Land! One of the most coveted resources globally but more so in the African cultures. In Africa, for instance, access to, use, and control over land are indistinguishably linked to access to other economic and productive resources. Moreover, the value of land in Africa transcends economic and market value. It extends to social, cultural, and religious values. The demand for land in Africa continues to rise with increasing urbanization, climatic change, and exponential population growth, especially for the youth. Certainly land is an important factor for African youth to achieve food security, gain economic empowerment and create sustainable livelihoods. It is also linked to the search for their identity, community, and cultural expression.
By 2055, Africa is projected to continue hosting the most youthful population in the world- more than 400 million (UNDP, 2017). This automatically translates to unprecedented demand for land especially for housing, because of Africa’s dependence on agriculture for economic sustenance and given the religious and cultural value attached to land which is a key determinant and oftentimes a deterrent to land use planning. However, the land is a finite resource and the run-away demand for it can only be sustained through informed and conscious planning by all stakeholders including the youth who form over 50% of the population.
While 10 to 12 million youth enter the workforce each year, only 3.1 million jobs are created, leaving vast numbers of youth unemployed or in low-wage jobs (AfDB, 2016). This poses an opportunity, depending on the perspective. If given the chance, these millions of young people could help boost agricultural productivity, improve food security, and generate widespread economic growth across Africa. One key challenge to tapping this potential is the difficulties of accessing land by youth. It is estimated that in sub-Saharan Africa, unlike 1 in every 3 adults who own land, there is only 1 in every 10 young people.
African youth primarily depend on inheritance and customary land allocation for land ownership. Other ways of accessing land include government allocation, renting, or purchasing land. For the longest time, African countries’ legal frameworks were not clear about youth land rights or the involvement of youth in land governance. Moreover, studies have revealed long-standing practices of land ownership accompanied by patriarchy makes land ownership for young women hard (F. Kwame Yeboah, 2019). Also, expensive and insecure land markets in urban areas challenge young people from renting or purchasing land. Such challenges continuously push young people to migrate to alternative livelihoods from agriculture.
This is not to suggest the youth should only survive with farm and non-farm livelihoods, but rather mixed wages with a variety within the range. The diversity can be leveraged to form more innovative and inclusive land administration systems. Youth play a key role in the innovation of land practices that can accommodate their lifestyles. Youth can participate in identifying and disseminating innovative approaches used to improve land and natural resource tenure. Such practices position them as agents of change in climate action.
Securing their land rights translates to securing land rights for the majority of Africa’s population. Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with almost 60% of its population under the age of 25 in 2019. Land rights for youth are critical to Africa’s rural and agricultural development. They provide a platform on which young people can stake their future and invest in agriculture and farm-related productive activities.
There are more opportunities in engaging the youth in land matters. It is critical to engage more young people in land tenure research. This is a step to sustainable capacity building and can strengthen youth knowledge in land rights. Capacity building through rigorous webinars-learning and grassroots community learning is important too.
Engaging young people in important conversations about land means their interests and aspirations are absorbed. It is also important in their development and allows them to have important roles from local to global committees. It ensures they are involved in conflict resolution and builds youth capacity as agents of peace. This ensures democratic governance in all governments. How we access, control, and use land dictates the sustainability of our social and economic development and even the peace in our society.
AfDB. (2016). Catalyzing youth opportunity.
Africa’s first challenge: the youth bulge stuck in ‘waithood’. (2019, July 10). Retrieved from Mo Ibrahim Foundation: https://mo.ibrahim.foundation/news/2019/africas-first-challenge-youth-bulge-stuck-waithood
F. Kwame Yeboah, T. J. (2019). Youth access to land, migration and employment opportunities: evidence from sub-Saharan Africa. IFAD.
This article was originally published in Yilaa.org