Report: Youth Employment in Agriculture is Vital for Global Food Security and Stability

March 22, 2018

The world is about to go through an unprecedented demographic shift. The global population is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, and much of this growth is fastest in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) where threats to food insecurity and unemployment are the greatest. With billions of new workers coming online, harnessing this burgeoning youth population towards agriculture sector jobs has the potential to transform livelihoods and advance food security, according to a new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

“We are hosting the largest youth population in world history and in some of the most food insecure regions; the average age is getting younger, while agriculture remains the primary employer,” said Alesha Black, global food and agriculture director, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The agriculture sector must respond to this reality and make investments now that can help youth to flourish and propel food and nutrition security forward simultaneously.”

Young people need agriculture, and agriculture needs young people. Agriculture is already the largest employer of the youth labor force and will remain so for the foreseeable future. However, there are not enough high-quality jobs to provide a decent livelihood for the next generation of workers, particularly in LMICs. Without a strategy to revitalize the agricultural sector that embraces the incoming workforce, the demographic challenge will push fragile and food insecure nations over the brink.

In 2017, the United Nations warned 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. And an estimated 76 million people, across 45 countries, are expected to require emergency food assistance during 2018. Ending global hunger and malnutrition is not just a moral issue, but it’s in the best interest for the future of U.S. economic, political, and national security. Countries with high unemployment, poverty, and malnutrition risk instability, extremism, migration, and stunted economic growth.

“Food security is often dealt with on an ad hoc basis, but this report recommends structural policy changes that are necessary to address long-term trends,” said co-chair of the report Bobby Pittman, managing partner, Kupanda Capital and former special assistant to the President and senior director for African Affairs under the Bush Administration. “Failure to do so will bring unprecedented security and migration challenges that will have substantial societal and humanitarian impacts."

The report, Youth for Growth: Transforming Economies through Agriculture, identifies four key actions that can be taken by the U.S. government – in partnership with national governments, the private sector, and civil society – to catalyze youth engagement, employment and entrepreneurship in LMICs.

  1. Commit to a long-term, global food and nutrition strategy.
  2. Congress should revitalize and recommit to robust support for public-sector agricultural research and development with an emphasis on needs for the next agricultural transformation.
  3. Invest in the human capital development necessary to advance rural youth and to drive agricultural transformation.
  4. The U.S. government should align programs that foster an enabling environment for businesses in strategic countries. This environment should be specifically geared toward businesses that generate high-quality jobs for youth and new youth-led ventures.

The report will be publicly released at the Council’s Global Food Security Symposium today in Washington D.C., to be held on March 22. Discussions at the symposium will explore how to leverage this upcoming, young workforce to transform the agricultural sector, spur broader economic growth, and ensure global food security. The event will be live streamed beginning at 8:30 am ET.

Report Task Force Members

Principal Author

  • Felix Kwame Yeboah, Assistant Professor, International Development, Michigan State University


  • Reuben E. Brigety II, Dean, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Bobby J. Pittman, Managing Partner, Kupanda Capital


  • Joy Basu, Food and Agriculture Lead, The Rise Fund (TPG)
  • Ertharin Cousin, Distinguished Fellow, Global Food and Agriculture Program, Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Distinguished Lecturer and Visiting Fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
  • Willy Foote, CEO and Founder, Root Capital
  • Miguel Garcia-Winder, Head, IICA’s Center for Strategic Analysis for Agriculture
  • Thomas Jayne, University Foundation Professor of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics; Codirector of the Alliance for African Partnership, Michigan State University
  • Neha Kumar, Senior Research Fellow, Poverty Health and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Linda Kwamboka, Cofounder and Director, M-Farm
  • Meredith Lee, Deputy Director, Youth Livelihoods, MasterCard Foundation
  • Trent McKnight, Founder and President, AgriCorps
  • Nachilala Nkombo, Country Director, World Wide Fund for Nature-Zambia
  • Jehiel Oliver, CEO, Hello Tractor
  • Paul E. Schickler, Retired President, DuPont Pioneer

About the Global Food Security Symposium
The Global Food Security Symposium has been convened annually since 2010 to identify opportunities for U.S. leadership in alleviating hunger and poverty through agricultural development. The 2012 symposium served as the platform of the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and featured U.S. government leaders, Bono, heads of state from Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Benin and numerous business leaders.

Generous support for the symposium is provided by Abbott and Syngenta as Lead Sponsors and National Dairy Council, DowDuPont, Land O’Lakes and RTI International as Supporting Sponsors. The symposium and report are supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.