Unemployment is a major issue among African youth, who constitute the largest population segment, yet often feel marginalized from the economic mainstream. Despite their best efforts, many young people find little means to meet their expectations for a better life or contribute to their countries’ economies. Higher education has grown faster than the economies they were intended to support, leaving large numbers of recent graduates unable to find decent employment.
At the same time, there is a mismatch between the skill sets of graduates and those sought by employers, and youth with strong technical and innovation skills lack the necessary business acumen to become self-employed. University graduates unable to find white-collar employment become demoralized as they return to their rural home areas or undertake menial jobs, and too often assume dangerous lifestyles.
Responding to these issues, CGIAR researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in 2012 developed IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA), an advocacy and development program that engages youth in agribusiness through a unique capacity development model. The approach works via a structured approach of: (a) youth selection and mobilization; (b) mindset reorientation; (c) training on technical, entrepreneurial, and soft skills; (d) experiential learning; (e) mentorship and coaching; (f) enterprise development; and (g) post-training support.
The IYA model is not a one-size-fits-all mechanism but instead is dynamic, taking into account youth demography, skill gaps, agricultural technologies, geography, agribusiness ecosystems, and enabling environments. Some of its strategies include business incubation, and a focus on rural youth and agribusiness clusters — all leading to a higher success rate in agrienterprise development by young women and men. IYA provides leadership on how youths with or without exposure to agriculture can change their mindset about agribusiness and embrace it as a means of livelihood, as well as to support sustainable food systems.
Through the IYA’s incubation program, unemployed graduates are trained, mentored and coached for 18 months and exposed to the business opportunity in the production and value addition of commodities like cassava, maize, soybean, vegetable, plantain and banana, fishery and piggery. During this incubation period, they are taught on how to adopt the best technology in deriving the good yields, marketing strategies and other tools that can differentiate them among other competitors in the market. Through this process, the entrepreneurs start embracing agriculture as a business and an avenue to create jobs and employ other unemployed youth.
After the 18-month incubation program, the entrepreneurs develop bankable business plans to enable them to access loans from commercial banks to establish their independent agribusiness enterprises. Many youths who were trained under this platform have become owners of reputable agribusinesses. Their achievements were recognized across the continent and the model was rolled out in DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. IYA has even also started to partner with the public and private sector to offer training and consultancy services to youth and farmers.
In its first five years, the model was adopted in more than 20 countries, trained 7,000 youths and created 1.5 million jobs for young people. As many as 127 agribusiness enterprises were established to support livelihoods, food security and nutrition in northeast Nigeria (Borno state), an area plagued by insurgency. In 2019, IYA received an International Innovation Award in recognition of its contribution to sustainable food and agriculture, supported by the Government of Switzerland during the 41st conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. More recently, IYA has continued its work during the pandemic with virtual trainings, in-school programs, and networking events across Africa.
As IYA continues training young people and the program spreads across Africa, it is adding more partner financial institutions and notable organizations, such as the MasterCard Foundation, to enable and support program graduates to start and grow businesses. This growth of the program will hopefully allow for more opportunities for incubation participants and provide employment opportunities in Africa for years to come.
This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for August is ‘Youth in agri-food systems’.
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