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FAO to make agri-business an attractive career choice for youth in Africa

Micheal Ige, youth employment specialist, at FAO Regional Office for Africa, speaks about the importance of encouraging young people to join Africas agri-food systems, on the occasion of International Youth Day

Q: Why is it important to get more young people involved in agriculture and agri-food systems in Africa?

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with an estimated 420 million young people aged between 15 and 35 years old, and this is projected to rise considerably in the future. That’s a lot of young people entering the labour market who need jobs. The agriculture sector could address this need, but it is often seen by young people as dirty and labour-intensive work for little profit. 

Conversations happening around the world right now, in the lead up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit, focus on the need to transform food systems to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, including targets on ending poverty and hunger, ensuring sustainable agriculture, and creating gender equality, decent work and climate action. 

FAO’s Regional Office for Africa is working with partners from all quarters to remove barriers and make agri-business an attractive career choice so that young people can help build sustainable and resilient agri-food systems. When young people have access to quality education and training, decent jobs, digital technologies and internet connectivity, land, finance and markets, and have a voice in policy and decision making, they can tap into their full potential.

Q: What are some of the innovative ways to get more of Africa’s young people involved in agriculture and agri-food systems transformation?

Young people are the largest users of mobile phones and apps in Africa. Digital technology holds the potential to transform the future of African farming, making it more attractive to young people, more profitable, less burdensome and more closely tied to markets and consumers. We have seen so many downsides to the COVID-19 pandemic, but one bright spot has been the accelerated pace of digitalisation and innovation. Young people have adapted, moved online, and created new opportunities. So digital agriculture is very important. Internet connectivity can also have life-changing impacts for young people in areas, such as education, agricultural extension services, social networking, job search and access to financial services.

Other innovations include the different sources of finance that are emerging in Africa, such as crowdfunding, impact investing, and angel investing for young agricultural entrepreneurs, or agri-preneurs, that have the potential to reduce and share the risk-return of investing in young people, who are often misrepresented as being a greater risk to investors, that their older counterparts.

FAO and the African Union have developed new guidelines that bring together tools and good practices from across Africa, to better integrate young people into agricultural investment programmes. We are looking forward to taking this initiative forward later this year, and then use it widely.

Q: How will these new investment guidelines by FAO and the African Union support young people?

FAO’s Regional Office for Africa is working with partners from all quarters to remove barriers and make agri-business an attractive career choice. The Investment Guidelines for Youth in Agri-food Systems in Africa translate commitments into action on investments in agri-food systems. They aggregate the most effective and innovative entry points for governments and other stakeholders to put youth at the forefront of national agricultural and agribusiness investment plans with the aim of increasing youth entrepreneurship and decent jobs for Africa’s young people. They were validated in July during a technical workshop involving representatives of youth groups, young entrepreneurs, producer organisations, international finance institutions, and other development partners, and will be presented for endorsement by African Union Member States in October. 

Q: What role can public-private partnerships play in supporting or financing youth agribusiness start-ups?

Public-private partnerships are a strong pillar and a good support system for youth-led agribusiness start-ups to leverage. For example, a high-yielding economic opportunity in the agri-food systems sector needs numerous components: capacity development adapted to rural youths’ needs and labour markets opportunities; facilitation and mentorship in adequately accessing land, credit and markets; and enhancing the opportunities for youth inclusion in policy and strategic debates.

Since 2011, FAO has developed an innovative public-private partnership model for youth employment in agriculture which has been piloted in Malawi, Tanzania and Zanzibar. The pilots showed that an integrated model, with governments, the private sector and development partners, was the best approach for decent job creation.

Q: What are some good examples of barriers being removed for young people, to enable their increased participation in the agriculture sector and agri-food systems?

FAO is involved in skills development through agribusiness incubators, entrepreneurship and business skills, as part of youth training programmes, and practical on-the-job learning activities such as our Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools.

The Opportunities for Youth in Africa (OYA) Programme, which is a collaboration between FAO and UNIDO, is also helping to accelerate job creation in the agri-food sector. It is doing some really exciting work in six pilot countries of Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tunisia, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

Internet connectivity is one of the tools that can help young people in Africa see a positive future in agriculture and agri-food systems, and FAO’s global Digital Villages initiative aims to connect rural communities through digital solutions.

Q: What is your advice to young people who are interested in starting an agri-business?

The importance of education, skills development and access to information cannot be overstated. Understanding and identifying the types of financial products and services available for agri-business development is also important, as is exploring opportunities to participate in policy dialogues. For young agri-preneurs, I would encourage the use of social media tools to promote farm products and help build a customer base. They can join a relevant network of other agri-businesses, and consider partnerships; diversification is crucial. 

Young agri-business enthusiasts should consider new enterprises to delve into, and should aim to add a new angle to their agribusiness strategy. They can check out the Opportunities for Youth in Africa (OYA) Programme, and watch out for the upcoming Investment Guidelines for Youth in Agri-food Systems in Africa. Young people should be on the look out  for opportunities and grasp them whenever they can; it is only with hard work, dedication and commitment, that they will be able to give themselves the best chance to succeed.