Last 23 May, I was invited as one of the speakers at the panel discussion on ‘Jobs for women and young people’ which was co-hosted by INCLUDE at the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Lusaka, Zambia. The panel was composed of high-powered women in the African research and development arena that includes Ms Yana Watson Kakar (Global Managing Parner, Dalberg), Ms Ada Osakwe (CEO, Agrolay Ventures), Ms Jacqueline Novogratz (CEO, Acumen), and Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg (Director General, Africa Women in Agriculture and Research and Development, AWARD). I spoke on how the boundless opportunities in agricultural value chains and the existence of untapped resources, such as the youth, can provide the much needed impetus to drive the next wave of development in Africa. I also stressed the importance of having an enabling environment that will ensure that agriculture creates the business opportunities and decent employment along the various value chains for the millions of unemployed youth in Africa.
What is needed at this stage is to change the mindset of young men and women towards agriculture and make it a more attractive profession. For many young people in Africa, agriculture represents an unprofitable sector that requires a lot of hard, back-breaking work. Agriculture needs the energy and skills of the youth to add value to the sector and turn it into a vibrant, successful, and fully commercial enterprise. Our IITA Youth Agripreneurs, for example, have shown how a change in perception towards agriculture could make a graduate of history the best maize grower in northern Nigeria, and another graduate of communication and media studies one of the most lucrative catfish farmers in Ibadan, Nigeria. Matched with opportunity, I believe that this mindset change will help transform agriculture and result in productivity growth and job creation. Capacity development in agricultural techniques and business enterprise is another requirement for successful job creation in agribusiness. Training and skills development will ensure the integration of young women and men in agriculture, who could be trained on modern farming, agricultural-based entrepreneurship, and marketing. Through ENABLE Youth, the new program supported by the African Development Bank, incubation centers will be created for youths to learn and exchange practical ideas and will help nurture youth-led start-ups. Using the youth-to-youth approach in experiential learning will help ensure participation during the incubation period.
Also, networking among the youths is needed to establish a network for knowledge management. Under the ENABLE-Nigeria Program, this network will be formalized and expanded, and will focus upon mechanisms used by youth, such as internet sites and social media, to rapidly exchange and adapt needed information resources. Institutional and financial support from both the private and public sectors will also help maximize opportunities for young people, strengthen their capacities, and facilitate their access to productive resources needed to drive broad-based growth to enhance agricultural productivity. Support can be in the form of loans, grants, mentoring; advocacy through awareness creation; and an enabling policy environment for the agribusiness enterprise to thrive. Technical backstopping, monitoring, and evaluation to keep track of the challenges, progress, and successes made during the incubation will help provide insights into the challenges of running agribusiness enterprises.
I enjoin all stakeholders – governments, international and national organizations, the private sector, civil society, social groups, and parents – to help ensure the success of job creation in agribusiness through our youths.