African development partners are committed to supporting youth entrepreneurship programs, as evidenced by the implementation of the AfDB-funded ENABLE Youth program that operates in several African countries under the leadership of IITA.
With financial support from the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD), IITA launched a three-year project (2018-2020) titled “Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence (CARE) in policy for youth engagement in agribusiness and rural economic activities in Africa,” also known as youth researching youth. A core tenet of the project is the recognition that young scholars have a better grasp of their peers’ real needs, aspirations, challenges, and perspectives on agriculture. As such, the project aims to enhance the capacity of young African scholars to increase the availability, exchange, dissemination, and use of agribusiness research evidence in policymaking and program implementation.
Under this program, IITA/CARE awarded research fellowships to 50 young scholars (M.Sc./PhD and entry-level professionals) from 10 countries in two annual competitive research fellowship schemes in 2018 and 2019 (Figure 1). Female research fellows account for one-third (32%) of the total number of awardees over the two years, with female Ph.D., M.Sc. students and entry-level professionals accounting for 10%, 16%, and 6%, respectively.
The training component of the fellowship program enabled the research fellows to acquire skills and knowledge in research design, data collection, data analysis, and scientific and policy brief writing. They designed and undertook their research under the supervision of IITA social scientists and fulfilled the partial requirements of their M.Sc. or Ph.D. programs.
“The IITA/CARE project was beneficial for the successful completion of my doctoral research,” Akinyi Sassi, a Ph.D. research fellow affiliated with the Open University of Tanzania, said. “The training on research methods, scientific and policy brief writing improved my knowledge on the same, especially the training on policy brief writing, as it was my first time receiving training on the subject. I am thrilled and thankful to be among the recipients of the 2018 IITA fellowship,” she added.
A similar view was expressed by Adewale Ogunmodede, an M.Sc. research fellow affiliated with the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. “The training has helped sharpen and develop my research and writing skills,” he said. “Upon completion of the fellowship at IITA, I secured a position as a researcher with an international research institute,” he added.
The fellows communicated their research findings through paper presentations, journal articles, and policy briefs. In September 2019, four young African scholars from Benin, Cameron, Malawi, and Tanzania presented their research findings at a symposium organized by IITA as part of the 6th African Conference of Agricultural Economists (ACAE) in Abuja, Nigeria. The symposium provided an opportunity for these young scholars to communicate their research findings to a broader and professional audience.
Speaking at the symposium, Cynthia Mkong, who conducted her research under the supervision of Senior Agricultural Economist Dr. Tahirou Abdoulaye, noted that in Cameroon, a pre-university agricultural background is a significant factor driving the decision of undergraduate students to major in agriculture. “Undergraduate students who had prior farming experience and excellent marks in high school leaving examinations are less likely to choose agriculture as their major field of study,” she said. “Unless the negative perception towards agriculture is addressed, the country will miss out on qualified agricultural graduates who can contribute to agricultural transformation,” she added.
To reach the scientific community, three research fellows (two females and one male) published their research findings in academic journals indexed in the Web of Science and SCOPUS. Adewale Ogunmodede from Nigeria and Adella Ng’atigwa from Tanzania, both of whom conducted their research under the supervision of R4D Director for East Africa Dr. Victor Manyong, respectively, published their research findings in Sustainability and Agriculture. Dadirai Mkombe, from Malawi, who did her research under the supervision of Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Dr. Adane Tufa, published her results in Development Southern Africa. Ogunmodede demonstrated that the N-Power Agro-program of Nigeria has a significant positive impact on employment and income generation through participation in agribusiness, suggesting that similar programs are out in other African countries. Ng’atigwa investigated the extent and determinants of youth participation in the horticulture business in the Njombe Region of Tanzania, suggesting the need for increased youth capacity development in postharvest management and agro-processing. Mkombe demonstrated that foreign direct investment (FDI) has no significant effect on youth unemployment in the Southern African Development Community. The results suggest that governments in the region need to ensure that FDI inflows be channeled towards sectors that have high labor absorption capacity.
To reach policymakers, the fellows have published 17 policy briefs available at the CARE webpage on the IITA website. They have also developed two other knowledge products (technical report and manuscripts) each, submitting at least one manuscript to an academic journal for publication.
CARE is designed to empower young African scholars with research capacity and strengthen the science-policy interface (use of research evidence in the policy) for youth engagement in agribusiness and other productive employment opportunities. As such, the success of the project is defined as the increase in the research fellows’ capacity to plan, research, and generate findings that can contribute to policy dialogue in Africa. The increase in research capacity is measured by the quantity and quality of the knowledge products, which are expected to contribute to changing youth mindsets of general indifference towards agriculture and other rural employment opportunities. While the project is on track to achieve its expected outputs, additional efforts are needed to improve the quality of research, expedite the publication of the knowledge products, and maximize the uptake of youth research findings by policymakers, development partners, and other relevant stakeholders.
Authors: Shiferaw Feleke, IITA-Tanzania (Dar es Salaam); Mastewal Yami, Ethiopia; Tahirou Abdoulaye, IITA-Niger/Mali; Arega D.
Alene, Adane Tufa, IITA-Malawi; Tesfamicheal Wossen, IITA-Kenya; Zoumana Bamba, IITA-DR Congo (Kinshasa); and Victor
Manyong, IITA-Tanzania (Dar es Salaam).