For over 30 years, IITA has significantly invested in research for development in Cameroon, particularly on seed systems, integrated pest management, integrated soil fertility management, and nutrition. The scaling out technologies and innovations developed by IITA and other development partners has been limited, however, due to weak extension services. Since the creation of the Partnership for Delivery directorate at IITA, the trend is changing drastically through programs like Technologies for African Agriculture Transformation (TAAT) and ENABLE Youth.
Since May 2018, IITA has extended its ENABLE Youth Program initiated in 2012 through the ENABLE Youth Cameroon (EYC) initiative, which is implemented through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER). It is part of the Agricultural Value Chain Development Project of the Ministry, which is financed by an African Development Bank loan. EYC focuses on identifying business opportunities along various agricultural value chains to create business and employment opportunities for young men and women.
Currently, 512 aspiring agripreneurs have been enrolled, of a total target of 1,536 within three years, of whom 45% should be women. After the business incubation, the goal is to create at least 600 agribusinesses and 6,000 jobs for youth. The experiential learning is centered on value chain analysis, identification of business opportunities, pilot enterprises, internship, networking, awareness creation, and development of bankable business plans, loan application, and finally, the creation of the agribusiness of interest.
Initially planned for implementation in five regions of Cameroon (Center, South, East, Littoral, and South West), the Youth Agri-Business Incubation Centers (YABIC) have already started in the first four. Currently, the design of 48 pilot enterprises in the categories of modern farming (24), value addition (12), and marketing (12) has been completed, while 378 individual and associate business plans on modern farming, value addition, and marketing are quite advanced, pending loan application.
To enhance the know-how of aspiring agripreneurs, they undertook professional visits to gather information on potential service providers, existing agribusinesses for internship opportunities, gaps in the marketplace based on consumers’ needs, as well as communities and youth outreach to build networks of future partners.
Networking has started yielding results. Selected aspiring agripreneurs have participated in initiatives such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Challenge 2019 for Innovation in Youth Entrepreneurship in Cameroon, the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the AYADA laboratory, and Youth Connekt Africa.
Between March and July 2019, four EYC Agripreneurs were among the 1300 young entrepreneurs who participated in the UNDP Cameroon Youth Entrepreneurship Innovation Challenge 2019. All four were shortlisted to participate in the bootcamp organized for 60 finalists. The exceptional performance of EYC’s agripreneurs enabled them to win 3 awards in the first category and one award in the second category.
In addition to the cash prize of US$15,000, Gwangwa’a Priestly Tabe, who was the national champion, received a fully sponsored trip to attend the 3rd edition of the Youth Connekt Africa (YCA) 2019 Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on the theme “Boosting an Industrious Young Africa”, on 9-11 October 2019. His interactions during the YCA gave him the opportunity to do a month-long internship in Uganda to finalize his ideas for his business AgriBiz Home (Figure 3). Upon his return from this internship, he started his business. Thanks to the money received from the UNDP Youth entrepreneurship Challenge 2019, as well as $5,000 from the Tony Elumelu Foundation and $3,000 from the AYADA laboratory and the experience gained during the internship, his first products are expected in the market in June 2020. Priestley is yet to complete the EYC training, and remains actively engaged, in addition to the success already recorded.
In addition to the network, EYC continues to broaden the scope of the partnership. For instance, from December 2 to 6, 2019, EYC hosted a government delegation from Gambia for a study tour to share experiences and opportunities for future collaboration. Discussions are ongoing with partners in Chad to backstop their ENABLE Youth Program. Other potential partner organizations considered for collaboration include the US Agency for International Development, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the Africa Financial and Technical Assistance.
In addition to the quality of the incubation, the success of EYC depends mainly on the commitment of aspiring agripreneurs and access to bank loans. The experience of EYC shows the youth’s outstanding commitment, irrespective of the educational and experiential background. The mindset change has been a success based on the first cohort of 512 candidates. The delay in confirming the financial operator that will administer the facilitation funds, and consequently the microfinance institutions that will grant loans to the agripreneurs, has been a significant challenge. The operator will be confirmed in 2020. Based on timely access to loans, it would be important to assess the barriers to creating youth-led agribusinesses and employment, and options to overcome them. In 2020 and 2021, data would be gathered in and beyond Cameroon to inform future policy decisions to creating an enabling environment.
Authors: C. Masso, A.M. Diyani, M. Abdel-Rassoul, M. Nyako, E. Mbida, E. Dan-Aigewi, G. Forgione, E. Thiengue, Y. Aboubakar, G. Nsofon