DES MOINES, Iowa – African population trends show that the continent is youth “full.” The population bulge of 420 million, ages 15-35, is an opportunity for the continent to employ the next generation of farmers, and new farmers are framing the future with agribusiness, "agripreneurship" and technology.
In Africa, though new technology is becoming available, farming is stigmatized as backbreaking work with small reward. Even so, young agripreneurs are confident that farming is not the same as what grandma used to do.
“You always identify farmers with a hoe, but I do mine with a mobile phone,” Lilian Uwintwali, founder and CEO of MAHWI TECH Ltd. said.
Uwintwaili’s information technology firm facilitates agriculture sectors in Rwanda. She encourages young farmers to use mobile devices to enter markets, connect with stakeholders and gauge new opportunities. When older farmers are intimidated with new technology, she asks them to turn to the next generation that will ultimately be responsible for feeding their communities and the world.
“Agriculture was Africa’s past, but agriculture as a business is Africa’s future,” Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank and 2017 World Food Prize laureate said.
Dr. Adesina’s father grew up as a farmer, and like most African farmers, he did not want his children to stay in the profession. But Dr. Adesina was still drawn to agriculture, and saw that there were missing linkages in the supply and demand chains that were preventing the full potential. The ENABLE Youth Program out of the African Development Bank encourages youth to pursue agriculture by providing resources that make farming accessible. Their goal is to help launch 300,000 agribusinesses and create 1.5 million jobs in 30 African countries over the next five years.
Initiatives such as the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have also helped youth invest in agriculture. Haowa Bello, CEO of Madame Coquette and founder of Fula Farms, was a recipient of a YEAP grant, which gave her startup money for her goat farm that uses the skin to make her handbag business.
From Bello’s experience, there is still work to be done by entrepreneurs, policy-makers and the private sector if agribusiness is to attract more youth.
The narrative needs to change, she said, to draw more young people to agriculture. The perception that agriculture is a legitimate career is not enough. It is a necessity for employees to be trained and educated for businesses to compete. Proper access to resources and technology is also key.
“If your dreams aren’t bigger than you, you’re not dreaming big enough,” Bello said.