In Nigeria and indeed across Africa there are various government intervention initiatives to fillip youths into engaging in agriculture. Studies have shown that a diverse set of economic and socio-cultural factors influence youths’ aspirations toward engagement in agribusiness. The economic factors include low level of agricultural productivity and earnings, causing the youth to form negative perceptions about agriculture as a career.
The socio-cultural factors include youth educational level, household responsibilities of youth, and expectations of family members, friends, communities, and the media. In rural areas of Africa, more than 90 per cent of rural youth that are 15- and 16-year-old, and 80 per cent of the youth that are 24 years old and above engage in agriculture, and more women tend to remain in agriculture than men due to their low level of educational status. Also off-farm jobs in the agri-food systems occupy less than 10 per cent of all the jobs held by the youth within 15–25 years age bracket while the majority of youth engage in farming.
Youth often work on their family farms using traditional farming practices and add little or no value to the farm products. Unfortunately, not all youth are inspired by the notion that agriculture provides a productive career. A typical instance is that a youth with secondary education often show some reluctance to learn agricultural skills as they aspire to take up “white collar” jobs in government offices in their future. The lack of role models and champions who have succeeded in agriculture is mentioned as causing youth not to aspire to engage in agriculture. Youth aspirations can differ among young men and young women. The federal government in trying to deal with some of these challenges in early 2014, launched two initiatives to encourage young people to become more involved in agriculture, and stem the rising unemployment in the country. The two initiatives which were inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan in December 2014, are Youth Employment in Agriculture Program (YEAP) and the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria, FAFIN. The YEAP which is similar to the Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA Youth Agripreneur (IYA) model is designed to reposition the agricultural sector by involving, developing and raising 760,000 youths in agribusiness in five years, while FAFIN on the other hand is a financing vehicle targeting Nigeria’s small and medium enterprises in agriculture. The YEAP program which is part of Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA, was intended to involve at least 20,000 youths from each state of the federation. LEADERSHIP, learnt that the YEAP program in Nigeria also helped the youth to view agriculture as a profession as opposed to a way of life, thus resulting in gainful employment, and increased quality of agricultural products and sales. In Rwanda, governments ICT interventions has inspired more youth by improving availability, access, and use of ICT technologies, thus contributing to the change in mindset about agriculture as a career. The Integrated Agriculture and Agribusiness Programs (IAA) in Morocco have also produced similar positive outcomes. It is important to note, however, that the success of interventions in inspiring the youth to engage in agribusiness depends on the type of the media and the way the contents are presented. For instance, the Songhai center in Benin which used public forums such as television and radio talk shows has been successful in inspiring and attracting the youth into its agricultural training programs with demonstrations of success stories. In contrast, an education entertainment intervention that uses a music album to mobilize youth toward agribusiness has not altered the already established perceptions of the youth in Nigeria. Indeed, the outcome of media intervention depends on presentation. The media in Kenya often presents youth agribusiness projects as successful and easy to manage, though in reality, success or failure depends on the devotion and hard work of the youth themselves. African governments and development partners such as IITA and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and others, have devised ways of engaging youth in agribusiness to reduce unemployment and increase standards of living, especially in rural areas. Studies have shown that more youths are in agribusiness, engaging in different value chains. Africa has the highest number of young people in the world, as 60 to 70 per cent of the population is below the age of 30. Most African youth live in rural areas and have limited opportunities for gainful employment. However, they have unexploited potentials to transform the agricultural sector through innovation and entrepreneurship and if supported with increased investment and favorable legal and policy frameworks, agriculture holds substantial possibilities to provide gainful employment opportunities to many youth, from producing food to providing services such as storage, transport, processing, and marketing.
For more than a decade now, efforts have been ongoing to engage youth in agribusiness. IITA, together with many African governments and development partners, has carried out various intervention programs to enable youth engagement in agribusiness, such as skills development, facilitating access to resources, and use of technologies in agribusiness. One of the intervention programs is the IItA Youth Agripreneurs program, which in turn has inspired the Empowering Novel AgriBusiness-Led Employment for Youth in African Agriculture, ENABLE Youth, implemented by IITA and funded by the African Development Bank, AfDB. The aim is to expand opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness to youth as a means of advancing rural livelihoods and economic development across Africa. Another intervention, the Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence (CARE) in Policy for Youth Engagement in Agribusiness and Rural Economic Activities in Africa, was launched by IITA and funded by IFAD with the aim of providing fellowships for young African scholars, with a special emphasis on young female professionals and students.
These interventions are increasing innovativeness among youth and have recorded some success in rebranding agribusiness as a competitive career path for youth especially in rural areas. However, some limitations have been recorded such as lack of emphasis on sociocultural challenges and misguided targeting of the youth or designing capacity development efforts that meet their specific needs. But the successes outweigh the failures. Other nations are equally doing similarly engagements.
For instance in Midelt, Morocco, young women aspire to be educated, establish their own families, and have improved access to health facilities, while the aspirations of young men are improved access to productive resources and engagement in agricultural value chains. To inspire youth to engage in agribusiness, governments and development partners have implemented various interventions. For example, the AFOP National Program in Cameroon demonstrated successful youth projects, thus changing the mindsets of the youth toward agribusiness as a career. The same program addressed the bias of family, friends, and media against agricultural careers, thus bringing about attitudinal change toward agribusiness. In the same vein, the UniBRAIN in Zambia addressed the gaps in aspiration by matching jobs with the required skills through job needs assessment on what the job market demands and equipping youth with the required skills. The Songhai center in Benin addressed youths’ interest in greater independence in decision making by enhancing their business management skills, thus inspiring more youth to engage in agribusiness.
The Songhai center in Benin also helped youth in addressing economic challenges by helping them develop business plans with due consideration of the demand in the market and quality standards of products and services, thus resulting in increased productivity and profitability. Out of 300 graduates of Songhai center annually, 70 per cent succeeded in engaging in agribusiness activities when assessed after five years. Similarly, the agribusiness parks in Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC engaged the youth in using improved technologies, adding value to agricultural products, linking out-grower scheme to agro-processing and agribusiness enterprises and stimulating competitiveness of markets, thus resulting in increased income and improved livelihoods. The agribusiness parks in DRC also provided incentives for private sector engagement that resulted in increased youth engagement. The One Village One Product (OVOP) Program in Malawi allowed the youth to work together, focusing on locally available agricultural products for easier recognition and marketability, thereby inspiring more youth engagement in agribusiness.