Africa: To Keep African Youth Agri-Businesses Relevant - Align Investments with Future Agricultural Trends

Young pineapple farmers in Mugesera Sector, Ngoma District.

The Government of Kenya, in partnership with MasterCard Foundation, recently unveiled the Young Africa Works initiative. With a budget of over 30 Billion Kenyan Shillings, and another 100 Billion Kenyan Shillings available as credit line, this initiative will see over five million youth access quality jobs. The bigger goal is to have 30 million young Africans have decent and fulfilling jobs by 2030.

Such efforts are needed across Africa, particularly in agriculture. Overall, youth are major stakeholders in the agricultural value chain. They currently make up over 60% of the population. Yet, young people venturing in agribusinesses and other businesses that offer them a chance at quality jobs continue to face many challenges. These include insufficient access to finances, training, mentors, networks and unreliable agricultural markets.

However, data show that when youth have resources and access to opportunities, they can thrive, build impactful initiatives, and empower others. There are examples across Africa to support this. In Nigeria, Usman Lawan, has built a thriving poultry farming enterprise, a Farmer in Suit Platform, alongside mentoring over 200 youth-led enterprises.

In Ivory Coast, 23-year-old Aboubacar has created INVESTIV that is revolutionizing farming operations by employing precision agriculture. Moreover, his enterprise is creating the type of jobs that youth are interested in. In Liberia, Mahmud Johnson, created J-Palm Liberia, an initiative that facilitates sustainable market linkages for farmers growing oil palm. Furthermore, he already has a line of sustainable palm oil products that are currently available for online purchases. In Kenya, Kendi Muthomi has created Kilimo Jijini, a nonprofit that is training students and residents of Kibera on new urban farming technologies.

The above enterprises are just a highlight.  Across Africa, there are many more examples of impactful initiatives.

Recent projections show that agribusiness is expected to be a $1 trillion sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. At the same time, consumer spending is increasing in Africa. For youth to take advantage of these emerging markets, they must be supported across the entire agricultural value chain. And to make a real sustainable impact on food production, food security, and economic development, many more African governments and initiatives must focus on the youth. Ensuring there is a budget set aside to support youth-led initiatives is just part of the solution. Much more needs to happen.

Moreover, investments made must be strategic and carefully aligned with future agricultural needs and trends. Doing so will ensure that young people stay relevant now and into the future.

A careful examination of the latest global and local trends that will shape the future of agriculture reveal that we are already in agriculture version 4.0. This is the kind of agriculture that addresses the real needs of consumers including season-less appetites and the demand for pesticide free and locally produced food.

It is built on the foundations of recent innovative farming methods such as hydroponics and vertical farming while incorporating newer technologies including drones, sensors, robots, data analytics, precision agriculture, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, block chain and crowd farming.  It carries the dignity the recently unveiled Young Africa Works initiative hopes to achieve. Moreover, it is also sensitive of the challenges, particularly, climate change, scarce resources, food waste, increase in transboundary pests and diseases, and the intensification of natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts, and floods.

The good news is that there are several credible organizations and think-tank groups that are gathering and publishing the kind of insights and intelligence that African youths, governments and all stakeholders in African agriculture need to pay attention to. The UN FAO, for example, has a report titled: The future of food and agriculture: Trends and Challenges.

The World Government Summit has another one titled: Agriculture 4.0: The future of farming technology. The future of work in African agriculture: Trends and drivers of change is another useful report published by the International Labor Office. McKinsey & Company has Winning in Africa's agricultural market. Other organizations producing insightful reports include the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and the Brookings Institution and AgFunder.

Indeed, Africa should rely on and use this intelligence to make strategic investments. After all, venture capitalists, impact investors and many philanthropists rely on insightful reports to make investments on promising startups.

Other complementary efforts and strategies African governments including that of Kenya can do to amplify its investment in its youth are to improve the ecosystem and create an enabling environment so that they thrive. They can provide infrastructure and make affirmative policies that also ensure that the products from youth companies have ready markets.

At the same time, African governments can create spaces that bring other resources youth initiatives may need. These can range from mentors, other established companies, NGO's, lending partners such as banks and university partners to incubate some of the youth-led initiative ideas.  All these partners also serve as networks, which can be key to success. In doing so they will promote synergies, collaboration and communication.

Investing in African youth is a move in the right direction. It will certainly pay off, especially if investments made are strategically aligned with the current and future agriculture needs and trends.

Dr Esther Ngumbi is a distinguished post doctoral researcher at the Entomology Department, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is also a food security fellow with the Aspen Institute New Voices.

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