Africa’s Youth Scholars Harvest Ideas on the Business of Agriculture

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Young Agriprenuer Programme is promoting youth participation in agribusiness with hands on skills training in farming and entrepreneurship. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Apr 30 2020 – In Rwanda, Benimana Uwera Gilberthe, a scholar and pepper producer, experienced first-hand the challenges of breaking into agribusiness.

While in Nigeria, Ayoola Adewale is trying to understand if poultry egg farming will prove a profitable and viable business opportunity to the youth of the continent’s most populous nation. Also in Nigeria, Esther Alleluyanatha is understanding the link between young people leaving their villages for larger cities, the remittances they send home, and the implications on rural livelihoods and agriculture productivity.

In understanding this, these three young researchers are in fact providing answers to greater questions about agriculture on the continent. Like:

  • What will it take to attract more African youth into agriculture — a sector the World Bank says could be worth $1 trillion in the next 10 years?
  • And what supportive polices and investments are needed to develop this sector?

Adewale, Alleluyanatha  and Gilberthe are just three of the 80 young African scholars that are tackling the business of agriculture through the innovativeness and freshness that comes with youth — while obtaining their masters or doctoral degrees in the process.

They are awardees of the Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence (CARE), a three-year project that was launched in 2018 by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The project aims “to build an understanding of poverty reduction, employment impact, and factors influencing youth engagement in agribusiness, and rural farm and non-farm economies,” according to IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga.

“Grantees were offered training on research methodology, data management, scientific writing, and the production of research evidence for policymaking. They are mentored by IITA scientists and experts on a research topic of their choice and produce science articles and policy briefs about their work,” Sanginga explained.

He has long championed the idea that developing agriculture is key to addressing the urgent challenges of food insecurity, poverty and youth unemployment on the continent.

“Youth brings energy and innovation to the mix, but these qualities can be best channelled by young Africans themselves carrying out results-based research in agribusiness and rural development involving young people. Youth engagement is key,” Sanginga said.

Young farmers and brothers Prosper and Prince Chikwara are using precision farming techniques at their horticulture farm, outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/ IPS

Young farmers and brothers Prosper and Prince Chikwara are using precision farming techniques at their horticulture farm, outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/ IPS

Commercial agriculture the answer to youth unemployment?

Adewale, a PhD candidate at the University of Ibadan, works as a technical assistant at the Federal Operation Coordinating Unit for Youth Employment and Social Operation (FOCU-YESSO) in Abuja.  

YESSO is tasked with providing access to work opportunities for Nigeria’s poor and vulnerable youth. 

  • Nigeria, which has a population of over 180 million, had 19.58 percent youth unemployment in 2019, according to estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“Commercialised agriculture holds immense potential as a way out of poverty,” Adewale told IPS. 

  • Nigeria is also a net food importer, spending an average of $22 billion annually. The country imports rice, fish, wheat and poultry products with milk and tomato paste accounting for more than $1,4 billion of the food import bill.

“Youth involvement in commercialised agriculture is growing and seems to be the way out of the current unemployment rate. However, government and private sector support is required if youths will compete favourably, thrive sustainably and raise coming generation of commercial agriculture entrepreneurs,” Adewale said.

For her research topic she wants to understand if poultry egg production is a profitable and  technically efficient venture for youth farmers,  specifically assessing the impact of the Commercial Agriculture Development project (CADP).

  • CADP is a World Bank-assisted project targeted at strengthening agricultural production systems and facilitating access to market for targeted value chains among small and medium scale commercial farmers in Cross River, Enugu, Lagos, Kaduna and Kano states. 

“Commercial agriculture, across all value chains, holds potential to boost productivity, profitability and economic growth of Nigeria and indeed Africa,” she said. “The study will provide insight into how commercial agriculture programmes are sustainable as well as provide direction into how commercial agriculture can be harnessed for African agriculture.”

Money in agriculture

Alleluyanatha, also from Nigeria, is also concerned about the high rate of unemployment among youth — particularly in urban areas.

“There is a need, therefore, to discourage the exodus of youths from rural to urban areas and to encourage them to go into agriculture, which is known to be the major source of livelihood in the rural areas,” Alleluyanatha said. 

She is researching youth migration and remittances and the implications on rural livelihood and agriculture productivity in Africa. She aims to do this by comparing households with youth migrants and those without. 

In Rwanda, Gilberthe  and his under-graduate classmates started growing pepper for export after securing a contract with the country’s National Agricultural Export Development Board. 

“The venture was successful and we gave youth in my areas the idea on how agribusiness can be a decent job if you do it professionally and invest in it,” Gilberthe told IPS. “I used to have at least $210 each time we sold our product.”

Youth aged between 14 and 35 years make up 39 percent of Rwanda’s population but, according to Gilberthe, many are not participating in agribusiness owing to limited agribusiness skills, lack of start-up capital, limited access to land, and information on agribusiness opportunities.

  • Indeed it is a issue across the continent. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) notes that Africa needs targeted interventions focused on making agriculture a viable employment option for Africa’s youth who are held back from joining it by lack of land, credit, quality farm inputs, machinery and skills.

Gilberthe is researching how being part of financing schemes impact the incomes of youth agripreneurs.

He believes policies for youth engagement in agribusiness should also include trainings about running such businesses. In addition, he believes such policies should also make provisions for more agribusiness financing schemes.

“In Rwanda, youth engaged in agribusiness have a problem of not owning land and most of them use their parent’s land but their income is limited and they need access to credit,” he said.

  • Rwanda, one of Africa’s smaller countries per square kilometre, has a land area of just under 27,000 square kilometres. About 69 percent of the land is used for agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

“I think differently about agriculture now,” says Gilberthe. “As a young researcher I have discovered the opportunities and barriers for youth engaged in agribusiness and this research is giving me a chance to contribute toward policy formulation about youth engagement in agribusiness.

“Through my findings I will be able to prove wrong youth who take agriculture as the work for old and village people and other people who still think that agriculture cannot improve your income.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Reinvention of the Spirit of Solidarity and Cooperation

Primary School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS.

By Manssour Bin Mussallam
GENEVA, Apr 30 2020 – An invisible adversary has thrown the world – Global South and Global North alike – into disarray. The psychosocial and economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis will remain with us long after it has been overcome. There will be no anti-viral return to the pre-coronavirus status quo, nor can we afford to idly wait for a viral transformation of our world. The future is not inevitable, abstract promise – it will depend on our collective readiness to forge it, or to be forged by it.

Manssour Bin Mussallam

Although it has been claimed that no one could have foreseen that in 2020, over 1.5 billion students would be forced to stay at home because of a virus, experts worldwide have repeatedly signified that just such a crisis was indeed conceivable.

For the prevailing short-sighted, boom-and-bust economic system, excessively geared towards short-term profits, has left no margin for societies to address social emergencies.

Even now, the same analysts and international actors who, in the name of economic efficiency, have undermined our common public goods for years, are promising us new global solutions. Our global challenges, however, do not require global solutions.

They require a shared vision, underpinned by contextual policies and supported by efficient, solidarity-based mechanisms of international cooperation and coordination.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, and exacerbated, the social and economic divides between, and within, societies. But it did not cause them.

To argue that the laissez-faire policy prescriptions enforced by our international institutions have fuelled this crisis would, in fact, make for a better case. And as we now wage an absolute war to contain the virus and mitigate its consequences, we must be willing to learn the lessons being taught to us by this crisis, if we are to reconstruct – and not merely reproduce – our international and national systems.

From underfunded and understaffed healthcare systems to the estimated 154 million people who find themselves homeless and unable to self-isolate, passing by the professionals living pay-check to pay-check for whom self-isolation protects life but endangers livelihood, and the 1.5 billion out-of-school students worldwide with unequal access to e-learning portals, the injustices which devastate our societies are more than a mere moral concern: they are threats to our common future.

The development models emanating from the Global North having failed, it is now long overdue for the assumptions permeating our international institutions to be challenged, and for a third, alternative, inclusive way of development to be constructed from the Global South
Several initiatives have already been announced to mitigate the effects of this crisis: recalling retired health professionals, providing safe-spaces for self-isolation, suspending foreclosures and evictions, and commitments by technology giants to provide software and equipment free-of-charge.

These measures, amongst others, are necessary. But they are also insufficient. If we are to overcome, once and for all, crises such as the current pandemic, we must be unwavering in our determination to address the injustices it has exposed.

We must, therefore, protect the right to free, quality universal healthcare; enshrine dignified, affordable housing as an unalienable right; ensure material and immaterial security for the peoples of the world; protect the right to paid sick and holiday leave as well as a living wage for all workers; and bridge the techno-digital divide.

This requires an unprecedented mobilisation of intellectual, human, technical and financial resources. It also calls for our initiatives to emancipate themselves from stale concepts so as to construct authentic, effective alternatives.

Free, quality universal healthcare and dignified, affordable housing will not be achieved as long as we continue dismantling them as private commodities from which to profiteer, rather than investing in them as common public goods which ought to be protected.

Material and immaterial security, living wages, and socially conscious labour laws will not be realised without an international system which consecrates human dignity and contributes to the implementation of holistic, humanistic, and progressive social policies.

The techno-digital divide will not be bridged by relying on expensive, imported technologies – often ill-suited to national and local contexts – nor by generating nationwide technical dependency on private multinational companies, when such technologies are donated.

We must develop local, endogenous technologies – more affordable, sustainable, and contextually relevant – which harness the creative potential of communities and stimulate national economies.

In a world in which the collective wealth of 6.9 billion people constitutes less than half of the wealth amassed by the richest 1%, and the market capitalisation of a single company such as Apple Inc. surpasses the GDP value of entire economies – including those of countries in the Global North, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Sweden – , the feasibility of such measures does not seem any more outlandish than the sustainability of this present state of affairs seems preposterous.

This does require, however, international platforms of solidarity-based cooperation acting as instruments and catalysts for a sustainable, prosperous and equitable development, that is inclusive of the perspectives, priorities, and needs of the majority of the world’s population.

If ad-hoc multilateralism and lack of global solidarity continue to administer the international system, which seems more preoccupied by its own survival than by achieving our collective aspirations, the current COVID-19 pandemic will only be a preview of future crises to come.

And it is highly unlikely for those who have institutionally enabled such an international system to also be those who will reshape it – good intentions notwithstanding. The development models emanating from the Global North having failed, it is now long overdue for the assumptions permeating our international institutions to be challenged, and for a third, alternative, inclusive way of development to be constructed from the Global South.

It is with this motivation that African, Arab, Asian, Latin American and Pacific Island countries, as well as international civil society organisations, founded the Organisation of Educational Cooperation (OEC) to “contribute to the equitable, just, and prosperous social transformation of societies by promoting balanced and inclusive education, in order to attain the fundamental rights to liberty, justice, dignity, sustainability, social cohesion, and material and immaterial security for the peoples of the world”.

The OEC is not, accordingly, an international organisation for education, but rather an international organisation for development through education, since true development cannot be compartmentalised, and the transformative power of education is only true insofar as it is itself transformed.

This new, proactive, multilateral framework of cooperation which we are constructing places the concerns and aspirations of countries and peoples at the centre of global policymaking and at the forefront of development efforts, respecting and adapting to national priorities, local aspirations, and socio-cultural contexts.

The COVID-19 pandemic is both a tragedy and a test in crisis management for the entire world. It is also a reminder of the importance of renewing and reinventing the spirit of true solidarity and multilateralism in the 21st century. The time has come for new, innovative international mechanisms and platforms, not only designed to keep the peace, but also achieve the justice of which peace is the fruit.

Armed with a sense of duty, an impulse of solidarity and an intransigent determination, it is now our historic responsibility to heed the warning of this crisis and give ourselves the means to collectively forge the future to which we aspire, and which we deserve.


Sheikh Manssour Bin Mussallam is the Secretary General-elect of the Organisation of Educational Cooperation (OEC), an international governmental organisation established on 29 January 2020 at the International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education by African, Arab, Asian, Latin American and Pacific Island countries and civil society organisations from across the Global South. He has previously served as the President of the Education Relief Foundation.