Africa unites to engage youth entrepreneurship for agricultural transformation

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, with the Support for Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-SC) in Africa project and Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) held a three-day workshop on Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa, from 28-30 May at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
The workshop brought together almost 200 participants  from about  20 countries, including  policy makers, donors- African Development Bank(AFDB), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation(Gates Foundation),International Fund  for Agricultural Development(IFAD), Alliance  for  a Green Revolution  in Africa(AGRA)- non-governmental  organizations, CGIAR, youth groups  from different  countries, regional research organizations and  the National Agricultural Research  and Extension Systems(NARES) in Africa.

The   workshop was held in order  to  tackle  the issue of  youth unemployment  in Africa,  with over  70% of the  population  between 15 and 24 years  in many  countries are either  unemployed or under employed.  To find solutions to unemployment, participants brainstormed on how to develop a Pan-African Youth in Agribusiness program, whereby youth can be engaged in agricultural entrepreneurship to ease the burden of unemployment while ensuring food security.

The Director –General of IITA, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, in his opening remarks   reiterated the importance of the novel idea of engaging the youth in agribusiness as one of the ways to solve the high rate   of unemployment   and contribute to enhancing food security in Africa.  He described unemployment as a   time bomb waiting to explode, with subsequent socio-economic implications  that may be difficult to contain in many  countries.  Therefore, he enjoined all to brainstorm  and come  up with solutions on how African countries   could engage and integrate the youth into agribusiness and financially support the program.

The event supported by the African Development Bank,(AFDB) through the SARD-SC  project, had  a good representation of  its  top management  staff. Dr. Chiji Ojukwu, Director, Agriculture & Agro-Industry Department, African Development Bank,  said the Bank was pleased to be associated  with IITA ‘s initiative to advance  youth employment  in agriculture and Agribusiness in Africa, “because  unemployment  in general, and  youth unemployment  in particular, is becoming  a serious  challenge to African countries, development planners  and  institutions.”

Dr. Ojukwu  believed  that  such an initiative  aimed at harnessing, exploiting  and channeling  opportunities  to enlist and hold  the interest  of the African youth  and women in agribusiness development  is  crucial  if Africa  was to  meet  the agricultural  growth  target  of 6 percent  under  the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural  Development Program (CAADP) and the poverty  reduction  target of  eradication  of  extreme poverty and  hunger  under the MDG1.

While Dr Namanga Ngongi, a member, IITA Board of Trustees  gave the key note address, Dr. Awa Bamba, Advisor to the Special Envoy on Gender, AFDB,  delivered a paper titled; AFDB’s Gender strategy  and  the Implications for the  Youth Engagement Program. Ministers of Agriculture from Guinea Conakry, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, DR Congo sent good will messages to the participants, while Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina gave a speech on youth issues and challenges and pledged a donation of 500,000 dollars to support the IITA program on engaging the youth in agribusiness.

However,  participants  worked assiduously during the  workshop and  came  up with a  communiqué on how best to engage  the  youth in agriculture, having   recognized  that  it  can drive  development and   has  the potential   of creating  millions of decent jobs  for Africa’s male and  female  youth in the provision of products  and services  such as  seed  and input supply, crop  aggregation and  marketing, post  harvest handling, processing  and  storage, and other  value –addition activities.  They  also  recognized  that the  youth  population  in African  could play a pivotal role in the  dissemination  of improved technologies and innovations to  farmers which have the  capacity  of closing  the yield gaps and  enhancing productivity in the continent;  and recognizing  that  the youth  can advance  agribusiness development  in Africa  with adequate support  services.

At the end of the workshop, participants came out with the following recommendations:

1.A proposal for a multinational   youth –in-agriculture/agribusiness program drawing on the IITA youth Agripreneur model and other  proven  models that would  focus on  youth empowerment in agribusinesses and related  enterprises across Africa. The proposal has, in principle, been endorsed by donors, led by the African Development Bank.

2.Country  representatives of various  organizations  and institutions  at the  workshop were given the mandate  to obtain  endorsement and  commitment from their  different governments and also  relay their  expression  of interest  in participating  in the  ensuing  program in  writing  to IITA, the coordinating center  for the program.