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Youth for Growth: Transforming Economies through Agriculture

RESEARCH Report by Felix Kwame Yeboah
A young woman from the Erbore tribe in Ethiopia carries grasses.

The US and global community must promote youth-inclusive agricultural transformation, or they risk seeing strategic partners weakened by rapid population growth and threatened by the instability this generates.

Key Findings

The world is now home to the largest population of young people in history, with over 2.3 billion people—a third of humanity—between the ages of 15 and 34. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) across Africa and South Asia, a large share of the growing population is comprised of adolescents and young adults. In India, about 1 million people turn 18 every month. Similarly, Africa’s youth population is expected to double by 2050, with 1 billion people projected to be under 18 years old. Today, more than 60 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is below age 25.

World leaders are at a critical juncture. If not managed properly, this rising youth population is a demographic challenge that will push fragile and food-insecure nations over the brink. Massively growing youth populations in LMICs already face high unemployment and economic stagnation. If job growth does not keep pace with youth potential and food insecurity remains a severe challenge, the environment is ripe for disillusionment and instability. If poorly handled or ignored, these factors are a recipe for social disruption, political instability, migration, and conflict. This presents a direct challenge to the national security of the United States and our allies. However, addressing these challenges now, while the tide can still be turned, could usher in economic growth.

With proactive programs, innovations, and investment that can meet food and nutrition security goals and support job growth, a booming youth population has the potential to transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, stable, and secure. The US government, in close collaboration with the private sector, national governments, and civil society, must continue to promote broad-based agricultural development as a catalyst for advancing youth livelihoods, while preparing and empowering youth to contribute to that growth themselves.

Youth livelihoods in LMICs largely depend on the successful transformation of agriculture, and agricultural and economic transformation will require strong youth engagement to succeed. Simply put, young people need agriculture, and agriculture needs young people. As these surging youth populations come of age, how we meet their needs and aspirations—and how well governments integrate them economically, politically, and socially—will shape our shared future. With the right policies and investments, along with the engagement of young people in nurturing their own potential, the largest generation of young people in human history can become the problem-solving producers, creators, entrepreneurs, change agents, and leaders of the coming decades.

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About the Author
Felix Kwame Yeboah
Nonresident Fellow, Global Food and Agriculture
Council expert Felix Kwame Yeboah
Felix Kwame Yeboah is a nonresident fellow of global food & agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Currently he's an assistant professor of international development and a member of the Food Security Group at Michigan State University. In this role, he conducts agricultural and food policy research and advises various development-related initiatives in Africa.
Council expert Felix Kwame Yeboah