The world is facing a major shift in demographics. By 2050, Africa will be home to a billion young people. With so many youth concentrated in Africa, countries have the advantage of large working-age populations, which provides the potential to capitalise on the ‘demographic dividend’ for economic growth. However, if these young people have no prospects for the future, long-term social harmony could be jeopardised and youths may look for economic opportunities elsewhere in big cities, in other neighbouring countries or even on other continents.   

“We must turn rural areas from zones of poverty to zones of productivity,” said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank at the recent G20 ‘One World – No Hunger’ conference held on 26-27 April 2017. The event focused on youth employment in rural areas and presented the Berlin Charter, which outlines the investments and priorities needed to deliver a prosperous future for young people.  

Whilst addressing youth unemployment is a significant development challenge for all sectors, it also represents an opportunity for driving new agriculture and agribusiness enterprises, as well as rural transformation. “Youths are the present and future of Africa. Let’s enable their entrepreneurship,” Adesina added. 

Youth in agribusiness  

Agricultural production is one of the most important economic sectors in the majority of African countries and agribusinesses will be key to creating a more profitable and sustainable agri-food sector for youths with the right skills1. To fully maximise their potential, enhanced access to capital, professional networks, mentorship and connectivity to urban centres, customers, and cutting edge information is essential. With a more vibrant entrepreneurial culture, young people should be able to create their own wealth, and generate work for others. 

“We need to change our mindset from a focus on agriculture to a focus on agribusiness, then we will see entrepreneurs. We need to help young and aspiring farmers climb that ladder by providing capacity building and financial support,” says Nana Amponsah, a young Ghanaian graduate and initiator of agribusiness incubator – Guzakuza – which accelerates agribusiness start-ups that have the potential to improve food security and create jobs (see interview with Nana Amposah).  

Under Guzakuza, Amposah has developed ‘Ignite’ – a programme to address the challenge of women’s access to capital and capacity building. The 6 month intensive training course enables beneficiaries to learn entrepreneurial skills such as planning, teamwork, marketing, communication and financial management. With such training and advice from successful agripreneurs, their agribusinesses are expected to become sustainable, producing value-added goods and services that can bring high financial returns and increase employment for others. In 2016, 15 female graduates underwent the 6 month course, enabling them to develop applicable business skills through mentoring and practical internships. 

In Uganda, agricultural graduates Paul Zaake and Charles Yiga have developed Fruits Village, a social enterprise which adds value to fruits, such as mangoes, pineapples and jackfruits, through solar drying, packaging and marketing. The youths were inspired by the challenge faced by farmers in their rural town in Rakai district, where high yields and low demand meant that for many farmers, much of their produce was wasted during the harvest season and they were forced to cut down and sell their fruit trees to generate some income. Fruits Village purchases fresh fruits from farmers in rural areas and provides them with training in solar drying techniques. “We are also in the business of selling fruit solar driers, as well buying quality solar-dried fruits from farmers,” says Zaake. Since January 2017, 23 fruit farmers have been supplying Fruits Village, generating additional income, and 416 more are registered to supply their produce once it has been up-scaled in the coming years. “Our mission is to add value to fruits and produce quality and affordable fruit products efficiently and sustainably. And our vision is to become the leading dried fruits products suppliers in Africa,” Zaake enthuses.  

Home grown solutions

Locally adapted innovations such as Fruits Village are needed in order to foster greater sustainable development throughout the agri-food sector. At the G20 conference, Nachilala Nkombo, the interim African executive director for the ONE Campaign argued, “Civil society needs to harness bottom up innovations of rural communities, and the private sector needs to look at the business opportunities and make smart investments.” Innovations in mobile communication, crop insurance, post-harvest loss reduction and other risk-reducing initiatives will be essential for raising agricultural productivity, and also represent a significant opportunity for job creation among the youth.  

As part of the ‘One World – No Hunger’ initiative, research centres to promote innovation in Africa have been established. Supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, 13 green innovation centres in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia and Zambia are sustainably increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers, boosting incomes, creating more employment opportunities – particularly for women and youths – and increasing regional food supplies. The centres are not reinventing the wheel or testing untried methods, but disseminating locally adapted methods such as nutrient-rich and/or drought resistant seeds, drip irrigation systems for increased yields, new ICTs, mechanisation and good agricultural practice training. 

In Burkina Faso, for example, the green innovation centres are disseminating knowledge on improved cultivation practices for rice and sesame production in the southwest region. They encourage crop rotation between rice and vegetables, as well as production of sesame seeds for export. In addition to improving the food and nutrition situation in the region, this improved production is increasing incomes. In 2016, 27,500 producers were trained in improved agricultural practices. The centres have also introduced technologies such as rice mills, which will be utilised by 9,000 farmers and will employ 68 new members of staff to operate the mills.  

An emerging tech landscape

Technical innovations, such as new ICTs, are increasingly connecting farmers to markets, reducing transaction costs, and overcoming constraints relating to resource access for youth and women in agricultural value chains. Rural youths are well-placed to benefit from jobs created by these innovations since they are more likely than adults to adopt training and/or financial and extension services which use digital platforms.  

Examples of existing technologies that are already being effectively taken up by youths are mobile phones and e-commerce. Africa is too sparsely populated, particularly in rural areas, for fixed phones but “Mobile networks fit Africa from an engineering and economic view point. The technology fits the environment,” says Dr Mo Ibrahim, chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. As such, today in Africa there are around 650 million mobile phone subscribers and the number of mobile phones has increased 40-fold since 2000. There are also more people transferring money via e-commerce than anywhere in Europe because so many people in Africa are ‘un-bankable’ and do not own a bank account. Because of this, e-commerce platforms are important for linking entrepreneurs in rural areas with national and global markets.  

Broadband connectivity also brings high-end services closer to the rural population and helps reduce poverty. As a result, travelling time and cost for villagers and farmers is reduced while employment opportunities are generated. However, broadband needs to be developed across Africa at an affordable rate. Existing access is hugely expensive and geographically limited. An innovation in policy is therefore needed to liberalise connectivity in Africa.  

Speaking on the importance of technology to open up dynamic prospects in rural areas, Peter Altmaier, chief of staff for the German Chancellor said, “Young people are prone to using new technologies. They create strong networks and can deliver agricultural solutions in their countries. We need to roll them out where they exist.”  

Doing just that in Ethiopia is iceaddis – the first innovation hub and co-working space supporting youth-driven private sector initiatives and facilitating their interaction with technologists, entrepreneurs, investors and the creative industry. Based in Addis Ababa and established in 2011, iceaddis currently hosts 11 start-ups at its offices and receives between 60 and 80 requests for start-up or project support each year, and is working to expand its reach. “We are building a vibrant technology based entrepreneurship ecosystem in Ethiopia. Our start-ups are solving complex problems and accelerating youth employment with their scalable solutions,” says Markos Lemma, iceaddis co-founder.  

Unemployment in Ethiopia is high (estimated at 17%) and very few people have access to the internet. Job adverts are mostly published in newspapers and reach only a small fraction of job seekers. One project which has been nurtured by iceaddis with the potential to mitigate this problem is MoSera, a mobile phone-based platform for recruitment and employment. Through MoSera, jobseekers are able to find jobs via SMS and employers then instantly alert qualified candidates of available positions, directly to their phones. MoSera is investment ready but requires an initial stage of funding to launch. 

Inclusive policies 

Policies that increase farm and non-farm employment, and the spread of ICTs will be key in stimulating rural employment for young people. The Berlin Charter, drafted by an advisory committee of experts in rural development, civil society and the private sector, will serve as an important guidance tool for decisions relating to rural development and youth employment, in the sectors of politics, business and civil society. Integrated development strategies that explicitly include the youth in rural areas have the potential to offer great developmental prospects for current and future generations.  

During the conference, the Charter was amended to include inputs from more than 130 youths in attendance from across Africa and the G20 countries, and was presented to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, Dr Gerd Müller. The Charter will feed into the ongoing negotiation process in the G20 to improve the group's initiatives for supporting sustainable development, and is to articulate a ‘rural development paradigm’ indicating measures by which increased support for young people can promote sustainable rural development.

1 In the framework of the European Development Days, CTA is organising workshops on 7-8 June 2017 to promote job creation and investment opportunities in Africa: / / / Prior to this, the 49th CTA Brussels Briefing – Youth in agribusiness: shaping the future of agriculture - will take place on 18 May

This article by Sophie Reeve originally appeared in the May 18th edition of SPORE, an online magazine published by CTA, a Partner in GFAR. For more on opportunities for rural youth, download Spore Issue no. 184 March-May 2017.

Photo credit: © GIZ Klous Wohlmann​