifestyles between the two countries studied.
Here are four suggestions for trainers creating programs for rural youth, drawing from the report and Devex’s conversations with Pompa and Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie, the current executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation in Zimbabwe. Nnadozie, former director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, sees capacity building as a key component of the continent’s development moving forward.
1. Create flexible skills training programs
The current market cannot accommodate the influx of youth who are entering the job market each year, so many young workers are likely to depend on mixed livelihoods for the foreseeable future. Capacity-building trainings must be adapted to this reality, Pompa told Devex. “A very common theme is to not put all your eggs in one basket,” she said.
Flexibility must extend to the class schedule itself. Practitioners often struggle with poor attendance at skills training, Pompa said. But the course structure may be to blame, for example, a six-hour daily training session for three months during harvest season. “We need to take into account people’s responsibilities,” she said. “Young people may not have all that time to devote to training, so we need to provide flexible models that help them learn and earn at the same time.”
2. African capacity building needs consistency
African capacity building is the missing link in many global development efforts, according to Nnadozie. At times, development practitioners have taken an on-and-off approach to training local communities. This lack of consistency “prevents countries from designing the right policies, and even when they do that, from implementing those policies or even monitoring and re-evaluating their results,” he said. “We must stop treating capacity building like a fashion trend that goes in and out of style.”
Instead, development programmers can reduce costs and maximize impact by building activities or programs that allow individuals, societies and local organizations to use their own abilities and resources.
3. Focus on areas that will make youth employable or self-employable
Education provides youth with the foundation they need to help develop the continent, but past training hasn’t always been targeted toward the key areas of need. “A major problem is that we have not been educating young people to solve Africa’s problems,” Nnadozie said. “We are not training the people needed in the areas that support the public development and industrialization on the continent, and those are the people in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
4. Train youth on transferable skills that aren’t limited to a single profession.
Youth are already balancing a set of different economic portfolios. Pompa suggested that programs must acknowledge those current skills and build on them. “We need to think when training young people on trying to identify where are those transferable skills that will be useful for them in managing a portfolio of incomes,” she said.
For example, rural youth may benefit from a better understanding of risk management: How can young people managing up to 20 income generating activities reduce the risk in their portfolio and maximize the income from the activities they are already undertaking?
Programmers can also consider how to help expand low-skilled, flexible businesses into structures that can employ more people. “Although we applaud ourselves on the great work we are doing, we are not reaching the millions of young people that we need to reach if we want to make a fundamental change,” Pompa told Devex.
Originally published by Devex