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Resilient Generation: supporting young people’s prospects for decent work in the drylands of east and west Africa

The report reviews opportunities for young people in the drylands of Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Mali to pursue climate-resilient work and provides key recommendations.
A young woman in a brightly coloured yellow and black wrap.


The east and west regions of Africa have a youthful population – with people under the age of 18 comprising around one half of the population for most countries. This promises to be a boon for labour markets, but also challenges governments and development agencies to provide decent, meaningful income-generating opportunities for young people. The rural, predominantly arid and semi-arid areas of these regions – the drylands – certainly face these issues.

The drylands have been defined as areas with high climate variability; low soil fertility; sparse and mobile populations; geographies that are remote from and poorly served by development infrastructure; weak institutions and weak human capital; rich traditional and local knowledge; and ethnic and cultural diversity. These interrelated factors can lead to challenges in delivering services; poor access to markets; lower productivity; and a lag in human development. Climate change and other shocks, including conflict, continue to create new and emerging risks for rural livelihoods and young people’s opportunities to secure decent, climate-resilient work.

Until recently, there have been very few policies and programmes that have targeted education, skills development and employment support to young people in the drylands – let alone, in a climate-smart way.

Policy debates and programme design have also paid meagre attention to gender, age and poverty dynamics, and other intersecting social identities (such as ethnicity, religion, (dis)ability and geography etc.) that influence young people’s experiences, ideas and aspirations. Traditional gender and social norms, roles and responsibilities continue to influence the livelihood options and income-generating activities available to young girls and disadvantaged groups, including access to and control over assets and resources.

This report examines the great potential to invest in climate-resilient, sustainable futures in the dryland economies and environments.

*Download the full report from the right hand column. The key messages from the report are provided below. See the full text for more detail.

Scope of the study

The study:

  • Reviews the factors that currently shape dryland youth livelihoods and work prospects,
  • Examines the opportunities and provides recommendations for external actors to work with young people in dryland communities to broaden their ‘opportunity spaces’ for decent work,
  • Focuses on young people, with a focus on those from pastoralist backgrounds.

The research involved a review of: i) grey and academic literature; ii) existing policy documents; iii) programme interventions; iv) statements by young people in regional and international fora; and v) 18 key informant interviews with development partners, pastoralist and youth networks in the region.


The results of the research are summarised below:

  • What does decent work look like in the drylands?
    • Many work options merely enable young people to survive from day to day (as with casual labour, or low-productivity, smallholder agriculture). However, other options allow real incomes and capabilities to be enhanced and capital accumulated, which may even help to rebalance social injustices (such as gender inequalities). It is these latter opportunities which this study characterises as ‘decent’ work. Decent work is secure, paid work that provides a steady stream of income and the opportunity to accrue assets; it is dignified and non-exploitative.
    • In the drylands context, decent work must also be defined by its resilience and capacity to adapt to climate change, and its alignment with low-carbon infrastructure and programming, such as renewable energy expansion.
  • Gaps in policy and programming for young people in the drylands
    • Youth employment is a stated policy priority for the African Union as a whole. There are a substantial number of policies for the provision of youth employment in the six countries studied. There are varying degrees of integration between employment policies and the climate-resilience and/or low-carbon development agendas, across the countries studied.
    • ​Exceptionally few policies and programmes in the drylands have worked at the intersection of decent work, youth, climate resilience and pastoralism (see the figure below). In the growing number of job creation and training schemes focused on settled agriculture, agroforestry and forestry (and related land restoration and integrated water management), there is a tendency to have either a strong climate/environmental sustainability focus or a youth focus. It is less common for them to incorporate both aspects fully. National youth policies, where they exist, seldom promote climate-resilient livelihoods and rarely acknowledge pastoralists.
The nexus of youth, employment, climate change, agriculture and pastoralism.
  • There is a strong need for greater evidence and engagement with young people:
    • Young people from rural, dryland backgrounds, especially those from pastoralist backgrounds, are under-represented in policy processes.
    • The general absence of disaggregated and intersectional data leads to young people from pastoralist backgrounds being under-represented in policies and programmes.
  • Pathways to decent work start with relevant education:
    • Among young people from pastoralist and agropastoralist backgrounds, educational attainment is likely to be stymied by lack of reliable or quality schooling.
  • Policies and support programmes can open ‘opportunity spaces’:
    • In any youth cohort from the dryland areas, including pastoralist/agropastoralist backgrounds, there will be a diversity of preferences for work.
    • In addition to their own preferences, each young person will face different barriers and opportunities for work pathways.
    • It is the task of programmes for youth education, skills and employment to navigate these issues sensitively. Rather than being prescriptive about young people’s futures, policies and programmes can open the ‘opportunity spaces’ where young people can make informed choices.
  • Work choices are shaped by availability of finance and land, which are typically gendered:
    • Capital constraints, including land (tenure and access) and finance, are cited by key informants and in the literature as insurmountable constraints for young people who wish to make a living from agriculture or pastoralism, including conventional production or through value chain addition.


The overarching recommendation of this study is to establish more programmes that include an integrated approach to youth, climate, agriculture and pastoralism, and decent work. Our study has highlighted the large gap in programme interventions that address this nexus of issues and the great potential for investment.

It is also important to expand the narrative around young people’s livelihood options in dryland regions. This has two elements: young people themselves can be encouraged to think more broadly about what work choices to pursue, within and far beyond agriculture and pastoralism, i.e. their perception of the ‘opportunity spaces’ available.

Critically, policy-makers and development practitioners can recognise and build upon the wide range of opportunities that are available to support economic growth in the drylands. This includes tourism, processing and service industries, new livelihood opportunities in urban centres (Jobbins et al., 2016; PRISE, n.d.), and mobilising investment for some of the priorities in countries’ NDCs, such as renewable energy production (including solar, geothermal and wind power) and new and green technologies, all of which would expand the actual ‘opportunity spaces’ or job prospects for young people.

More specific recommendations for action follow below:

  1. Strengthening the educational foundations for decent work,
  2. Enhancing vocational training and guidance for young people in the drylands,
  3. Broadening young people’s access to wider economic opportunities available in the dryland areas, including climate-resilient, low-carbon vocations,
  4. Addressing the enabling environment to support young people to access and secure decent work in the drylands.

The figure below illustrates the stages of a young person’s life where support can be strategically targeted – from the formal school environment through vocational programmes and in the labour market context.

Opportunities for intervention to support young people's pathways into decent, climate-resilient work in the drylands.

Support interventions should be: non-discriminatory, avoiding gender stereotypes, tailored to (dis)abilities of individuals, sensitive to and supportive of the needs of young parents, and climate-informed.

Measures to address the enabling environment for the interventions can include: sensitisation and engagement with the broader community, including young people’s parents, guardians and elders (and boys where gender discrimination must be tackled); engagement with public policy-makers, government and business people to support the implementation of enabling policies.

Suggested Citation:

Dupar M, Lovell E, Walmsley O, Diwakar V, Balcou C, Tesfaye B and Krishnan V. (2021) RESILIENT GENERATION: Supporting young people’s prospects for decent work in the drylands of east and west Africa. SPARC & GAGE.

Project Information:

There is an 8-page summary of the report available here.

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