Africa is home to the world’s youngest population with 226 million people aged 15 to 24. This young workforce has the potential to drive innovation and transformation in agriculture, yet 72% of young Africans are living on less than €1.85 per day.
Each year, 11 million young Africans enter the job market, but many fail to join the workforce. The continent is facing a double employment crisis: a lack of jobs for youth, and an increasing number of young people in need of work. However, as the largest sector of employment in Africa, agriculture promises opportunities for job growth and economic prosperity.
“The agricultural sector is set to create 8 million stable jobs by 2020 and up to 14 million if the sector is accelerated,” explains Ann Miles, director of programs, financial inclusion and youth livelihoods at the MasterCard Foundation, which hosted the second Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on 16-17 February 2017. “We believe agriculture has to feature prominently in development plans for the continent if we hope to achieve a prosperous future for young Africans.”
At the Summit, young people shared their success stories of how they are boosting employment, food security and value addition, as well as tackling climate change.
One of the biggest challenges facing youths is access to finance; young entrepreneurs need further resources to scale up projects and increase farmer outreach. Brian Bosire, founder of Ujuzikilimo, an innovative technology which provides small-scale farmers with precise agricultural information, says, “Young people lack collateral, I am hoping to see banks come up with better models to finance youth activities so they can support their own agribusinesses.”
Despite agriculture employing 65% of Africa’s population and providing 32% of GDP, less than 1% of bank lending goes to the sector. Without access to credit, young people remain unable to purchase quality inputs (improved fertiliser and seed) and make investments to expand production and increase yields. However, FarmDrive is one company helping young farmers to access credit by using farmer information – along with satellite data, weather data and market figures – to create credit scores and loan recommendations for financial institutions. Cofounder Rita Kimani says, “Our model is to help financial institutions carry out a risk assessment and assess farmers’ ability and willingness to pay back their loans, and to ensure that the products banks are giving these farmers is something that actually works for them.” More than 3,000 farmers in Kenya are currently engaged with FarmDrive, which facilitated loans of about €125,000 in 2016.
Transformation through technology
Digitally savvy youth are primed to integrate technology into farming practices and modernise agriculture. In Kenya, 90% of youth have embraced mobile phones in their farming. Young people working at Kenya’s innovative iHub, a space for creating and sharing ideas in the technology community, are driving technological development, using ICTs. Two key innovations which were incubated by iHub include M-Farm – which provides up-to-date market prices to farmers (via app or SMS), and connects them to buyers – and iCow, which provides livestock farmers with tailored information including cattle prices and veterinary care.
UjuziKilimo also uses interactive SMS messaging to connect farmers with one another, as well as sensors to capture soil and farm data to send farmers real-time advice on crop breeds, fertiliser requirements, pest control, markets and other farm management tools. This entrepreneurial company only employs young people, “Nobody is over 30, my belief is that young people bring in diverse skills and a lot of fresh ideas,” emphasises Bosire.
To support youth ICT innovations and entrepreneurship in agriculture, CTA initiated the AgriHack Talent Programme in 2013. The programme has involved more than 600 young innovators and entrepreneurs, supporting the creation of ICT products and start-ups, such as FarmDrive. A new component of the programme is Pitch AgriHack! – a training bootcamp followed by a pitching competition and the opportunity to win grants and investments to upscale services offered. In 2016, 152 start-ups took part in the Pitch AgriHack! pilot, including UjuziKilimo.
Breaking down barriers
One of the greatest challenges limiting the success of young female agripreneurs is unequal access to key assets, such as land, finance and information services, states the Overseas Development Institute in their recent analysis of the gendered barriers affecting young people’s livelihoods. However, Alesia Ofori Dedaa, a MasterCard Foundation Graduate Scholar, is optimistic that as countries work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals gendered barriers for young entrepreneurs will be broken down. She notes that, “We have seen an increase in the number of young people who are actively participating in value addition businesses and the majority are women (more than 70%).” Dedaa adds that this progress has no doubt been aided by the fact that, “Most financial institutions are now facing pressure to ensure gender parity in giving business loans.”
“Transforming agriculture in Africa means empowering women and the youth,” emphasises Pilirani Khoza, founder of the Bunda Female Students Organisation (BUFESO), which supports disadvantaged university students at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi. Concerned with the lack of women participating in higher education, Khoza created BUFESO to empower young women to pursue studies in science and agriculture by helping to fund their tuition and other fees. Khoza has also initiated a Graduate Farmer Climate Change Programme where women farmers are assigned to university graduates for a month and trained to use climate-smart technologies.
“Young people are increasingly aware of the challenges and opportunities that the necessary transition to low carbon growth entails, and many are joining the national and global dialogue on solutions, getting involved and taking action,” explains Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamba, climate smart agriculture programmes manager at the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network. “Young people are running educational programmes, conserving our nature, promoting renewable energy, adopting environmentally friendly practices and implementing adaptation and mitigation projects.”
Mwamakamba believes the creativity of young people is invaluable in the search for innovative solutions to climate change. In Ghana, for example, youths have developed multi-award-winning bicycle frames made from bamboo instead of steel, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 70% and helps restore local forests. In addition, the Bamboo Bike Academy, located in the Bamboo Bike Initiative’s factory, holds courses on bike manufacturing and mechanics to empower youth and women to set-up their own small-scale businesses.
“Eager and energetic youth are at the centre of designing measures to mitigate climate change work,” explains Janet Maro, founder of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT). “Environmentally-friendly and carbon-reducing farming methods should be disseminated to the next generation so they can become agents of change in their environments and improve their livelihoods.” SAT is a farmer training network which has empowered almost 1,000 young people since 2011 and is currently working with 33 youth groups across the country. The groups receive training in ecological agriculture and/or poultry keeping, as well as food processing and value addition, and business and entrepreneurship skills. “These off-farm activities are highly lucrative for young people,” Maro confirms.
Engaging the private sector
The private sector is also key to engaging youth in agriculture. Dr Eleni Gabre-Madhin, CEO and founder of Ethiopia’s first youth agribusiness incubator and seed investing platform, blueMoon, states that 90% of jobs in Africa are created by the private sector. As part of its 4-month incubator programme, blueMoon links innovative agribusiness start-ups to top executives and heads of industry in Ethiopia’s private sector. “We need to encourage youth to think big and to aspire to creating scalable businesses that can absorb the millions of youth entering the job market each year into employment,” emphasises Gabre-Madhin.
In Uganda, KadAfrica, a passion fruit processing company, is using fruit farming to help young girls, aged 14-20 who have dropped out of school, become economic drivers in their communities. The company buys 100% of the fruit produced by the girls at market price and then sells it on to the private sector; they have 20 regular local buyers and two exporting companies based in the capital, Kampala. Over 1,600 girls have so far participated in the 6-month programme which includes hands on training, access to land, quality seeds, agro-inputs and technical support, and entrepreneurship and management skills, among other benefits. Growing passion fruit, the girls earn on average €66 a month. “After the programme, they can go back to school, open their own businesses, or do passion fruit farming. The training helps the girls manage their savings and invest,” says Eric Kaduru, KadAfrica founder and CEO.
Policy in practice
A wide range of policies specifically designed to support young people have been introduced by African policymakers during the last decade. In 2006, the first African blueprint for effective national youth policies was implemented by African Union (AU) Member States. The ‘African Youth Charter’, which recognises that young people are partners, assets and a prerequisite for sustainable development, has been signed by 42 Member States and ratified by 38. As well as launching a ‘decade of youth and development’, and approving a 10 year road map for implementation of the Charter in 2008, there has also been an ongoing policy dialogue; in 2011 the AU Summit’s theme was ‘Accelerating Youth’. “The adoption, and entry into force of the African Youth Charter is a significant milestone, as African countries are committing to implementing comprehensive, cross-sectoral youth policies, with the active involvement of young people,” explains Mwamakamba.
With regional bodies also increasingly focusing on youth policies, most African countries are making efforts to involve young people in political and decision-making processes. The promotion of youth participation in modern agriculture is a priority for Ghana’s National Youth Policy. One of the policy’s key programmes is the Youth in Agriculture Program (YIAP) which is providing young people with tractors, seed, fertilisers, agrochemicals, harvesters and marketing services on interest-free credit. Youth participating in YIAP are also given training and basic equipment to enable them to venture into food processing, value addition and sales. YIAP has created employment in the agricultural sector for more than 150,000 young people since it was launched in 2009.
However, Francis Arinaitwe, a Parish Youth Chairperson in Mayuge district, Uganda, and a volunteer with Restless Development, argues that the gap between young people and policymakers still needs to be bridged to allow youths to fully participate in policy formation. “It is high time policymakers stopped thinking about us as beneficiaries,” stated Arinaitwe at the 2017 Young Africa Works Summit. “Think about us as participants in the thinking, design and implementation of policies.” Mwamakamba concurs that, “Existing agricultural policy incentive strategies need to be adjusted so they work for youth development and engagement in agriculture, not against it. African countries need policy instruments aimed at changing perceptions of youth engagement in agriculture, to sensitise and institutionalise the concept, such as through higher education training.”
In order to grow, the agriculture sector must make use of modern tools, technologies and practices to help promote youth entrepreneurship. And whilst the Young Africa Works Summit helped to demonstrate that this is beginning to happen in interesting and innovative ways, much more still needs to be done if youth are to fulfil their potential in productive and sustainable agri-food systems.