Youth and agriculture: Africa’s future

AGRF 2020

In 2014, at the heads of state summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, African presidents vowed to create job opportunities for 30 percent of the continent’s youth through agriculture by 2025.

Four years later, the steps towards attaining this goal appear to be stuttering. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) an additional seven million young people are unsuccessfully seeking to enter the job market each year.

Still, experts attending the 2018 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) believe changes can be made to ensure that the nearly 220 million young people expected to enter the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa are successfully recruited to foster the region’s economic growth.

At a session entitled ‘Entrepreneurial Youth in Agriculture: New Skills and Technologies for Growth’, a team of experts – including some of Africa’s brightest entrepreneurs – gave their opinions on how governments, development organisations and the private sector should formulate policy and implement programmes for the entrepreneurial development and employment of young people.

Session moderator Dr. Edson Mpyisi, Chief Financial Economist and Coordinator Enable Youth Programme, African Development Bank, highlighted the significance of the issues involved, pointing out that the median age on the African continent is just 18. Carla Henry, Senior Technical Specialist at the International Labor Organization (ILO), further set the scene by contextualising employment trends in Africa and globally.

Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO, African Leadership University, then called for a change in the image of careers in the industry. “We need young people to see agriculture not just as work that is backbreaking and unfulfilling […] but as one of the greatest opportunities to create wealth,” he said.

In the first panel session, Alemayehu Koira Konde, the Rwanda Country Representative of the Mastercard Foundation, moderated a conversation between two prominent entrepreneurs – Naledi Magowe, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Brastorne Enterprises, and Fahad Awadh, founder of YYTZ Agro-Processing.

Both highlighted the need for African leaders and financial institutions to believe in and bet on young people. Ms Magowe focused on the need to recognise the farmer as an entrepreneur who requires all the skills and support needed for success in any business. “For development partners, for government, I would say support youth, look at youth as a priority, look at agriculture as a priority” she said.

Mr Awadh discussed the issues affecting businesses that went higher up the value chain, using experience from his cashew nut business to illustrate his point that young entrepreneurs need more support. “The banks didn’t believe in me,” he said. “The banks didn’t believe that we could process our own cashews, the banks didn’t believe that as a young person you can do it.”

A second panel comprised Ishmael Sunga, CEO of SACAU, Felix Kwame Yeboah of Michigan State University, Dr Alex Ariho, CEO of the African Agribusiness Incubators Network (AAIN), and Doreen Rwigamba, Chief Executive Officer of Africa Smart Investments Distribution.

Mr Yeboah explored the changing patterns of land use and ownership that are making less land available for young people. As he said, “Land is going to be a binding constraint for young people entering agriculture.”

Mr Sunga emphasised the need to go beyond seeing youth as future employees but also as future employers and drivers of the agricultural sector.

Mr Ariho highlighted the need for flexibility, defining four different classes of youth who need separate, tailored approaches in meeting their needs. “You’re talking about educated youth, uneducated youth, urban youth and rural youth” he said.

Finally, Ms Rwigamba explained how Africa Smart has been able to establish graduate courses for combining refrigeration and business studies to establish off-grid storage hubs. This approach is already changing mindsets by challenging farmers’ readiness to accept post-harvest loss as part of the farming process.