The food economy is the biggest employer in West Africa accounting for 66% of total employment. While the majority of food economy jobs are in agriculture, off-farm employment in food-related manufacturing and service activities is increasing as the food economy adapts to rapid population growth, urbanisation and rising incomes.
This paper quantifies and describes the structure of employment in the food economy across four broad segments of activities:
- marketing and
- food-away-from home.
The food economy is the biggest employer in West Africa. The various activities involved in producing food, from the farm to processing, packaging, transporting, storing, distributing and retailing, account for 66% of total employment, or 82 million jobs. While the majority of these jobs (78%) are in agriculture, off-farm employment in food-related manufacturing and service activities is growing in number and share. (page 5)
Food-away-from-home activities which include street food, restaurants and other catering services, generate 10% of overall off-farm food economy employment, with much higher shares in some urban areas. This shift in labour demand will increase as the food system, including agriculture, continues to specialise and diversify, providing employment opportunities in local food economies. (page 5)
Employment patterns in the food economy are primarily driven by local food demand. At the regional level, the vast majority of food consumption comes from local food production, with food imports representing only 8% of total food expenditure. Food imports and exports also generate employment in the food system. Imports of unprocessed or lightly processed foods such as cereals generate employment in processing and marketing segments, while food exports generate agricultural employment and, to a lesser extent, food processing and food marketing (transport, storage and logistics) employment. (page 8)
The three off-farm food economy segments – food marketing, food processing and food away from home – account for 22% of total food economy employment at the regional level. Although the distribution of employment in the off-farm segments varies by country, there is a clear pattern which shows that food marketing is the largest off-farm segment. (page 10)
The food processing sector is the largest manufacturing sub-sector in terms of employment in the region. Although it accounts for just 5% of food economy employment, it represents 30% of total secondary sector employment. (page 11)
Youth can play an important role in the development of food economy activities, including agriculture. The transformations in the food economy mean that greater skills and education are necessary to access employment opportunities and develop activities. (page 17)
The employment opportunities in food value chains, including in farming, require skill sets that are rapidly evolving. These include knowing how to use improved technologies (seeds, fertilisers, conservation practices) and information and communications technologies (ICTs) for accessing market information, as well as how to navigate public and private service institutions such as finance, extension support and marketing services. Anticipating and supporting these educational requirements are of major importance to the jobs agenda. (page 22)