agripreneurship among Africa’s growing ranks of unemployed youth.– “It is not easy to be in agriculture but you must have the perseverance and you must have the passion for it,” Ngozi Okeke (30), the director of operations at Frotchery Farms, tells IPS during a tour of the company’s factory in Ibadan, Nigeria. For Okeke, passion and patience are pivotal to business success. But she also recognises the need to create opportunities to nurture
The company processes about 1,500 tonnes of live catfish, frozen and smoked fish, fish snacks, fillets and fish powder at its factory in Ogidi Estate in Akobo, Ibadan. The products are then packaged in the company’s brand and sold at local markets across the country.
“When we started our first production of smoked fish, everything got burnt, we lost our money and lost everything. But because we knew what we wanted for ourselves that did not discourage us, it was just a set back and we continued pushing,” Okeke says.
Yusuf Babatunde (30), who is director of marketing, says the company was started with personal savings which the partners invested in buying fish from farmers before they started their own fish production.
“We have believed in high quality when it comes to fish production and our different skills help us to innovate and grow our brand and this is paying off,” Babatunde says.
Africa has more than 200 million young people between the ages 15 and 34, according to the Africa Development Bank (AfDB). Agriculture is a key economic driver in many countries on the continent, with the African Union having long-ago identified it as a force for social and economic growth in its 2003 Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
But agriculture suffers from negative perceptions among the youth of being labour intensive and offering little gain.
“Many youth are not patient, youth that go into agriculture have to be patient and they have to persevere serve to succeed,” Okeke says.
Frotchery Farms was established in 2015 by Okeke and Babatunde and their other partner Oni Hammed (31), as graduates of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Youth Agripreneur Programme. The programme provided technical and material resources to launch the enterprise.
IITA director general Nteranya Sanginga established the Youth Agripreneur Programme in 2012 with the aim of changing the perception of Africa’s youth about agriculture to see it as an exciting and profitable business., which enrols 60 youths for hands-on training in agriculture and entrepreneurship from 24 centres across Africa.
Agribusiness is lucrative but demands entrepreneurial flair and a never-say-die attitude, something that eludes young people, says Hammed, the managing director who is also in charge of production at Frotchery Farms.
“Most times the youth feel its old people that can go into agriculture and we are trying to change that mindset,” Hammed tells IPS. “It is possible, the youth are innovative and can create something and change the way agriculture is seen.”
Passion yes, but skills better
Skills in agripreneurship are critical for youth employment, especially for those in rural areas.
Research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that youth are turning away from agriculture and moving into cities to take up low skilled labour, all the while aspiring to high-skilled jobs despite their low level of education.
“Skills mismatch is a big issue and youth need to be trained and retrained in jobs along the agri-food value chain, beyond farming,” Ji-Yeun Rim, project manager at the OCED’s Development Centre in Paris, France, tells IPS.
With the increasing domestic and regional demand for diversified and processed food, there is a high opportunity to develop the agrifood business in Africa, says Ji-Yeun, who is coordinating a project supporting governments in nine African and Asian countries to improve policies targeting youth, especially in the agro-food value chain.
“Many youth employment programmes focus on entrepreneurship but our research finds that entrepreneurship is not for everyone and most youth do not succeed as entrepreneurs and often remain just in subsistence activities,” Ji-Yeun says.
“Entrepreneurship is a false panacea to the youth employment problem. Youth need to be trained in various types of jobs along the agro-food value chain, from farming to processing, services and marketing to help them find salaried positions.”
Research evidence for policy development
Meanwhile, the IITA says more youths are taking advantage of agricultural research and the new technologies designed for agriculture systems in Africa to make a profitable career from farming.
IITA notes though that agriculture systems need transformation and strengthening to help achieve youth employment, food security, zero hunger and alleviate poverty.
To this end, the IITA launched the Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence (CARE) in Policy for Youth Engagement in Agribusiness and Rural Economic Activities in Africa, a three-year project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
CARE seeks to increase understanding of poverty reduction, employment impact and factors influencing youth engagement in agribusiness, rural and non-farm economy. It provides grants to young African scholars who aim to study for a Masters or Doctoral Degree. The scholars are helped to build capacity to generate and disseminate evidence-based results to influence policy and practise in supporting economic growth and meeting SDGs goals in Africa.
Currently, 30 scholars have been awarded grants under the CARE project in 2020.
One of the first grantees of the project in 2019, Dolapo Adeyanju, a Masters student from Nigeria, has researched on the impact of agricultural programmes on youth entrepreneurship performance in the West African nation. She found that many young people have accepted agribusiness as a sustainable and profitable career choice.
“Even though, it can be said that there is still a lot to be put in place in terms of creating an enabling environment for young agribusiness owners in the form of policies and interventions that could help young agripreneurs and prospective ones,” Adeyanju says.