Given the context of transitions related to rapid urbanization, the roles that rural economies and societies will have to play (particularly smallholder farmers and other rural producers) in creating sustainable and inclusive food systems, in generating employment and incomes and in contributing to more balanced, equitable and mutually reinforcing patterns of rural-urban development in Africa require the attention of analysts, policymakers and development programmes in the years ahead. Addressing challenges related to a bulging population of young people will be particularly important in any work on the rural-urban nexus, in which youth migration plays critical roles. This is borne out by an analysis of evidence from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, which stresses the importance of increasing productivity and incomes among rural people, particularly smallholders, during processes of economic and social transformation. Emerging trends and opportunities – such as the increasing demand for food and the changing nature of that demand as consumer preferences evolve, urbanization, demographic patterns that mean young people are an increasingly important proportion of the overall population, and more integrated food value chains – all point to the importance of ensuring key rural dynamics are taken into account in developing rural-urban linkages. Taking account of these dynamics will mean addressing key rural-urban inequalities and connectivity gaps, developing more integrated and inclusive links within food systems and agricultural value chains, testing spatial and territorial approaches to development that provide valuable tools to integrate the rural dimension into debates surrounding urbanization, the promotion of a more sustainable urbanization, and building decent employment in food value chains. Nonetheless, the review of evidence in this paper suggests that, while urbanization potentially opens up opportunities for inclusive rural and structural transformation, this can only be achieved when suitable policies and investments are put in place to adequately address the particular needs of often-neglected rural people who play critical roles in food systems.