Young people vouch for agriculture to fight joblessness

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. 

Members of the Tanzania Youth Agripreneurs pose for a group photo as they prepare to plant vegetables in their greenhouse

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.

Veronica Kebwe, chairlady of the TYA

“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

Mariam Senn, member TYA

“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.

Christopher Mduda photo image
Christopher Mduda: intern at IITA

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 Samweli: Research Technician

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.

Dutch deputy ambassador visits IITA

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.

Deputy Ambassador Michel Deelen (center) at the Genetic Resources Center.
Deputy Ambassador Michel Deelen (center) at the Genetic Resources Center.

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.

Video: Story of IITA Agripreneurs in Tanzania

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.

Other links:

Tanzania: Youths Deserve Jobs to Sustain Their Daily Lives

Tanzania trains Agripreneurs for agriculture change



Nigeria joins forces with IITA to fight youth unemployment …commits US$500,000

Nigeria is supporting the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Youth Agripreneur program with a commitment of US$500,000 as part of efforts to tackle unemployment through the engagement of youth in agriculture.

The funds will go into training and capacity building of youth and will create the next generation of young farmers in the country.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, declared Nigeria’s commitment at the just concluded workshop on Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa held from 28 to30 May at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Initiated two years ago, the IITA Youth Agripreneur program builds the capacity of youth and exposes them  to the numerous untapped opportunities in agriculture and, more importantly, changes the negative perception that young men and women hold when it comes to agriculture. The program has currently engaged 31 Nigerian youths from different backgrounds with the possibility of expanding in the years ahead.

Dr Adesina gave kudos to IITA for developing the program, and the milestones recorded by the youth so far in cultivation and dissemination of improved planting materials. He noted that the program was in line with the Nigerian Government’s transformation agenda which is also creating job opportunities for youths.

IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga commended Nigeria for supporting the initiative and described youth unemployment in Africa as “a time bomb” if authorities failed to act quickly to harness their potential.

Like many other countries, Nigeria is facing serious unemployment challenges as a result of the increase in population; and the growing number of students/ candidates into tertiary institutions over the years that results in more graduates than available jobs further complicates the situation. The state of affairs is a serious challenge for every successive government that has ruled the nation since 1990 with unemployment rising to 24 percent in 2011.

Nigeria’s government alone cannot provide the needed jobs. However, agriculture is seen as a key sector that could help absorb the increasing number of youths in the labor market.

Researchers say to get the youths involved in agriculture, agriculture itself must be attractive.

Dr Bashir Jama, Director of Soil Health Program with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said to make agriculture attractive would involve narrowing yield gaps and adoption of improved technologies to increase agricultural productivity.

“Equally important is the need to diversify production systems that minimize risks and generate attractive incomes, enhancement and integration of livestock and nutrients recycling, and reduction of postharvest losses,” he explained.

The Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa workshop which was organized by IITA was supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the Support for Agricultural Research and Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-SC) project, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and AGRA.uuy2