Presently, there are many challenges that the youth in agriculture encounter. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has clearly identified six principal challenges affecting youth in agriculture. These include:
- Insufficient access to knowledge,
- information and education,
- limited access to land,
- inadequate access to financial services,
- difficulties in accessing green jobs,
- limited access to markets, and
- limited involvement in policy dialogue
In the face of these challenges, some of the youth in different African countries are determined to shine. These entrepreneurs are taking giant strides in the field of agriculture and agribusiness from farming, processing, savings management system, communication to smart data collection platforms. Partner in GFAR Farmerline, an ICT4Ag company in Ghana is connecting farmers, through mobile technology, to important farming advisory information that these farmers did not previously have and also provides a smart data collection platform to organizations working with farmers. In Malawi, Lakeshore Agro-Processing Enterprise is farming and processing soybeans and cassava with farmers who did not previously have the means. Ensibuuko, a Uganda startup is helping modernize banking infrastructure for Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) as a means to improve the delivery of financial services to Uganda’s unbanked population. They have developed a cloud-based Microfinance Software, specially designed for Financial Cooperatives. Jangolo, an Agri-Tech company, is developing solutions to ease the life of farmers and promote their brand and products across Cameroon and abroad. These are just to mention a few of the rising entrepreneurs, who in the midst of challenges are identifying winning strategies. With this active youth involvement, the future of agriculture and agribusiness in many African countries is promising considering that the current population in agriculture is aging. If this momentum is supported and sustained, in the next decade, we will be telling a different a story from the previous generation.
There are a lot of discussions taking place about the youth. In Africa it is estimated that three quarters of the population are less than 35 years old. This statistic gives a clear clue of where the future might lie and agriculture and agribusiness present a promising opportunity for the youth. But when we are paying attention to the youth then we should not forget that the youth can be inexperienced in business development and they may need a place to shape their ideas and grow as leaders. By this I mean they need mentorship, leadership and business development trainings. The launching of coworking spaces and business incubators are laudable. However, quick searches indicate that business incubators are located in capital or major cities. While we are encouraging the youth to go into agriculture and agribusiness and discouraging rural-urban migration for non-existent jobs, it could be critical to establish these important business incubation centers closer to rural young farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs residing in rural areas. Business incubation centers should not only focus on ICT but also on business skills development and leadership training. We should also think of leadership networks that will enable the youth to develop their leadership skills and give them the opportunity to participate in policy dialogue.
One great example of a program meeting this need to combine financial incentivation with technical mentorship and business and leadership coaching, is GFAR and YPARD’s Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP). The young entrepreneurs in agriculture who are selected to participate in the YAP hail from all over the world, in rural and periurban areas, with innovative ideas on how to take advantage of the offerings of the program to start up their own sustainable and scalable enterprises. What’s more, YAP is designed so that they can attend their coaching sessions remotely – all they need to have is a stable internet connection. The young “agripreneurs”—six of them in the pilot phase of YAP now coming to a close—are encouraged to make the most of the potential for online promotion of their projects and building an online community, as they receive an initial social media “boot camp” and continued guidance on how to craft inspiring stories of their progress in establishing their agribusinesses. By enabling them to share their challenges and achievements with a global audience, from all sectors, the YAP agripreneurs can develop a series of networks from which they can draw financial and in-kind support, partnership opportunities, further promotion and, hopefully, gain attention of their local policymakers. Actually, two agripreneurs in the YAP pilot phase were invited to present their projects last year at an important conference on investing in a food secure future, jointly organized by the African Union, the European Union and the Dutch government. One of these two youth is an Ethiopian man, Jony Girma, who is training rural unemployed youth in beekeeping, thereby improving their livelihoods, helping to conserve rural forests, and establishing a model for apiculture skill building which can be adopted by others.
Moreover, recognizing and awarding the youth who are already doing amazing work in rural areas is something that needs a lot of consideration as well. Recognizing and awarding the work of the youth in rural areas has already begun in the Gambia. The Rural Youth Award set up in the Gambia by the Gambia chapter of Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN), “celebrate the success, motivate and inspire rural youth in the value chain thus supporting them to become self-reliant as the value chain investment include coaching, mentoring, business development advisory and asset accumulation for enterprises.” I think this is highly commendable and a great way to go.
A conscious and sustained global campaign on agriculture to enhance the image of the profession is also needed. In the past, we have seen successful global public health, climate change and sustainable development goals campaigns. Agriculture and agribusiness might need one of such campaigns. There are young and successful entrepreneurs in the agriculture and agribusiness space right now. In every country we can target these young, determined and forward thinking entrepreneurs who are driving innovations within the agriculture value chain. We also need to recognize and support the work of institutions like the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in their effort and commitment to support the work of young agripreneurs. CTA has published a handbook “An ICT Agripreneurship Guide: A Path to Success for ACP Entrepreneurs ”. This handbook is the first of its kind and it is a must read for young people who aspire to work in the area of ICT4Ag.
Herbert Spencer (1820 -1903) once said: “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” The entrepreneurial youth in Africa who have taken action in agriculture and its value chains are paving the way for others to follow and gradually they are becoming the role models and mentors they did not have. I encourage other youth to use the knowledge from their education to take action in this sector. When they do, they are likely to benefit. Even when they don’t benefit directly, they will learn from their actions and other youth might also benefit from their action.
Original blog post can be accessed on GFAR website.
Photo credit: GFAR