A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to speak at the latest Brussels Rural Development Briefings (Briefing number 49) that took place at the ACP Secretariat in the Belgian capital. The briefing focused on “Youth in Agribusiness: shaping the future of agriculture”. One of the key takeaways I got from the conference was that we cannot force rural youth into agriculture. We should rather provide a supporting environment for young people to thrive in agriculture and agribusiness. Young people can be encouraged to make use of the numerous promising opportunities that the sector offers, especially new jobs in the agricultural value chain.
There are many challenges now confronting rural youth. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has identified six principal challenges affecting young people going into agriculture:
But there are many examples of young people, in various African countries, who are determined to shine in the face of these challenges. These “agripreneurs” are taking giant strides in all fields of the industry – from farming and processing to savings management, communication and smart data collection platforms.
My company, Farmerline, is an ICT4Ag company in Ghana. We are connecting farmers, through mobile technology, to important farming advisory information that these farmers did not previously have. We also provide a smart data collection platform to organisations working with farmers. Other innovation examples include the Lakeshore Agro-Processing Enterprise, in Malawi, which grows and processes soybeans and cassava with farmers who, again, could not have done so previously. Ensibuuko, a Uganda start-up is helping to modernise banking infrastructure for Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) as a means to improve the delivery of financial services to Uganda’s unbanked population. They have developed cloud-based microfinance software, specially designed for financial cooperatives. And then there is Jangolo, an agri-tech company developing solutions to ease the life of farmers and promote their brand and products across Cameroon and abroad.
These are just a few examples of the many ventures run by young entrepreneurs who have identified winning strategies. With this kind of active engagement by young people, the future of agriculture and agribusiness in many African countries looks promising. If the momentum is supported and sustained over the next decade, we will be telling a different story from the one told by the previous generation.
There are a lot of discussions taking place about the role of youth. In Africa it is estimated that three quarters of the population are less than 35 years old. This statistic gives a strong clue as to where the future might lie, and agriculture and agribusiness present a promising opportunity for the youth. But when speaking about the future of youth we should not forget that the young often lack experience in business development, so they may need a space in which to shape their ideas and grow as leaders. By this I mean they need mentorship, leadership and business development training.
The launching of co-working spaces and business incubators is laudable. However, a quick search soon reveals that business incubators are located in capital or major cities. Since we are encouraging young people to go into agriculture and agribusiness and discouraging rural-urban migration in pursuit of non-existent jobs, establishing these important business incubation centres closer to the rural communities in which young farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs live could prove critical. Business incubation centres should not only focus on ICT but also on business skills development and leadership training. We should also think about leadership networks that will enable the young to develop their leadership skills and give them the opportunity to participate in policy dialogue.
Moreover, a lot more consideration should go into giving recognition to those young people who are doing amazing work in rural areas. An award scheme has already begun in the Gambia. The Rural Youth Award, set up by the Gambia chapter of Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN), aims to “celebrate the success, motivate and inspire rural youth in the value chain, thus supporting them to become self-reliant as value chain investment includes coaching, mentoring, business development advice and asset accumulation for enterprises.” I think this is highly commendable and a great way to go.
We also need a conscious and sustained global campaign on agriculture to enhance the image of the profession. In the past, we have seen successful campaigns on global public health, climate change and sustainable development goals. Agriculture and agribusiness could benefit from such a campaign. There are young and successful entrepreneurs active in this sector right now. In every country we can target the determined and forward-thinking young entrepreneurs who are driving innovations within the agriculture value chain. We also need to recognise and support the work of institutions like the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in their effort and commitment to support the work of young agripreneurs. The CTA has published “An ICT Agripreneurship Guide: A Path to Success for ACP Entrepreneurs”. This handbook is the first of its kind and it is a must-read for young people who aspire to work in the area of ICT4Ag.
Herbert Spencer (1820 –1903) once said: “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” The entrepreneurial youth in Africa who have taken action in agriculture and its value chains are paving the way for others to follow. They are gradually becoming the role models and mentors they never had. I encourage other young people to use their knowledge and education to take action in this sector. When they do, they are likely to benefit. Even when they don’t achieve immediate benefits, they will learn lessons from their actions and other young people will benefit, too.
Our next print edition, scheduled to appear mid-September 2017, is dedicated to rural youth issues – so stay tuned!
About the author:
Patrick Sakyi grew up in Ghana. Coming from a farming family, he chose to study agriculture. He took the opportunity to study Rural Economics and Management at the University of Ghent in Belgium. Passionate about agriculture and rural development, he moved back to Ghana right after his studies and proceeded to work there as a research assistant on several agricultural projects. Patrick now leads Farmerline’s mobile commerce business.
Contact: Patrick Sakyi
Links and further reading