Agribusiness can provide jobs for young people and help African countries achieve development goals. Progress in this arena, however, remains limited.
According to the 2017 World Food Prize laureate, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the ”future of African youth lies in agriculture.” This future can be realized through making agriculture both profitable and “cool” for young people. Adesina also argues for the need to move the perception of agriculture from a way of life for millions of rural people to a business.
These thoughts are echoed in the ongoing online discussion, Engaging African Youth in Agribusiness in a Changing Climate, a platform which creates a space to discuss critical issues facing African youths. Most of the discussants agree with the sentiment that agriculture is one of the critical pathways out of poverty and unemployment for young people. Accelerating the involvement of African youth in agriculture and agri-business will also help meet development goals, like those put forth by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including ending extreme poverty, zero hunger and gender equality. However, the rate of progress in many areas, especially developing countries where the CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and its partners work, is far slower than needed to engage youths in agribusiness under a changing climate.
If the speed of progress is to be increased, the current gaps in youth engagement must be addressed. First, governments must be held responsible for investing in youth through a commitment to providing financial support, including increased spending on youth initiatives along agricultural value chains. In Ethiopia, Save the Children, in partnership with MasterCard Foundation, has established a five-month learning cycle with the aim of improving young people’s socio economic status through the establishment of agri-focused individual enterprises, including input production, production, processing and retailing. A number of Ethiopian youth (both girls and boys) have started businesses selling spices, poultry, camels and bread in the Save the Children program, Youth in Action.
Second, youth must be empowered through opportunities to engage in agribusiness enterprises and linkages to private sector and development agencies. For example, in Kenya, USAID-supported East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, Syngenta, the Inter Region Economic Network (IREN) and the Toyota Kenya Academy launched the Young Innovators in Agribusiness Competition to provide young people with the chance to market their products to potential investors. Interested investors then scale-up these products to a wider audience across the globe. Through this program, Catherine Mbondo, a 35-year-old women, established Proactive Merit, a business that trades in raw honey and clay facial scrub masks which incorporate neem (Azadirachta indica), a fast growing medicinal and vegetable tree native to India, but now widely grown in Kenya. Mbondo adds value to agricultural products, marketing them as a natural cosmetics product. She intends to sell her products across East Africa.
Training of youth in agribusiness
Youths living in rural areas experience several barriers, one of which is lack of information on current agricultural technologies and agri-business. To overcome this barrier, training programs that link young people to climate-smart agricultural practices and profitable new agribusinesses are underway in several countries. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s (IITA) Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) aims to change youth’s perception of agriculture to see it as an exciting and profitable agribusiness. IITA and the African Development Bank are also scaling-up the initiative through a program called ENABLE Youth Program. Through this initiative, 200 participants from 30 African countries have learned about agribusiness, new agricultural skills and technologies, climate change, mechanization and agricultural value chain approaches. Another example of a training program is in Mali, where youths attended the Mali Agribusiness Incubation Hub (MAIH), established by the World Vegetable Center. At MAIH, they receive training on vegetable production, composting techniques, management of nurseries, the use of integrated pest management methods and vegetable farming for business to generate income.
In Senegal, Directoire national des femmes en élevage (DINFEL), is comprised of women between 40-55 years-old, who are actively involved in passing on agricultural knowledge to younger generations. The group offers agricultural training programs that are attractive to the youth, especially under the current climatic conditions. One of the programs includes the rearing of drought tolerant livestock farming, growing of cashew nuts crop, poultry farming and mechanization of farming techniques that can reduce labor requirements.
Similar initiatives around the world include Guatemala’s Community Learning Centers (CADER) which offers training programs for sustainable agricultural techniques and technical assistance to improve crop and livestock yields amongst the youth. In India, a development project by Technoserve, in partnership with Cargill Agricultural Fellow program, offers one-month classroom training on crop and livestock production. Upon completion of the training, graduates are offered loans to establish agri-business. Maaruthi, a youth from Bhanuvalli village, a fellowship recipient, currently owns a vermicomposting business that utilizes banana leaves and worms to produce low-cost compost for paddy rice.
Including youth in agricultural value chains
One critical question is whether youth engagement in agriculture can fulfill unmet needs within the larger agricultural market value chain. Solving this could reduce poverty and hunger. A report by Osti et al. (2015) highlights the importance of increasing youth involvement in agricultural value chains to improve food security and reduce youth unemployment. Youth can be involved in a number of agricultural activities, including production, post-harvest handling, distribution and marketing of agricultural products. Removing barriers to start-up capital will allow young people to innovate and expand current agri-businesses. An example of this is Tanzania’s Agri-Hub network which promotes entrepreneurship by linking young people to markets, agriculture input dealers, extension services and the media to promote existing and emerging agribusiness opportunities. Agri-Hub also launched the Tanzania Youth in Agribusiness Forum where young people can discuss agribusiness enterprises and provide technological assistance/training to undertake various projects. A recipient of this training and networking is Anna Malong. Malong started a leather processing business and uses Agri-Hub’s online platform as a trading, agribusiness information and agribusiness link platform.
In Nigeria, Haowa Bello, a 33 year-old female farmer, has benefited from the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria. Bello started a commercial climate-smart goat farm called Fula Farms. The farm supplies goat milk and meat, which is processed, packaged and sold in markets. The goats also supply Bello with leather, which she then makes into bags and sells globally. She manages her agribusiness’ entire value chain, from production to processing, packaging to marketing of the final products.
Youth accessing weather data and climate for agriculture
The majority of Africa’s smallholder farmers rely on traditional weather knowledge for agricultural activities. This knowledge, however, cannot keep pace with rapid weather changes affecting precipitation patterns and temperatures. Without access to accurate and accessible weather information, farmers, especially the youth, face declining agricultural productivity and increased hunger.
CCAFS and its partners are actively engaged in understanding how climate services and agricultural insurance can meet the needs of young people. Our research focuses on the production of actionable information about climate variability to enable young people to better manage risk, develop and deliver scalable, sustainable and equitable climate services and design, target, and implement insurance and adaptive safety nets. In Senegal and Rwanda, CCAFS’s Flagship 4, Climate Services and Safety Nets, helps provide climate information services for increased resilience and productivity while building climate services capacity.
Profitable agri-businesses under a changing climate can create decent and competitive employment opportunities for the youth
While we’ve highlighted examples from seven East and West African countries, there are many more successful examples of agribusiness that youth are engaged in. These are countries where population growth and poverty are amongst the highest and the land where the smallholder farmers’ crop is under severe pressure to increase productivity to feed the rapidly increasing population. Additionally, climate change is already exacerbating these problems. With a youth population of about 200 million aged between 15 and 24 (African Union definition) and a median age of 19.5 years, Africa has the youngest population in the world. This youth population has been called a “ticking time bomb”, desperately needing job-creation programmes. With agriculture being the primary source of food and income for Africans, providing up to 60 percent of all jobs, African leaders and development organizations must mobilize resources and climate-smart agricultural technologies to invest in the youth. Profitable agri-businesses under a changing climate can create decent and competitive employment opportunities for the youth. These examples of youth-led agribusiness illustrate that there is no shortage of agribusiness ideas across the continent that can be documented and scaled-up. For example, Africa’ food and beverage market is expected to top USD 1 trillion in value by 2030. How can Africa’s youths capitalize on these emerging agribusiness opportunities?
Africa’s youth need new climate-smart agricultural technologies (high yielding and more resilient food crops, irrigation and machinery). The youth also need energy, communication and transport infrastructure that links them to lucrative regional and global food markets. Finally, the youth need gender responsive policies that will enable women and girls to access climate services, credit, agricultural inputs and equipment and insurance.