Brussels Briefing: Rural-urban links


Strengthening rural livelihoods in the face of rapid urbanisation in Africa” was the topic of a Brussels Briefing organised on 20 March by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), BMZ/GIZ and partners. Thomas Allen, from the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD) participated in a panel discussion on rural transformation and job creation. Focussing on the employment opportunities in West African food systems, his presentation argued that although the farming sector will continue to provide the most jobs, labour is increasingly moving out of farming, requiring people to develop different skills.

The demographic and urbanisation dynamics in West Africa are driving profound economic and societal transformations. The dietary patterns of households are changing. West Africans are consuming more fruits and vegetables, more meat and fish, and more processed foods. This is transforming the structure of West African food systems. The region’s food economy is the first sector of the West African economy, amounting to USD 178 billion in 2010. Food systems are also diversifying away from agriculture with upstream and downstream segments of the value chains – from food processing to retailing – representing a larger share of the food economy. In 2010, these non-agricultural activities represented about 40% of the total value added of the food economy. As a result, the employment opportunities in this sector are changing. Recent studies indicate that off-farm activities represent a large share of employment in the food economy – for example, 40% in Nigeria. Most of these off-farm opportunities are in commercial activities rather than in food processing. While farming will continue to provide the largest number of jobs, the downstream segments of food value chains are going to provide, proportionally, more and more jobs in the near future. These emerging activities, requiring new skill sets, may offer attractive opportunities to the large number of youth that are entering the labour market. Rural development strategies must accompany these changes by increasing their support for job creation in the rural non-farm economy.


Watch the livestream (SWAC presentation starts at 0:50-1:06)

SWAC presentation

Emerging Opportunities in the West African Food Economy. OECD West African Papers, No.1, July 2016.