The use of information and communication technology (ICT) in agriculture has been identified as one of the best ways to enhance access to finance for smallholder farmers and transform unproductive farming activities in Africa into sustainable means of livelihood.
Rita Kimani, the co-founder of FarmDrive, said this on 12 January during a seminar organized by the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) on ICT and Agriculture at the IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria.
FarmDrive is a Kenya-based ICT company which helps smallholder farmers access loans through a technology platform used in collecting data on farmers. The data is used to link farmers with sources of credit, increasing their income by 300% in the process. Speaking at the seminar titled “ICT meets Agriculture,” Rita stressed that some of the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Africa include access to finance, a huge information gap between the farmers and lenders, and operational risks involved in agriculture. She added that the use of the latest technology and data is the only means of helping the smallholder farmers address these challenges.
Highlighting the importance of the use of ICT in this regard, Rita added that ICT can be used by smallholder farmers in carrying out soil tests on their farm before planting. She stated that through the use of mobile phone applications, ICT can help farmers share knowledge with extension services, consult with experts, have access to inputs, enhance marketing skills especially in the areas of determining market prices, understand market demand, and establish a trading platform between the smallholder farmers and the consumers.
Sharing her experiences on the use of ICT in helping smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rita said that FarmDrive, which is currently working with over a thousand farmers in the country, uses a platform to collect self-reported farm-level data from farmers, value chain players, and satellite data for smallholder farmers.
IYA panelists at the seminar—Tomiwa Adesanya, Bunmi Ajilore, Damola Adewole, and Rita—all agreed that the use of ICT can help change the perception on agriculture and emphasize its new role as a transformative driver of the economy.
Speaking at the end of the seminar, IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga urged the youth to take the issue of ICT in agriculture seriously as it provides numerous opportunities for youth involvement.
He emphasized that with the government move to embrace agriculture in generating income for the country, the youth will play a major role in reviving the economy through agriculture. He said that the only way to make the agricultural practice distinct from the way it was being practiced is to treat it as a business and introduce attractive technologies.
The reality TV show aims to promote and attract youths to get actively involved in agriculture and agribusiness using the reality show platform as a means of engagement.
In his welcome address, Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General, Partnerships and Capacity Development, said that the reality show will expose the various opportunities inherent in agriculture. He said that the right platform can help agriculture become a sector for development that will actively engage youth.
During his keynote address, IITA’s Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, said now is the time for everybody to embrace agriculture with the dwindling price of crude oil in Nigeria and other parts of the world. He said the best way to revive the agriculture sector is to actively involve the youth who have the techniques and skills to bring the needed change in the sector.
He added that IITA has experimented with this approach in the last three years and will not hesitate to support others who want to use the IITA model.
The head of communication and strategy at CFIL, Boason Omofaye, said the show will provide answers to where and how to engage the youth in agriculture. He added that the concept of the show will attract the corporate world to invest in young farmers.
Also Seyi Ifelaja, an agribusiness consultant with CFIL, emphasized that the show will use the IITA Youth Agripreneurs as a case study for the show. The show is expected to commence within the premises of IITA in the second quarter of 2016. The winner of the first season will go home with a grand prize of about $25,000.
Africa’s statistics on youth unemployment can be overwhelming but to a visionary it is an untapped resource with the potential of changing the status quo of poverty and hunger which are often synonymous with the continent. The great challenge of youth unemployment can also be seen as an opportunity for them to become the engine spearheading the ‘green revolution’ in the continent.
This was the argument which clinched the keenly contested debate at the Young Africa Works summit on “Agriculture as a sector of economic opportunity for youth in sub-Saharan Africa” in favor of IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga.
Centre, Westin Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa on 29 October. Sanginga went up against Jim Sumberg of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK. The debate was moderated by Eleni Gabre-Madhin, Co-founder and CEO, Eleni.
About 300 thought leaders from NGOs, government, donor agencies, and the private sector committed to developing sustainable youth employment strategies in Africa congregated to discuss best practices and effective approaches for preparing young people for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agriculture.
During the contest, Sanginga emphasized the plight of employable youth in Africa. He stated that every year 10-12 million young people seek to enter the continent’s workforce but without success. Despite the opportunities in agriculture, African youths lack access to arable land, credit, improved technologies, practical skills and fair markets as well as other logistics and services necessary for succeeding in agribusiness. Even with opportunities opening up, most educated youth are skeptical about opportunities in agriculture.
However, using IITA’s Youth Agripreneurs initiative as an example, Sanginga effectively argued that agribusiness can be profitable for youth if they are given the right skills. He indicated that steering rural enterprise along commodity value chains within the context of professional agriculture can have a huge influence on both the livelihoods of the youth and the process of agricultural transformation. Following this approach, numerous agribusiness incubations have established many profitable enterprises including intensive vegetable production, marketing of new varieties of cereal and legume seed, fish farming and associated activities, and value-added processing of soybean and cassava.
Given opportunities and incentives, and mind-set change, rural youth can profitably be redirected toward agribusiness, service provision and market-oriented agriculture, with a huge impact upon their rural communities. Different models developed by IITA, AGRA, FARA, and CTA offer stepwise approaches to strengthening the skills of youth in agribusiness and are ripe for expansion and integration.
Sanginga therefore called for the development of a comprehensive program that forges widespread commitment and partnership, indicating that combining approaches in an effective manner would lead to delivering cost-effective opportunities to the youth for profitable agribusiness development. He specified that this sort of effort must not only extend well beyond reorientation and formal training; rather it must involve the development of detailed agribusiness plans and credit-worthy loan applications, leading to the establishment of a massive network of new business ventures and services across the entire agricultural value chain.
18 August was United Nation’s Youth day to create awareness on the importance of engaging youth politically, economically and socially which is essential for the achievement of sustainable human development. We speak to a few of the young people engaged in Agriculture at IITA to hear their experiences and views on how to engage young people in agriculture and research.
Veronica Kebwe, is the chairlady of Tanzania Youth Agripreneurs (TYA), a group of young people that have come together to engage in agribusiness with support from IITA and other partners. She has been providing leadership to the group since its formation, one a half years ago and says the group has been making progress in their agribusiness ventures.
“TYA members are now well equipped with agribusiness entrepreneurship skills. Currently we are producing/processing high quality cassava flour, soy milk/yoghurt, making various food products from cassava, growing tomatoes and providing weed management service through safe use of herbicides.
“For the time I have been leading TYA, I have discovered that there are many agriculture opportunities that the youth can utilize for their own development. However, they need to be patient and committed. Many youth who engage in agriculture expect to make a profit within a short time and they give up when this does not happen.
“Capacity building is also very important. If youth are provided with enough capital, they cannot be productive and benefit from agribusiness, unless they are well trained.”
On today’s youth day she encourages youth to be their own problem solvers. “Agriculture can be a solution to unemployment. There are many opportunities in the agriculture sector. The youth should keep their eyes and ears open, and be ready to put effort to benefit from agribusiness. Youth can be at the forefront of action to fight poverty. ”
Plenty of opportunities to be exploited
“Before joining the group, I had very little knowledge on agribusinesses. Now I realize there are a lot of opportunities in agribusiness that we young people can explore to create income for ourselves. People need food to survive, but not only food, but healthy food, so we are assured of a market for our agriculture produces,” says Mariam A. Sein, also a member of the TYA.
“I have learned a lot from all the training we have received, such as on cassava production/management, soy processing/production and applications of herbicide for weed management. I am now capable of producing/processing soymilk and making and cooking various cassava recipes such as donuts.
“Being a member of TYA has not only changed my mindset on agribusiness, but also exposed me to a lot of opportunities through the travels to other countries in sub-Saharan African countries and getting to meet and connect with fellow youth with interest in agriculture.
Maria observes that very few youth are engaged in agriculture. “This is because many of them perceive agriculture as an ‘inferior’ sector. Much still needs to be done to change this mindset and make the youth aware about the opportunities they can get from the agriculture sector.
On this youth day, Maria appreciates all ongoing efforts from governments to donors and institutions such as IITA to empower youth to find creative ways to generate income for themselves, She also urges the youth to keep their eyes open for any opportunities.
Equip youth with sufficient knowledge
“I simply enjoy what I am doing as it contributes to controlling diseases that attack farmers’ produce and contributes to the country’s development,” says Christopher Mduda, a bachelor’s degree holder of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and an intern at the IITA Eastern Africa hub conducting research under the supervision of IITA senior scientist James Legg.
He has been extracting DNA from cassava leaves and describes his stint with IITA as a wonderful learning experience that has built his confidence in performing molecular research.
“Most youth have negative perceptions about agriculture. This is because youth are not well exposed to many of the opportunities available. The youth are active and energetic; they can be at the core of development if they are equipped with sufficient agriculture knowledge and fully supported. They can make marvelous changes in the society”.
Reuben S. Samweli, an IITA Research Technician with a degree in Biotechnology and laboratory, also says youth engagement in agriculture is key for development and tackling the high levels of unemployment in many countries.
“Engaging youth in agriculture sectors can help deter them from engaging in anti-social behaviors such as drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual addiction, and crime. However, the support received from government and non-government organizations is inadequate. There is also poor flow of information.
“There is a need to provide information on existing opportunities to the youth across the country. There are many programs/project launched for supporting youth development; however the youth are not able to engage and benefit from them as they are not aware of them. If the youth are fully engaged in agriculture, they can play a big role in reducing levels of unemployment.
“The youth have a great role to play in supporting development and they should sufficiently be empowered, well involved, and linked with key players in the agricultural sector.”
IITA support to Tanzania Youth
IITA is currently running a program to empower youth to use agriculture as a tool to tackle youth unemployment across sub-Saharan Africa through training and by supporting them to carry out various agribusinesses. The program, IITA Youth Agripreneurs, was launched in 2012 at IITA Headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria. In Tanzania, the program started in January 2014 at IITA’s Eastern Africa hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and is supervised by Adebayo Abass, IITA’s Value Addition Specialist at the hub.
The group is currently engaged in processing soymilk, high quality cassava flour with the brand name Mpishi Mkuu, selling maize, and growing tomatoes. The group is also benefiting in participating in youth programs across the world, and members are exposed and linked with potential development actors within and outside the country.
IITA is also constructing a training center at a cost of US$1.5 million at Kwembe (about 25 km from Dar es Salaam City center) to equip the youth with skills in production and processing and running successful agribusinesses.
The Uganda chapter of the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) program that seeks to attract educated young people to agribusiness was officially launched on Wednesday 24 June 2015 in Mukono District.
The Uganda Youth Agripreneurs (UYA) was started in Nabbale, Mukono District, in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organisation, Makerere University and Mukono Local Government. It brings together university graduates in the area from diverse backgrounds that will be trained on modern farming methods, processing, value addition to agricultural produce, and entrepreneurship.
The project was launched by Mr Katooto Habib, a Member of Parliament, in an event that brought together different stakeholders including policymakers, researchers, civil society, and the private and public sectors.
In his speech, MP Habib encouraged the youth to take advantage of the cutting edge technologies in agriculture and urged them to be patient and embrace the saving culture as well. Dr Maggie Kigozi, former Director of Uganda Investment Authority and a major shareholder in Pepsicola Uganda, urged the young people not to see themselves as powerless but instead use the different networks that they have already established to start something meaningful.
The IITA Director General, Dr Sanginga Nteranya on his part advised the youth to be aggressive and very fast and to always consider gender equity in whatever they are doing.“IITA is going to support you in technology, knowledge, and advocacy but you should do the rest of the activities by yourselves,” he said.
The Uganda National Agricultural Research organization (NARO) was also going to provide the youth with technologies that would help in furthering this new journey they had started, according to Dr. Ambrose Agona, NARO Director General. He noted there was a lot of energy in the youth that could be tapped and put to good use.
Dr Piet van Asten, IITA–Uganda country representative, said the formation of the youth program was in response to the high priority during stakeholder engagement exercises that was placed on youth unemployment in Mukono and Wakiso, two districts where the IITA-led Humidtropics program is operating.
“Starting this program today here in Mukono,” he said, “is an indication not only of the usefulness of stakeholder engagement in priority setting but also of the willingness on the research side to follow through what is demanded by the stakeholders.”
Others at the event were Dr Victor Manyong, IITA Director for East Africa; Mr Buyungo Musa, the Coordinator for Parliamentary Forum on Food Security and Population Issues in the Parliament of Uganda, representatives of IYA from Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania, and representatives from other partnering institutions such as Makerere University, Uganda Christian University (UCU) as well as various farmers’ organizations.
Agriculture has been identified as a major sector which can help to increase growth in the economy of African countries,” said the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Matata Ponyo Mapon, on 14 July, at an exhibition organized by the Government and IITA.
The exhibition Young Congolese and Agribusiness showcased various products derived from cassava and soybean at the Prime Minister’s garden in Kinshasa.
Speaking during the exhibition, Mr Matata Ponyo said the Government had identified the youth as “agents of change that would bring the necessary technologies and zeal to revolutionize the agricultural sector.”
He added that the government shared IITA’s vision of improving agriculture through research, science-driven agriculture, and youth involvement in the sector.
“The organization of this exhibition is a testimony to the engagement of the President, His Excellency Joseph Kabila, the Prime Minister, and other ministries to improve agriculture especially in the rural areas,” he said.
Impressed by the activities of IITA especially on youth involvement in agriculture, the Prime Minister commended IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga, for IITA’s youth initiative and promised that the country would support the spread of the initiative.
Dr Mahungu Nzola-Meso, IITA’s country representative, thanked the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet for the opportunity given to IITA to showcase agriculture from a new dimension. The IITA Youth Agripreneurs initiative is spreading across Africa and aims at reducing youth unemployment around the continent.
“Agriculture is the best sector to bring youth into business. IITA joined in the same view by initiating the Agripreneur model which is now well known on the continent. Young Agripreneurs are really committed to learn business using agriculture along the value chain from the seeds to the consumer,” he said.
He added that chapters of the youth group already existed in parts of DRC such as Bukavu, Kinshasa, and Kisangani. There are expectations that the model would be extended to other parts of the country.
The different groups of the IITA Youth Agripreneurs in DRC were joined by their counterparts from Nigeria for the exhibition.
The exhibition is an outcome of the visit to IITA Nigeria by two special advisers to the Prime Minister, Mr Gerome Masankisi Kamwanga and John Ulimwengu, in June this year to explore areas of partnership and investment with the Institute.
An IITA project seeking to entice the educated youth to go into agriculture and agribusiness was established in Makueni County in Kenya, in collaboration with the University of Nairobi and Makueni County Government and officially launched on 10 March.
The Makueni Youth Agripreneurs (MYA) project, based at the University of Nairobi, Kibwezi station, brings together university graduates in the region from diverse backgrounds. They will be trained on modern farming methods, processing of and value addition to agricultural produce, and entrepreneurship. The project will be replicated in other parts of the country to engage more of the youth in agriculture and contribute to reducing the country’s high unemployment rate.
The initiative is part of a larger program called IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA), started three years ago in Nigeria by Dr Nteranya Sanginga, IITA’s Director General. This program aims to tackle the twin challenges of youth unemployment and the need to increase agricultural production to supply food for a rapidly increasing population.
The Makueni project was officially launched at an event at the IITA-Kenya offices at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe).by Oscar Musembi Marco, Kibwezi West Sub-County Administrator, on behalf of the Makueni County Governor Prof. Kivutha Kibwana and its Deputy Governor, Hon. Adelina Ndeto Mwau.
Mr Marco lauded the initiative, saying it was much needed in the Makueni County in its current efforts to transform itself and become self-reliant on food. “Through this youth program we are on the right path to transform Makueni County from being food insecure to becoming a breadbasket of the country,” he said, “and change the youth in Makueni from being job seekers to job creators.”
He added that the Makueni County government had set aside Kshs 25 million (US$277,330) to give low interest loans to young people, women, and those with disabilities. He urged the youth to take advantage of this incentive.
Dr Sanginga, who was also at the event, said Makueni County had been selected so the youth could support the Institute’s efforts in providing a solution to aflatoxins―those deadly chemicals produced by molds which attack maize and other grains―as the area was one of the hotspots for the problem in the country.
“IITA is setting up a factory to produce aflasafe, a biological control solution to aflatoxins. The technology requires sorghum to be used as a carrier. The youth will produce and supply the factory with sorghum,” he said. “They will create employment and, at the same time, produce a great public good for the people of Makueni.”
He further added that the program was a start and would be replicated throughout the country; members of the group would be involved in outreach and the training of other young men and women.
He said that the IYA program had received much support from donor agencies and was well on track to reach its target to spread the program to 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Prof Geoffrey Kironchi from the University of Nairobi, one of the collaborators in the project, said the University had donated part of its 1200 acres of land and greenhouses at its Kibwezi station to MYA to grow vegetables through irrigation as a start-off activity. He added that the project, bringing together those from different backgrounds, could be instrumental in attracting the youth to agriculture.
“Our youth are not attracted to agriculture yet there are a lot of opportunities in the sector. We all have to eat every day. There is also a lot of food wasted and uneven distribution. While some parts of the country have an abundant food supply all year, others are constantly faced with famine and starvation.”
This was echoed by Prof Nancy Karanja also from the University of Nairobi. She said the University was fully committed to the project and its endeavor to create youth employment. “It’s very disheartening to us as teachers and parents when we find our students loitering around after graduation because there are no jobs,” she said. “And on the other hand as a country, we can only talk of development once we are able to feed ourselves.”
Others at the event were Dr Victor Manyong, IITA Director for Eastern Africa; Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA Director for Central Africa; Dr Kristina Roing De Nowina, MYA Project Manager, representatives of IYA from Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, and representatives from other partner institutions.
His Excellency, Mr Michel Deelen, the Deputy Ambassador, Netherlands Embassy, Lagos, came on an orientation visit to IITA-Ibadan on 24 February. He was welcomed by Dr Ken Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships and Capacity Development, who gave an overview on IITA and its work on linking with the private sector to catalyze development through agribusiness and commercializing technologies through its Business Incubation Platform (BIP).
Hilde Koper, Head of the Project Administration Office, gave a rundown of past and current collaborative projects between the Dutch government and IITA that includes ongoing research in the CGIAR Research Programs on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) and Climate Change, Food Security and Agriculture (CCAFS) through the Wageningen University.
Explaining about his visit to IITA, Deputy Ambassador Deelen said that the Embassy is a “broker” between Nigeria and the Netherlands and that it is more concerned with trade and industry, and emphasizes connection to markets.
“Our main task in the Embassy is to make bridges between institutions in the Netherlands and the private sector in Nigeria,” he said. “The challenge is to find how we can bring technologies to markets for farmers or consumers to use. We need to link up research with industry.”
He said that there seemed to be a “disconnect between what technologies are available and how Nigerian farmers run their business.” Thus, he said he was happy to hear that IITA had taken the bold step of commercializing technologies for farmers.
The Deputy Ambassador was taken on a tour of the Institute’s facilities that included the Pathology Lab, Genetic Resources Center, IITA Youth Agripreneurs, BIP with the aflasafe and Nodumax plants, and the Cassava Waste Conversion to High Protein Animal Feed project of ILRI. He was accompanied by Ms Sonia Odije, Adviser, Economic, Trade and Investment Affairs.
The Dutch envoy said he was very impressed with IITA’s work, especially on BIP and the youth initiatives, and he would certainly come back to IITA to explore further collaboration.
Last year, 2014, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) launched an agricultural youth program in Tanzania to contribute to efforts to tackle youth unemployment while, at the same time, using young people to modernize agriculture.
The program is part of an institute wide youth program known as IITA Agripreneurs started at its Headquarters in Ibadan Nigeria three years ago under the leadership of IITA Director General, Nteranya Sanginga. It has since spread to other countries where IITA is working including Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Tanzania, the program dubbed ‘IITA Tanzania Youth Agripreneurs’ (IYA) brings together graduates of different disciplines keen on pursuing agriculture as a business. The group has received training on modern farming methods and processing and value addition.
The group is engaged in four activities: production and processing of cassava, maize and soybean, production of vegetables and offering weeding services.
According to Veronica Kabwe, the chairlady of the group, the program is a very good opportunity for the youth: “We are getting free trainings…. It is a big opportunity and we have to take it as youth. The knowledge is very useful not just for IITA but even at home. It’s a very beneficial program for youth and I advise them to take it very seriously,” she says.
The IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) have convened a 3-week intensive agricultural training for selected young people from Borno State. Areas of focus cover on-field sessions on fish farming and production, processing and marketing of maize, cowpea, soybean, millet, groundnut, and sorghum. The training is another in a series of youth empowerment campaigns in Nigeria that the IYA have organized since their inception in 2012. It also endorses the replication of the IITA youth in agribusiness model in Borno.
At the opening session, 3 September, Molayo Owoeye, leading the team of Agripreneur-facilitators from IITA Headquarters in Ibadan, stated “This training will harness the potential of Borno youth to create their own employment, identify the strengths of trainees, and proffer the knowledge and skills required to generate wealth successfully from agriculture.” She added, “The training in particular is about developing entrepreneurial skills in agriculture, helping young people to identify and make use of their innate potentials, strengthen weaknesses, exploit opportunities, and eliminate threats in terms of doing business in agriculture.”
Entrepreneurship in agriculture has become a critical pathway in many African countries for creating employment and simultaneously driving productivity and economic growth. National programs invest in young people with multidisciplinary backgrounds to catalyze economic development while at the same time reducing unemployment and creating income through agribusiness. To support this drive, IYA are motivated to share their experiences with other groups of young people and encourage them to embrace farming as a business and improve their quality of life while contributing meaningfully to sustainable development.
Dr Emmanuel Sangodele is the Nigeria Project Coordinator of the N2Africa program–a large-scale, science research project focused on putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers growing legume crops in Africa. He praised IITA for its concerted efforts in ensuring that youth unemployment is erased in Africa, and said, “The youth initiative and training is extremely insightful and is coming at a time when young people in Borno need financial and occupational stability. N2Africa is strongly committed to collaborate with IYA in launching agribusiness-based solutions to eradicate youth unemployment in Borno.”
Experts in agriculture acted as resource persons for the training. These included Dr Alpha Kamara, Head of the IITA Kano Station, Alhaji Sani Aliu Meedugu, Permanent Secretary/Project Manager, ADP Borno, and Prof Alphonse Emechebe, IITA Plant Pathologist and Independent Plant Management Specialist.
The training was organized in collaboration with N2Africa-to-Borno project under the auspices of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.