Reeta Roy : Youth – the driving force for agriculture in Africa

Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, highlights the work of the organisation on youth and its Young Africa Works Summit which is taking place on 16-17 February 2017 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Reeta Roy outlines the importance of supporting Africa's youth to transform the continent's agriculture sector. © MasterCard Foundation

How do you see youth as drivers of agricultural transformation rather than passive participants? 

Pilirani Khoza, one of the young agripreneurs who will be speaking at the Summit, writes that agricultural transformation is a clarion call for Africa’s youth, and that youth are technological doers and thinkers. Pilirani is quite right – youth are driving change, spearheading the modernisation and transformation of Africa’s agricultural sector. Some of those speaking at the Summit have already started their own ventures, including connecting farmers with new agricultural techniques via model farms in Tanzania; improving access to quality markets for smallholder coffee producers in Rwanda; and developing alternative credit scoring for smallholder farmers who would otherwise be left out of the formal banking and loans systems in Burundi. 

We’ve also observed astounding innovations among Foundation’s partners, which are allowing smallholder farmers to invest in the agricultural value chain. For instance, with icipe in Ethiopia, we are providing training to youth interested in silk yarn and honey production, which also creates opportunities for an additional 25,000 people involved in harvesting, processing, packaging and marketing of honey and raw silk. We also expect an increased demand for the ‘inputs’ of materials required for beekeeping and silkworm farming – bee suits, gloves, silkworm trays, and spinning wheels. This shows just how Ethiopian youth are rewriting the story of agriculture in their communities – they aren’t just farmers, but entrepreneurs, innovators and business people. 

African youth are tapping into technological change and innovative market solutions, transforming the agricultural sector across the value chain. They have a deep understanding that agricultural entrepreneurship is a commitment that will enable them to provide job opportunities, share knowledge, and serve as models for others in their community, their country and their continent. They see the value and opportunity that exists in the face of challenges across Africa.

 

What support is The MasterCard Foundation providing for young people to modernise agriculture and improve resistance to the challenges posed by climate change in Africa? 

The agricultural sector offers young Africans the promise of employment – but only if we look beyond farming and think about agricultural value chains; consider agribusinesses, processing and manufacturing, trading, export, transport, and retail sales as other viable options. Learning how to manage and mitigate the impacts of climate change will be critical to ensuring the long-term survival of the agricultural sector, and so we welcome the efforts of young agripreneurs like Janet Maro, Founder and Director of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania. She will join us at Young Africa Works 2017. She works not only with farmers, but also universities and government extension officers. Janet understands that young farmers can address the impacts of climate change, whether it’s by adopting better irrigation techniques or crop rotation, to successfully manage the impacts of climate change on crops, soil fertility, and overall food security.  

Likewise, the Foundation connects young people with educational and skills-training programmes that place sustainable farming methods at the centre of their teaching practice. Through our programmes, we have partnered with organisations that work directly with smallholder farmers to address some of the challenges of climate change. For example, we have collaborated with the One Acre Fund to extend microfinance and bundle in other financial services to nearly 330,000 farmers across Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda. Their training includes sustainable agricultural practices that help protect the soil and includes topics like erosion prevention and integrated soil fertility management, as well as composting to produce organic fertiliser.  

We also work with NCBA CLUSA to mobilise young people to form new or strengthen existing youth associations, which provide mentoring and skills training in the agriculture sector, helping youth to improve their livelihoods over the long-term. The project leverages NCBA CLUSA’s successful Uganda Conservation Farming Initiative in northern Uganda, which preserves soil and water, and improves the fertility of the land for agricultural activity. 

We’re deeply proud of these collaborations, but we also recognise that more remains to be done. We anticipate that future partnerships will focus on supporting training and skills-building for smallholder farmers in climate-smart agriculture.

 

You have a number of young entrepreneurs who will be speaking at the Summit. Which particular initiatives are you excited to hear discussed and shared? 

I’m very much looking forward to hearing from all the youth delegates who are leading off the first day of the Summit. These will include agripreneurs, Rita Kimani and Laetitia Mukungu, who spoke at the Summit in 2015. Rita is co-founder of FarmDrive, which connects smallholder farmers with available loans via SMS, and Laetitia is founder of Africa Rabbit Centre, a women-led rabbit farming co-op. She is also a MasterCard Foundation Scholar. 

We will also hear from Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, founder of Habona Ltd., a social venture that produces affordable and environmentally friendly biofuels from waste; Brian Bosire, founder of UjuziKilimo, an agtech company bringing real-time data and actionable insights to rural farmers via SMS; and Clarisse Murekatete, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Carl Group, a youth-led food processing company specialising in Rwandan sweet potato products. 

Each of these remarkable young people will be discussing the relationship of their efforts and connecting their experiences to one of the three key sub-themes of the Summit – technology, gender, and climate-smart agricultural practices – with a great deal of cross-pollination among them all.  

 

CTA is involved in the innovative Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag Enabled Information Service (MUIIS) in Uganda, which will be highlighted at the Summit. How is this and other similar approaches making a difference to the youth in Africa?

MUIIS and services like UjuziKilimo, which I described earlier, are two strong examples of systems and services for farmers made possible by technology. There is so much potential to leverage technology to help solve challenges faced by farmers and farming communities – we believe that the opportunity to apply these innovative solutions will really help get young people interested in agriculture. 

 

Will the Youth Summit become a regular conference for The MasterCard Foundation? What other themes will The MasterCard Foundation be supporting in its activities?

Young Africa Works will become a regular Summit. Young people are at the heart of the majority of our collaborations and creating opportunities for these young people to lead is a core tenet of The MasterCard Foundation.

In 2017, the Foundation is also embarking on a year of consolidating our learning to date, and planning our next decade. We will be creating a new strategic plan that will focus on young people and work in Africa – be it formal or informal work, employment and entrepreneurship. Access to quality, relevant education and to basic financial products and services such as savings, credit and insurance can put young people on a sustainable path to prosperity.  

 

Nevertheless, Africa’s youth unemployment is still a cause for concern. How is The MasterCard Foundation working to address this issue? 

Agricultural growth will be key to improving youth employment in Africa. The Summit provide an ideal opportunity for private sector and government actors to hear directly from young agripreneurs leading the charge for the sector’s transformation, as well as from our partners. The Foundation works with partners active in the private sector to ensure that young people are equipped with relevant skills to meet market demands. We also work to ensure that partners tap into complementing government programmes and policies in order to create holistic employment systems that support young people and their interests.

Our work with TechnoServe is an excellent example of how our partners are collaborating with private sector actors such as businesses and financial service providers. The partnership aims to generate income and economic opportunities for 48,000 young people in rural Eastern Africa, with TechnoServe committed to training local public and private sector partners to deliver the programme to 40% of its participants. Government-run training institutions in Rwanda have also adopted aspects of the TechnoServe model and incorporated it into their training approach for rural youth interested in starting agricultural related businesses.

In Ghana, we are working with Solidaridad which is implementing the MASO project in partnership with private sector actors, financial service providers, educational institutions, and government agency to empower youth as catalyst for change in the cocoa sector. These partnerships ensure a holistic approach is used and they help to harness the energy, ability and ambition of young cocoa agripreneurs. They also ensure that these young people have access to comprehensive and intensive support combining practical training, coaching, and access to critical resources, such as land, finance and markets. In this example, the Cocoa Board, the government agency partner charged with regulating the cocoa industry in Ghana, is providing MASO youth with seeds and fertilisers. They are also securing the most favourable arrangements for the purchase, grading and sealing, certification, sale and export of cocoa for young people.

Change starts with recognising the entrepreneurial and thoughtful ways that young people are currently getting involved in the agricultural sector, and embracing them and the solutions they are proposing to longstanding problems facing farmers. Financial service providers, educational institutions, and government bodies must work in service of these young people’s aspirations and better tailor their policies and practices to align with their vision for agricultural transformation.

* For more information on the Young Africa Works Summit, see http://youngafricaworks.org/

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

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The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.