The African Development Bank has promoted a shift towards agribusiness as a way of tackling youth unemployment, as well as promoting food security. We explore the work of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth initiative, designed to provide opportunities for Africa’s youth to get into agriculture.
Faced with the sobering realities of Africa’s unprecedented population growth, development partners such as the African Development Bank are engineering a shift towards agribusiness as a means to tackle youth employment and promote food security for the continent’s rapidly growing young generation.
Approximately 75% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are below the age of 35. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the average age of farmers across the continent is 60 years. What this clearly indicates is a generational shift away from agriculture.
Africa creates only about 4 million jobs per year whereas in the same period, 12 million youths enter the labour market, leading to a continent-wide shortfall of at least 8 million jobs.
Given the statistics, there is an urgent need to lower the age of Africa’s farmers and accelerate youth participation.
Since the election of Nigeria’s former agriculture minister Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina as the African Development Bank’s president almost five years ago, the Bank has invested heavily in agriculture and changed the narrative around the sector from subsistence to sustainable business.
As the coordinator of the Bank’s Enable Novel Agribusiness-Led Empowerment (ENABLE) Youth programme, Edson Mpyisi has been at the forefront of this change, working over the last three years to steer Africa’s youth into agriculture.
The goal is to create 300,000 agribusinesses and 1.5 million jobs within five years in over 20 countries.
To date, $374 million has been invested in 12 countries including Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Sudan.
“We have focused on two areas – one is the investment projects and the other is advocacy,” says Mpyisi, a Chief Financial Economist at the Bank.
Investment projects are designed to support Bank member countries to implement projects that encourage youth to enter agribusiness, either by creating start-ups or by consolidating agricultural value chains that generate jobs for youth.
Sudan is a good example. The government has partnered with the African Development Bank and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to build nine youth incubation centres in five states.
IITA’s 2012 initiative to guide underemployed Nigerian university graduates towards careers in agribusiness was the precursor to the ENABLE programme.
The programme in Sudan is expected to train around 2,000 young men and women ‘agripreneurs’, who are expected to go on to build 2,000 agribusinesses. Each of these businesses is expected to employ about five other workers, generating about 12,000 direct jobs in the first five years.
The Bank approved a total estimated investment of $32.3m in 2016, with the Sudanese government shouldering 9.9% of the costs.
The incubation centres act as a one-stop shop for young entrepreneurs, says Mpyisi, providing both finance and technical training for a period of between three and six months.
“If someone wants to do poultry production for example, they will learn everything there is to learn about poultry production,” he says. “The feed they require, the agronomic knowledge as well as the business training: how should the project be financed, how should it be marketed.”
The Bank provides guarantees of between $1 to $2 million to local banks in order to encourage lending in the notoriously tough agriculture space.
Mpyisi says that while financial support is necessary, the one-stop approach is a critical add-on due to many agripreneurs testfying that lack of skills and knowledge are equally – if not more significant – as a major barrier to creating their own businesses.
“The issue of mentorship is a big challenge; having someone who actually runs a business to help them get started,” he says. “They want to get into agribusiness but the amount of work that goes into it can sometimes be overwhelming.”
Despite the challenges the rewards can be immense.
Along with investment, ENABLE Youth also broadcasts the agricultural sector’s potential by convening high-profile events and promoting success stories.
The African Youth Agripreneur Forum (AYAF), held recently in Cape Town, brought together entrepreneurs, experts, business leaders, investors and policy makers to discuss key methods for boosting employment and food security through agribusiness.
The Bank oversaw an AgriPitch competition under the theme, ‘Climate Smart Agriculture: Business and Employment Opportunities for Africa’s Youth’. A total of $74,000 was awarded to six finalists of the mature-stage and early-stage start-up competition.
Agripitch winners also receive one year’s worth of mentorship and a business acumen boot camp that took place alongside the conference.
Kenya’s Alex Muli, CEO of Goshen Farm, who won the AgriPitch competition’s mature stage start-up category, went home with a $25,000 prize from the Bank. Goshen Farm produces fresh and processed products for local and international markets. South African Paul Sheppard, co-founder of Future Farms, which uses technology to produce eco-friendly produce in an urban setting, won the early stage start-up category – and a $10,000 cheque.
Mpyisi, who helped organise the event, says they received over 400 business proposals for the competition, which signals that Africa’s youth are beginning to engage with the sector in a serious fashion.
“Agriculture used to be something that you do when you are not successful,” he says. “But right now, we are seeing that there are many stories of people who are leaving their jobs as lawyers, engineers, teachers and many of them are going into agribusiness because they realising that they can earn a better livelihood.”
Events like AYAF help promote these stories and Mpyisi believes governments should start taking notice of the many agribusinesses being created by the youth across Africa.
“The youth have a lot of energy and ideas,” he says. “I believe that African governments should be looking to tap the energy, skills and innovation to address food security and employment across the continent.”