The IITA Youth in Agripreneurs (IYA) started as a youth-led exploration of agribusiness incubation in August 2012 and established diverse learning enterprises. It expanded through the creation of additional groups. A set of operating strategies evolved based on gender equality, teamwork, leadership, and enterprise experimentation. Stakeholders and several agencies were attracted to the IYA approach and funds were made available to both formalize and expand its operations.
The Agripreneurs approach is built upon reorienting educated youth toward self-employment in agriculture and growing those businesses to provide decent employment and build rural economies.
Maintaining its footprint as one of the leading youth-in-agribusiness initiatives in Africa, IYA activities in 2019 were channeled towards realizing the set outcomes in the strategy developed by the organization in 2012. At inception, IYA had highlighted some of the outcomes of the intended program—creation of jobs and self-employment through the establishment of independent agribusiness enterprises, establishment of an independent organization focused on youth in agribusiness-related activities, employment by some trained youth in private and public institutions, employment of some in the Business Incubation Platform of IITA, opportunities for some to pursue further studies at various professional levels, while a few would be retained to run the organizations.
Indeed, the outcomes evolved as planned, and year 2019 witnessed synthesis of actions towards effective agribusiness delivery.
Taking a step ahead in 2019, another initiative under the unit, Start Them Early Program (STEP), gained recognition and focused on engaging young people in agriculture in selected secondary schools in Kenya, DR Congo, and Nigeria. STEP was initiated in 2018 after IITA won the Africa Food Prize. The strategy behind STEP was to ‘catch them young,’ ensuring that secondary school students develop interest in agriculture and later embrace agriculture as a business at a young age. The initiative aimed to help young people to think of agriculture as a first option for business. The program is funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).
STEP organized its inception workshop, identified host schools in the countries of implementation, conducted a baseline survey, developed the training tools to meet the needs of the target age groups, and introduced ICT support services to schools in rural areas.
The STEP team developed selection criteria for identifying schools to serve as centers for project implementation.Nine secondary schools were selected across the project implementation locations.
A baseline survey of the program conducted in the year revealed some interesting facts about the attitudes of secondary school students towards a career choice in agriculture and agribusiness. Survey results revealed that a slight majority (54%) imagined agriculture as playing a role in their future, with a preference for animal enterprise (42%), field cropping (30%), and food processing (15%) as the most attractive options.
At the same time, 46% of those surveyed were not attracted to agriculture for various of reasons. Some of the reasons are related to the perception and hard labor envisaged in agriculture. Thirty percent say its requirement for “excessively hard labor” prevent them from venturing into agriculture while 20% think that the return for labor put into it is relatively poor. Twenty-one percent say that the overall unfavorable image of farmers is part of their non-attraction to agriculture. At the same time, 25% of these youth stated that they lack the land or facilities needed to practice farming and this excluded it as an option in their career planning.
The unique approach in delivering training to the target beneficiaries includes coursework, pilot incubation enterprises and extra-curricular activities, value chain development per country, training materials, parent/teacher involvement, school open days, gender and reproductive health training, selection of facilitators/volunteers, and training of trainers’ programs.
IYA successes led to donors funding the establishment and implementation of projects like Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment (ENABLE)-Youth and ENABLE-TAAT (Technologies for African Agricultural Trasformation) funded by the African Development Bank, the Chevron-funded Community Youth in Agribusiness Group (CYAG), and Youth Employment in Agribusiness and Sustainable Agriculture (YEASA) funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Integrated Project of Agricultural Growth in the Great Lakes (PICAGL) funded by the World Bank, to mention a few.
The implementation of ENABLE-TAAT continued in the year with training conducted, advocacy activities resulting in partnerships with many organizations, and food-basket demonstration fields established to promote nutrient-fortified TAAT commodities. The project continued to monitor agribusinesses established in 2018 and provided mentorship support.
ENABLE-Youth continued to record success, especially in Cameroon and Madagascar, with more countries indicating interest to participate in the pilot phase. The political instability in Sudan in 2019 restricted project activities and resulted in a poor macroeconomic environment that has affected the growth of businesses. Still the project established 13 Youth Agribusiness Incubation Centers (YABICs), which operate as training and business units that will become self-sustaining upon completion of the program in 2022. Some youth trained under the program in Madagascar received funding from a financial institution to establish businesses. The technical advisors have been instrumental to the success of the program.
IYA was recognized for its commitment towards improving both agribusiness opportunities and creditworthiness of youth across Africa in 2019. This was a call to intensify efforts, especially in Francophone countries. The award, which is the first of its kind and funded by the government of Switzerland, was presented during the 41st conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the organization’s headquarters in Rome. The award came with a cash prize of $20,000, which IYA pledged to use in establishing a Youth in Agribusiness program in the Republic of Benin. IYA partnered with a project funded by IFAD, the Youth Employment in Agribusiness and Sustainable Agriculture (YEASA) Project to train youth and provide them with inputs to start small and medium enterprises.
The YEASA project started in February 2019. It aims at building the technical, entrepreneurial, and soft skills of young adults (18–35 years), as a means of improving their productive capacity and increasingr benefits from existing agrifood systems. The project is implemented by three institutions: Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), the grant recipient, and IITA and AfricaRice Center as subrecipients. The project is set to empower 1,000 young adults living in rural areas of the Republic of Benin (Parakou and Cotonou) and Nigeria (Oyo and Ekiti) for a period of three years. The target beneficiaries will have the opportunity to choose from a range of agricultural commodities such as moringa, soybean/cowpea, maize, plantain, mango, cassava, rice, and aquaculture; also feed-mill and agricultural machinery fabrication. IITA, being a subrecipient, is expected to empower 200 young rural adults in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin along the value chains of maize, cassava, plantain, cowpea, and soybean, and machine fabrication for 3 years.
Through this project, 57 youth were trained in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. Forty-seven of them received starter parks after drafting and successfully pitching their business ideas.
The Chevron-funded project in the Niger-Delta region has recorded the establishment of 45 new agribusinesses. The group made a significant contribution towards evaluating the impact of a change in the mindset of young people in embracing agriculture as a business.
Frotchery Farms Limited is one of the pioneer spin-offs of IYA. The company was established three years ago and focuses on catfish production and value addition. In 2019, the product was certified by Nigeria’s food regulatory body—National Agency for Food & Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The certification, coming after three years of continuous application, will enable the company to make their product available across the Nigerian market.
With the NAFDAC number, it became imperative to rebrand the product and introduce new packaging of international standards. The company received the support of an angel investor who facilitated product branding and packaging. A business review for 2019 revealed an extension to 13 additional market outlets and an 81% increase in customer base.
Another passionate Agripreneur who is known for her efforts in promoting agribusiness along the cassava value chain is Oluwaseun Ogidan. Seun Ogidan was trained by IYA. She started her business with savings and support from relatives. In 2019, Seun cultivated 30 hectares of cassava and intercropped with 20 hectares of pro-vitamin A maize at Ago-Owu in Osun State to get quick returns. Her plan for 2020 is to cultivate 100 hectares of cassava and intercrop with 50 hectares of maize. She is currently seeking for support to own a processing facility which would also serve as an additional source of income.
Author: Adetola Adenmosun, IITA-Nigeria (Ibadan).