IITA Youth Agripreneurs in the Nigerian state of Borno, in the market with their produce. (Photo credit: author)
By Oyewale Abioye
One of the challenges facing Africa is the alarming rate of unemployment and under-employment among the growing youth population. In many African countries, the rate of youth unemployment according to the Africa Economic Outlook has risen to about 60 percent, with many youth striving to make ends meet and contributing little to the development of the economy. The rate is double that of the active adult population for both men and women.
Governments of most African countries have tried to address the lingering situation, but it seems they have limited capacity to create new jobs and even the available job openings are not enough to accommodate the large numbers of young people graduating yearly from institutions.
According to the UN DESA 2015, the present world population of 7.3 billion will surge to 9.7 billion in 2050, with about 90 percent of it taking place in Africa and Asia. The situation as predicted by the African Economic Outlook will worsen if nothing is done before 2050 to halt the youth unemployment trend.
Young Women Face Even Higher Barriers
This is also the case for women, as the unemployment rate for women is higher when compared to that of men in Africa. Young women are disadvantaged compared to young men in securing decent employment due to societal norms, beliefs, institutions, and differences in resource endowments necessary for accessing income-generating opportunities. When compared to other parts of the world, the issue of employment and that of gender especially as it relates to women exhibits an obvious different pattern.
The issue is the same for Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Statistics provided by the National Bureau of Statistics in its Unemployment Watch Report shows that the population of unemployed young Nigerians increased from 518,000 to over 1.45 million between December 2015 and March 2016. One of the numerous ordeals faced by young people seeking employment in Nigeria was experienced in 2014, when the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) made an open call for application for vacant positions in the organization. About 6.5 million people applied for 4,000 vacant positions nationwide. During the recruitment exercise, many young people died due to stampede and exhaustion, while scores sustained injuries.
This suggest that achieving gender equality and ensuring gainful employment for young people may require specialized interventions from not just the government but also organizations, corporate bodies, and civil society to overcome the constraints that bind more severely on young women than young men. Without tailoring these policies accordingly, their potential impact on economic development is likely to be weakened.
IITA has trained and given equal opportunity to both genders to create jobs for themselves along the agricultural value chain. (Photo credit: author)
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
While taking a look at the effort made by organizations in Africa to support the government in addressing the constraint, the youth in agribusiness model of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reflects a striking impact in this regard. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Its research-for-development (R4D) approach addresses the development needs of tropical countries. IITA works with partners to enhance crop quality and productivity, reduce producer and consumer risks, and generate wealth from agriculture. The Institute is a member of the CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future.
Then one begin to wonder why a research institute has taken a lot of interest in the issue of youth and gender development.
Every first day of the month, the Institute is faced with the challenge of controlling the large number of young unemployed graduates who come in mass to search for menial jobs like bird scaring, cleaners, and more. IITA devised a means of channeling the energies of these set of young people towards creating jobs for themselves along the agricultural value chain. IITA also identifies the fact that young people can help transform the agricultural sector, increase food production, and take over from the ageing population of farmers which is penned at 60 in Africa via the creation of the IITA Youth Agripreneurs model.
They are also identified as a force to reckon with in the dissemination of research and technologies to the local farmers.
The IITA Youth Agripreneurs initiative is a youth-in-agribusiness model which was established to address the issue of unemployment and also provide a platform along the agricultural value chain for unemployed youth to generate wealth and create jobs.
Established in August 2012, IITA selected some young graduates from diverse educational background (science, art, engineering, and law) in Nigeria and reorientate them on the need for a prompt change in mindset about agriculture. Having limited knowledge about agriculture and agribusiness prior to the commencement of the program, the youths were able to understand and learn about agripreneurship through training both on and off the field. Through the organization’s incubation program, unemployed graduate are trained, mentored and coached for 18 months and exposed to the business opportunity in the production and value addition of commodities like cassava, maize, soybean, vegetable, plantain, and banana, fishery, and hog farming. During this incubation period, they are taught how to ensure that they adopt the best technology in deriving the best yield and developing marketing strategies that can differentiate them among other competitors in the market.
Giving equal opportunity to both genders to explore the benefit along the value chain of commodities in agriculture and a chance to also make an impact in agribusiness, IYA lay emphasis on gender equality with 60 percent of its members being women. Business plans are written based on the area of interest for financing business start-ups while proposals are developed to get funds from organizations that can pre-finance business spin-offs. All these are geared towards creating measurable impacts and the program has recorded a lot of success especially in the establishment of independent agribusiness enterprises which has a multiplier effect in job creation.
One of the remarkable project in Nigeria is the N2Africa (Nitrogen to Africa) sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project is helping the youth in this insurgency-riddled region to make a meaningful life despite the current situation in the state. Under this project IYA trained about 160 youths and each of them received a grant to start businesses based on the value chain of groundnut, cowpea, fishery, poultry, and value addition. Each business established by these youth now employs a minimum of five people in its host community.
Stories of Success
One of the success stories under this project is Mercy Wakawa, a young lady who was trained under this program. She studied Food Processing and Technology from the University of Maiduguri but couldn’t get a job after graduation. After an endless wait to get a job, she had the opportunity to be trained by IYA under the N2Africa-to-Borno youth project. Mercy now has a groundnut oil processing business in Maiduguri which employs about seven people, including women in her community. The demand for her products has increased to the extent that she is now sourcing for resources to expand.
Another success story is Yakubu Yoanna. He was able to get back on his feet through agribusiness. He was trained and assisted with some funds which he used in establishing a peanut factory. He now supplies peanut products to supermarkets and stores in Kano state. The model has also being replicated in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Zambia. In the DRC, the team is known as one of the largest producers of tilapia fish. They were able to resuscitated 15 ponds abandoned by the government to contribute to fish production in the country and reduce fish importation.
The team in the DRC have also become a major supplier of high quality cassava flour, as they now compete with a major producer of the flour in the country and even export the well packaged cassava flour to countries like Rwanda. They have also been able to create jobs for other young people and women in rural areas by expanding the franchise of the business. Another major success of this program is the continental recognition which the program has gained. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has adopted the IYA model in the design of its Africa-wide program to engage youth in agribusiness.
The program, known as ENABLE Youth (Empowering Novel Agribusiness Led Employment Program), is sponsored by AfDB and aims to provide over 8 million agribusiness jobs within 5 years for youths. Through this, over $1 billion would be used to support agribusiness enterprises and jobs for young women and men who have embraced agriculture as a business and an income- generating avenue for unemployed young people. Over 30 African countries have indicated interest in the program and it is kicking off in countries like Sudan, Madagascar, and Cameroon.
The success of implementing the IITA Youth Agripreneurs program across Africa has been based on the partnership, sponsorship it has enjoyed from private and public sectors as well as the advocacy it is creating for youth in agribusiness especially in the areas of policy development and youth involvement in national issues on agriculture.