Youth in Africa have been urged to adopt agribusiness as a viable and rewarding employment option that could create attractive-wage job opportunities, reduce widespread poverty in rural areas and help to eradicate distorted patterns of rapid urbanisation in most countries on the continent.
The call was made by a panel of scholars and higher education stakeholders who took part in a virtual public dialogue series hosted by the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP). The theme of the series is ‘Role of Youth in Building Resilient Agri-food Systems in Africa’.
The AAP was co-created by Michigan State University (MSU) and African thought leaders in 2016. It is a consortium of MSU and 10 leading African universities. Members usually collaborate to address continental and global challenges.
The meeting on October 21 was one of the side events of the World Food Prize Foundation’s 2021 Borlaug Dialogue and focused on how African youth could be integrated into agri-food systems.
In her presentation, Betty Kibaara, a director in the food initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa region office in Nairobi, said Africa’s youth have been misunderstood for too long.
Mentors, advocates needed
“Africa’s youth have been waiting for mentors and advocates who would provide them with knowledge, skills and investments to enable them to add value to Africa’s traditional agri-food systems by improving productivity, food processing and market diversification,” Kibaara said.
She highlighted the success of Nicholas Mareve, 24, a finance graduate who joined an agribusiness project producing insect-based protein feed in poultry, pig, and fish farming in Kenya. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology partnered on a project model of alleviating poverty and promoting food security.
Mareve is producing about a ton of dried insect feed per week and sells compost to vegetable farmers. “One man’s waste is my gold, as I source waste from markets and slaughterhouses to help produce the black soldier fly eggs,” Mareve told University World News.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the most promising option for youth employment in Africa lies in transforming the agricultural sector but, for that to happen, farming would have to overcome neglect that stems from the colonial legacy of low investment and limited value addition.
In a study titled ‘Development Perspectives on Special Agro-industrial Processing Zones in Africa: Lessons from Experiences’, that was launched in July 2021 this year, the AfDB said more investments will be required in Africa’s agricultural food production systems to enhance value addition, create jobs in rural and peri-urban areas and increase exports.
Youth needs to think differently
Towards this goal, Richard Todosia Ruto, the president of Kenya’s National Youth Bunge Association, said there is an urgent need to shift the mindset of young people who seem to have little options as they have no skills and have come to hate traditional farming systems in rural areas.
The association is an umbrella body of more than 23,000 village parliaments (bunge in Kiswahili), whose main agenda is to elevate the youth’s voice in society by expanding their economic opportunities and inspiring community service.
According to Ruto, most young people in Africa regard farming in the villages as an occupation for the old people and even those who help their parents usually see it as work with low economic returns.
He said most young people engage in farming for lack of options, while others think it is meant for dropouts and those who have never been to school.
“In most cases, the youth in Africa regard self-employment in agriculture as the shortest route to poverty,” said Ruto, who was one of the panellists.
Ruto blamed African governments for not investing properly in the agricultural sector. In most countries, very little has been done to change the traditional farming systems or provide the youth with value-chain skills in agri-industrial production, marketing and financing support.
But despite the emerging challenges, Oniye Okolo, an officer of policy and partnerships at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, said many youths across the continent hold to the promise that all is not lost.
Okolo said that, as of June 2021, the Nigeria-based philanthropic entity had successfully trained more than 200,000 young people in business management skills and most of them had been agricultural entrepreneurs selected from the 54 African countries.
According to Okolo, although the agriculture sector represents Africa’s greatest opportunity to drive inclusive and sustainable economic development, there must be a deliberate shift from the basic subsistence agriculture that is widespread on the continent to productive agribusiness systems that incorporate technology and other integrated value-adding supply chains.
Numerous success stories
Since 2015, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has been providing US$5,000 in non-refundable seed capital to all 1,000 young entrepreneurs each year, 30% of whom are in agriculture, Okolo said.
Some of the success stories of the foundation’s agricultural entrepreneurs include that of Joyce Kyalema, 30, from Uganda, a business administration graduate from Makerere University. Her agro-processing company, Josmak International, has been manufacturing a wide range of high-quality pumpkin-based products such as wine, tea spices, flour and roasted seeds.
Deborah Ntawigirira of Burundi, accounting and finance graduate from the University of Ottawa in Canada, has also built a successful business exporting her Burundian coffee brands to Canada.
Benedicte Kuvuna, 28, a graduate of Elynd Institute in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has become a successful entrepreneur whose company, Surprise Tropical, produces chips from plantain, taro, coconut and ginger, and juice and paste from safou and avocado fruits.
Commenting on the success of the young agricultural entrepreneurs, the moderator of the meeting, Professor Lindiwe Sibanda, director of the African Research Universities Alliance Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, said governments and the private sector in Africa should emulate the Rockefeller and Tony Elumelu Foundations by providing young people with the relevant skills, and opening access to financing of agricultural projects.
Source: University World News By Wachira Kigotho
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