Africa’s working-age population could rise from 705 million in 2018 to nearly 1 billion in just over a decade, leading to high unemployment as millions of young people join the labor market and the pressure to provide decent jobs intensifies.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) predicts that at the current rate of labour force growth, Africa would need to create about 12 million new jobs every year to prevent unemployment from rising.
The AfDB’s 2019 report concludes that only half of new labour force workers will find employment if current trends continue, which would mean that close to 100 million people could be out of jobs, and that most of the jobs available will be in the “informal sector” – jobs that are neither taxed nor monitored by government.
Coupled with the prospect of high unemployment is the potential for widespread food shortages across the continent. Small-scale farmers constitute 70 percent of people engaged in the agricultural sector in Africa. Many find themselves unable to effectively curb disease and pest outbreaks and, as farm sizes decrease due to the high population growth rate, so too does their food production. The result is that small-scale farmers are earning smaller and smaller incomes, and 65 percent of their households are trapped in a cycle of poverty, surviving on less than $2 a day.
Although agricultural stimulation policies and programs currently aim to increase food production, these efforts are undermined by a high population growth rate, which results in land fragmentation as family farms are divided among offspring, decreasing the chances of large families being able to sustain themselves. And while agricultural production in Africa is starting to feel the effects of climate change, a recent study found that projected rapid population growth will be the leading cause of food insecurity and widespread undernourishment across Africa. When the study examined future scenarios with and without the effects of climate change, very little to no difference in undernourishment projections were found, suggesting that population growth is the dominant driver of change.
Even if fertility rates fall substantially in the near future, the youthful age structure of the African population makes it likely that population growth will continue for some time. Given the ominous prospects for employment and food security on the African continent, its leaders should take measures to slow and reverse population growth through education and support for family planning, and governments of developed countries should make those objectives a significant and meaningful part or their foreign aid.