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.