Let the youth guide us!

Young entrepreneurs are critical allies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Development Agenda.

“To achieve a different result, our approach must be different, to make a difference in global food system, our approach must be different, the difference we need to make now like never before is to partner with the youth”

The entrenched challenge of promoting inclusive food systems while generating better jobs for youth

Inclusive food systems have become trending topic, especially in the post COVID-19 recovery era.The need to strengthen local and inclusive food systems to ensure sustained, resilient food security and poverty reduction is widely recognized. The forthcoming UN Food Systems Summit2021 will offer a unique opportunity to identify and promote actions in favour of building a just and resilient world where No One is Left Behind.At the same time, the gap in decent jobs for youth remains flagrant, especially in low-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa only, around 20 million youth are expected to entry the labour market annually, in a context of widespread informality poor quality, low-paying jobs, often hazardous, with high shares of low-productivity small-scale production.

Harnessing the potential of agri-food systems to generate more and better jobs for young people has to be a priority.The inclusion of young people is key to increase the generational turnover in agriculture, foster the sector competitiveness and maintain the vitality of rural areas. This demands direct youth targeting and dedicated programme components, addressing gender and youth dimensions as cross-cutting, and engaging youth since interventions’ design. Strengthening youth organization and collective voiceisespecially crucial to ensure policies, strategies and programmes proactively address their context-specific needs, constraints and aspirations.  Yet, evidence from country programmes and recent youth-led initiatives, seems to indicate that the real game changer will probably be partnering with theyouth as innovators.

Youth as natural innovators

Young women and men are already making a precious contribution to the innovation and modernization of the agri-food sector by applying their education, entrepreneurial spirit, and technological savviness.

As early adopters of innovative solutions, including digital technologies, youth can accelerate the transition to modern and sustainable agri-food systems.Examples are many, across countries and regions. The FAO report titled ‘Youth in Motion for Climate Action! A Compilation of Youth Initiatives in Agriculture to Address the Impacts of Climate Change,’ argues that young people are “often more willing to adopt new practices and take risks.” Yet, well beyondbeing “digital natives” or risk-takers, youth are also innovating in a broader sense, by committing to the definition of more inclusive and sustainable business models that will be critical to leaving no one behind.

At the 2018Africa Regional Conference on Youth Employment organized by the Government of Rwanda, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the African Union, Rotimi Olawale, the CEO of JR Farms, a youth-led agribusiness, made a commitment on youth-to-youth support aiming to boost youth agripreneurship in Africa. In 2020, that commitment concretized through the piloting of the Green Agribusiness Fund (GAF), through which JR Farms aims to invest in youth-owned agribusiness initiatives that are deemed socially responsible in their business dealings in various parts of Africa. The focus is to raise the next generation of agriculture entrepreneurs that will position agriculture in Africa on the path of decent jobs creation, food security and improved living standard. The initiative aims to promote agribusinesses focusing on priority aspects of agriculture such as post-harvest loss, climate smart farming, urban farming, seed and soil improvement, precision farming, agtech, access to market and agro commodity trading.

FAO and JR Farms have recently signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) to partner in this effort. Both Organizations are deeply convinced that the pathway to a more inclusive future depends on empowered youth change makers.

Encouraging youth-to-youth partnerships…

It is common knowledge that peer-to-peer learning can be very effective in sharing knowledge and experience, and encouraging the adoption of new practices and technologies among farmers including youth. FAO training approaches, like the Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS), encourage youth facilitators to share their knowledge in the respective communities, mobilizing and sensitizing their peers regarding agriculture and agripreneurship. On average, it has been estimated that each JFFLS graduate has re-trained 20 other rural youth in his/her district, with a significant spillover effect.

Similarly, the youth-to-youth mentorship experience promoted by the Youth Inspiring Youth in Agriculture (YIYA) Initiative in Uganda in 2017 was very successful in raising the profile and commitment of youth in their communities to promote agriculture as a business.The YIYA initiative, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) of Uganda and FAO, under FAOIntegrated Country Approach for boosting decent jobs for youth in the agri-food system (ICA project), is a youth agribusiness competition aimed at identifying and awardinginnovative youth agripreneurs that engage in sustainable businesses and are willing to become role models for other youth. In the first round of the YIYA in 2017, 25 Champions were selected and received various training, from agribusiness to business leadership with mindset changes. Thanks to the support received, not only the number of jobs generated by the Champions’ businesses more than doubled, with more than 90 percent of the employees being youth, but also the youth agribusinesses have attracted more local farmers and cooperative members, byfunctioning as a collection point or a market for local farmers. All champions also shared their knowledge and experience with other youth, either providing technical training for their employees, mentoring friends and neighbors in their communities or partnering with the local extension services. Due to the positive results achieving during the pilot phase, the YIYA initiative is being scale-up and 270 Champions will be selected nationwide in 2020.

Up to youth-to-youth investments!

As for the Kigali commitment of JR Farms, mentioned above, it went beyond the coaching of other youth to become an equity investment commitment. For the 2020 pilot, two promising beneficiaries have been selected in Rwanda based on criteria such as economic, social and environmental sustainability. The first is Sanit Wing, a company in avocado supply, processing into natural oils and cosmetics. The second is Bio Solution, which transforms domestic waste organic fertilizers at affordable price. Selected candidates will benefit from a financial support of USD 7500 each from the Green Agribusiness Fund (GAF) (equity investment), as well as training and coaching support from GAF and its partners including FAO.

In spite of the limited scope of the GAF, at least in its pilot phase, the approach teaches us a lot.It confirms that youth are taking the global employment challenge of their generation seriously, committing resources, energy and time to shape a different world. But also that youth Agripreneurs are the best positioned to know the challenges of their peers and therefore powerful allies to design effective solutions. One of the interesting insights generated by the GAF process, is around the informality challenge of many young Agripreneurs. As summarized in the GAF Report of the inaugural report, during the application process, 67 percent of the inquiry mails received were requesting for waivers for business registration documents. The issue opened an internal debate within the Rwandan Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF), which will lead to a dedicated assessment to be conducted by FAO in 2021 to better understand the bottlenecks in formalization faced by young Agripreneurs in Rwanda. A second concern emerged in the GAF process related to the gender imbalance in the application process, with the number of male applicants being 10 times higher than the number of female applicants. This sheds further light on well-known barriers and challenges faced by young women as entrepreneurs and demands more gender transformative interventions.

Facing these challenges and boost youth investments in more sustainable agri-food system cannot be done without the youth. Additional and more transformative action is needed to put them in the position to shape new trajectories and visions for inclusive agri-food systems. Priorities in this regard should at least include:

  • Make youth voices heard and engage them further in shaping the response – policies and strategies often fail to listen and account for the heterogeneity of youth, so cannot meet their complex and multifaceted needs;
  • Introduce dedicated incentives and targeted programmes to address the specific challenges of young women to become successful Agripreneurs;
  • Give visibility to youth initiatives and successes, by fostering information sharing on good practices and their results for further scaling-up;
  • Enhance the agribusiness enabling environment, ensuring specific attention is given to youth Agripreneurs and facilitate match-making with private investors (including other youth-led business), development partners and financial institutions;
  • Facilitate the establishment of youth-to-youth exchanges and partnerships in the agri-food sector, including youth in agribusiness networks.

 

Ileana Grandelis is the Programme Officer (Decent Rural Employment), Food and Agriculture Oragnisation, while Rotimi Olawale is the CEO, JR Farms

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