As waves of young people leave their rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa in search of better work, can the agricultural sector provide the employment opportunities that they’re looking for?
Migration is not a new phenomenon; people have moved between geographical locations throughout the course of human history. Globally, however, rural-urban migration has accelerated in recent decades. But, contrary to popular perception, the vast majority of this migration occurs within countries, rather than between countries or continents. Among the myriad causes of increased levels of migration – from climate disasters and severe weather, to natural resource degradation and conflict – the growing ‘youth bulge’ in Africa is fast becoming the primary driver of migration on the continent.
half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under 25-years-old and almost 20
million young people enter the job market in Africa each year – 12 million of
whom are rural youths. In fact, according to FAO research, 65-75% of African
migrants are youth, mostly in search of employment opportunities. As Africa’s
largest employer, agriculture offers the greatest opportunity to boost economic
growth and create jobs for young people on the continent. To capitalise on the
as yet untapped potential of African youth, agriculture must become a more
attractive and viable employment option for young people. Stakeholders from
both the public and private sectors have a critical role to play in
incentivising and facilitating more young people to find decent work in
agricultural value chains.
Exploiting economic opportunities
The World Bank predicts that African agriculture and agribusiness will grow to be an €890 billion industry by 2030. This presents significant rewards for young people who tap into the industry as farmers and entrepreneurs. “The rising population in Africa, and the entire world, creates an opportunity for farmers to produce more and increase our income. We have most of the necessary resources, like land and fertile soil, which we can utilise to take up market opportunities in the global food industry,” says Kisseka Samson, 22-year-old co-founder and managing director of Hello Mushrooms U Ltd in Uganda.
Hello Mushrooms supplies inputs and offers free training to mushroom farmers in exchange for their produce, which is sold on to 20 commercial wholesalers and retailers, as well as individual customers. Similar examples of ambitious young agricultural entrepreneurs can be found across the continent; from Cameroon, where 22 year-old Awah Ntseh has founded Farmer’s Forte – a range of beauty products developed from local materials, including coconut oil, neem and aloe vera – to Kenya, where Kevin Kibet, also 22 years-old, provides a ready market for his company’s 130 avocado suppliers. By the end of 2019, “I am hoping to have reached 500 farmers; in 3 years – 1,000 farmers, and within the next 12 years, 1 million farmers,” Kibet says. He is a firm believer that agriculture can reverse Africa’s migration trend if entrepreneurs manage to unlock the economic opportunities available.
Realising technological incentives
Director general of the UN Industrial Development Organization, Li Yong, agrees that growing local and regional demand for food presents vast potential for the integration of youth in the agricultural sector. However, “This will require the transformation of food systems and the adoption of innovative technologies,” Yong notes. The rapid development of agricultural technologies in recent years has already demonstrated the exciting new employment opportunities opening up for youth in the sector.
A group of young Zambian entrepreneurs have developed a digital platform that uses machine learning to forecast weather conditions and the probability of pest invasions or disease outbreaks. AgriPredict provides its users – who range from smallholders to commercial farmers, extension service providers, NGOs and government or environmental institutions – with the necessary information to take preventative action to mitigate these risks. Farmers simply take a photo of their crop and send it to AgriPredict, via social media channels or WhatsApp, and the system immediately provides a diagnosis, options for treatment (if needed) and locations of the nearest suitable agro-dealers.
Elsewhere, in Rwanda, a group of young engineers have designed a technology system that allows farmers to remotely manage their fields. Using sensors that gather real-time data, STES Group’s web and mobile platform enables farmers to keep track of weather forecasts, as well as soil fertility and moisture. The company’s automated irrigation system can be turned on or off by farmers via their mobile phones, depending on the information received from the sensors.
Both AgriPredict and STES Group demonstrate how youth can harness the transformative potential and economic rewards presented by agriculture’s digitalisation. These innovations have not only provided jobs for the young people who founded the companies, but also helped to reduce the risks and improve the efficiency of farming – making it a more attractive livelihood option for rural young people. However, without the skills to develop, operate and maintain such technologies, African youth cannot make the most of the opportunities offered by agriculture’s digitalisation.
Africa’s youth employment challenge
Knowledge sharing and capacity strengthening
There is a pressing demand to build the capacity of Africa’s rural youth, not just in terms of technical or digital skills, but also in terms of agricultural best practices and business know-how, in order to foster economic growth and promote youth employment. Fortunately, a number of promising initiatives intended to create jobs and support young entrepreneurs to establish viable agribusinesses have begun to emerge across the continent (see Good farming practices help turn the tide on youth migration). In Kenya, capacity development facility, USTADI, focuses on improving the technical skills and business knowledge of young people, with the aim of promoting the establishment of sustainable rural enterprises.
In Busia county, Kenya, USTADI set up a demonstration poultry farm and provided 22 young women farmers with both practical agricultural training – such as optimum feeding and disease management practices – and business skills. As a result, these women tripled their productivity, transforming young people’s perceptions of agriculture as a subsistence activity into a sector that offers opportunities to establish professional and profitable businesses in the local area. Similarly, the Green Innovation Center (CIVA), launched in 2016 by AfricaRice targets rural youth with agricultural extension training to help create jobs, as well as improve farm productivity and incomes.
CIVA has developed over 30 online courses – available to students and graduates of 10 agricultural colleges in Benin – to prepare participants to work with farmers as extension advisors. After completing their training, the young agricultural instructors visit villages in Benin to promote the System of Rice Intensification, which provides set principles for sustainably increasing rice yields, including planting young seedlings (8-12 days old) with wider spacing. By 2022, the project aims to create 1,000 new jobs for young people and increase 50,000 smallholder farmers’ incomes by 33%.
Facilitating youth entrepreneurship
Beyond training young people in agricultural best practices, a wave of incubators have emerged to support young entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas into sustainable agribusinesses. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s (IITA) Youth Agripreneur initiative has developed an 18-month entrepreneurship programme for unemployed graduates. With incubation centres in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, young graduates across Africa are coached and mentored on business opportunities in the production and value addition of agricultural commodities, such as soybean, fish and livestock.
The Youth Agripreneurs programme aims to change young people’s mind-set to help them realise the business potential in African agriculture by teaching them the best technologies to improve yields or process products, as well as effective marketing strategies to maximise profits. At the end of the programme, participants develop bankable business plans to enable them to access loans from commercial banks and establish independent agribusinesses. In December 2018, Youth Agripreneur alumni, Edmond Ng’walago, won the 2018 Young Graduate Entrepreneurship award for his business selling value-added rabbit products. With the TSh 5 million (€1,916) prize, Ng’walago intends to expand his business, Ng’wilago Youth Transcend, to make his rabbit urine biopesticide and rabbit fur sandals available in stores across Tanzania.
As young people begin to realise the profitable alternatives to migration, which lie in establishing their own agribusinesses, it is critical that they have access to the necessary capital to get their enterprises off the ground. For this reason, in October 2018, the Mastercard Foundation launched a new fund to support alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, who have viable, sustainable and scalable business ideas. The €1.8 million fund will be used to provide seed money to the most promising students from the Scholars Program, which provides education and leadership development for over 35,000 young Africans committed to changing the lives of their communities. “The Mastercard Foundation’s new fund will initiate a wave of community transformation across Africa by kickstarting hundreds of social ventures pioneered by young African leaders themselves,” says Kayiza Isma, Mastercard Foundation scholar and co-founder of Sparky Social Enterprise.
Creating an enabling policy environment
The value of entrepreneurship programmes like IITA’s Youth Agripreneurs initiative and the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, not to mention CTA’s own Pitch AgriHack competition, should not be underestimated. However, to further encourage young people to capitalise on the opportunities in African agriculture, governments have a critical role in developing policies that support youth entrepreneurship and employment, and thereby mitigate migration.
To ensure policies not only work for, but also with young people, there needs to be greater effort to engage youth in policymaking. The Rwanda Youth Agribusiness Forum (RYAF) was established in May 2016 for precisely this purpose. With 12,000 members, aged 35 and younger, RYAF is recognised as a national representation of Rwandan youth engaged in agriculture and agribusiness. Representatives of the Forum actively participate in policy dialogues and advocate for interventions aimed at strengthening youth participation in transforming the country’s agricultural sector. Similarly, Young Professionals in Agricultural Development (YPARD) provides a platform for people under 40 years-old working in agriculture to advocate advantageous policies and interventions.
YPARD Ghana has more than 750 members from farmer organisations and the government to representatives of the private sector. In recent years, the platform has proposed a number of policy reforms that directly respond to the need to create job opportunities for youth in Ghana. In May 2018, YPARD Ghana signed a letter of cooperation with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa for the data population and local management of the eCapacities™ platform. The platform will foster engagement with African organisations on agribusiness, investment, human capital and production data to promote informed policies, targeted investments and enhanced monitoring and evaluation of growth in the agricultural sector.
The transformative potential of African youth
Connecting youth around the world
As Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamba
of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network says in
her interview with Spore, “Young people are eager to participate in
agriculture policy processes, but they need to be equipped with the right
skills to convey their messages well.” Through platforms like RYAF and YPARD,
youth in agriculture can influence the policy environment in response to their
needs and help to make agriculture a more attractive employment option for
rural young people.
As well as connecting young agribusiness leaders and farmers with policymakers and strengthening farmers’ organisations, CTA has been working with AgriCord, the Pan African Farmers Organisation and the European Council of Young Farmers to link up young farmers in Africa and the EU. As a result, young farmers on both continents have been able to exchange lessons from their different experiences of modernising agriculture and take these learnings back to their communities. Giving young Africans in the agricultural sector a voice on the global stage helps to increase the visibility of successful entrepreneurs and agribusiness leaders, as well as raise the profile of young farmers to ensure that their relevance in the world’s future food security is universally acknowledged. Such platforms thereby provide inspiration for other rural African youth in search of a viable alternative to migration.
A second chance for rural youth in Mali
In Mali, young people with little formal education have been trained and supported in the creation of micro-enterprises. Financed by USAID’s Out-of-School Youth Project (OSYP), an initiative – known in Mali as PAJE-Nièta (Projet D’appui Aux Jeunes Entrepreneurs) – has helped over 8,070 young Malian’s to create their own agribusinesses through the provision of technical training courses, since it was launched in 2011.
After attending a bakery course provided by PAJE-Nieta, as well as national language and French lessons, 30-year-old Amadou Dao started his own bakery business. With the baking equipment provided by the project, he is able to produce and sell enough bread to feed the 20 members of his family in the village of Yorosso in the south of Mali. “Now, I earn between CFA 300,000 and 350,000 a month (€460-500). Thanks to my bakery, I have [been able to buy] three plots of residential land, a house and motorbikes.” To meet the high demand for his products, Dao uses more than 50 kg of flour every day, and he employs three members of staff.
PAJE-Nièta has trained and recruited 309 volunteers, who have worked in 220 villages to assist more than 14,000 young people and supported over 220 youth associations with basic education programmes (reading, writing and maths in the national language). The beneficiaries also received French lessons, entrepreneurial training, support and guidance in choosing an income-generating activity, and training in how to create savings and loan groups. PAJE-Nièta has helped “Young people to be economically productive and to feel confident about their future at the heart of their communities,” says Adwoa Atta-Krah, director of the Education Development Center in Mali.
In the village of Kinian, 60 km from Yorosso, Sidi Sanou, a 32-year-old vegetable grower, now supplies the small village with vegetables. Sanou received entrepreneurial training and lessons in vegetable growing techniques, along with courses in vegetable cutting care and the use of fertilisers. The vegetable grower estimates his monthly revenue at CFA francs 10,000 (€15), thanks to the sale of vegetables such as okra, lettuce and tomatoes, as opposed to CFA francs 2,000 or 3,000 (€3 or €4) before PAJE-Nièta’s intervention.