Creating opportunities for rural youth

AGRF 2020

Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world. What’s more, present numbers of young people on the continent are set to double to 350 million by 2050. 

There is therefore an urgent need to tackle widespread poverty by generating employment opportunities for Africa’s youth.

The key question, according to Kofi Acquaye, Coordinator for YPARD, is “how best to invest in rural areas to ensure agricultural systems provide employment for young people, in particular taking advantage of the digital revolution?”

Providing one possible answer, Mrs Reeta Roy, President and CEO of Mastercard Foundation, explained that enticing young people into agriculture is key. And do to that, farming needs to be reframed and closely aligned with digital entrepreneurship.  

“Young people cannot grasp an opportunity they cannot see,” said Roy. “We need to make the invisible visible; to help young people see outputs and value chains, to help them create work where it doesn’t exist.”

Progress is already being made. Where some see broken systems, said Roy, entrepreneurs see opportunity. And by redefining work through digitization, Africa’s young entrepreneurs are beginning to apply their digital skills and technological know-how to make a tangible difference in rural communities. In the process, they are creating dignified and fulfilling employment by grasping opportunities and driving transformation.

“We need to support and raise up our entrepreneurs,” continued Roy, because they have the passion and potential to inspire the next cohort of 21st century farmers. “Their approach is more technically enabled and efficient, which gives optimism for the future.”

Once such entrepreneur is Francis Obirikorang, who described how his company, Agrocenta, came to play a central role in the digitalization of agriculture. Seeing that local farmers in Ghana were losing income to middlemen, sometimes at 25% below market value, he set about devising a digital solution. 

Through the creation of a digital platform, Obirikorang began to connect small farmers with big companies looking to source raw materials. “Training and education were important,” said Obirikorang, to help farmers produce to the quality levels expected by buyers such as Diageo. 

He also used yield data to help farmers establish credibility with lending institutions, addressing the key issue of access to finance. And he devised an SMS Uber-model for produce transportation, creating an affordable logistics solution.  

During a lively panel discussion, participants concurred that the growth opportunities linked to digitalization and young people are very real. “The youth population is the resource base we have,” said Mr Ade Freeman, Regional Program Leader at FAO, “and we need to work with what we have.”

Dr Mel Oluoch, Ethiopia Regional Director, Sasakawa Africa Association, described exciting examples of tech interventions driving transformation across Africa – such as video solutions to provide remote advisory services to Ethiopian farmers on fertilizer and varietal recommendations. 

Looking ahead, Mr Ade Freeman observed that in order to drive meaningful progress, young people need to be more engaged in the decision-making process. “We know that doing business in African often leads to exclusion,” he said. “Young people and women are often excluded, without a voice or access to resources.”

All members of the panel discussion agreed that this model of exclusion needs to change. But with the shining examples of youth entrepreneurship on display, perhaps this change is coming sooner rather than later.