Opinion: We can make agricultural work attractive for Africa's youth. Here's how.

Hello Tractor Founder Jehiel Oliver on a smart tractor (and trailer attachment) during a demo with top government, NGO, private sector, and farm organizations. Photo courtesy of Jehiel Oliver / CC BY-NC-SA

In Zimbabwe, it is hard to sell agriculture as a meaningful career for the youth. To them, the cities hold more promise than the fields. Similarly, in Kenya, many youths would rather migrate to the cities than stay in the rural areas to pursue a career in agriculture. They have real reasons to back their choice: Agriculture can be tedious, labor intensive, a risky business, unrewarding, and unproductive. Further, many cannot afford to raise the capital needed to secure land and other equipments and inputs needed to launch a successful and thriving agribusiness.

Yet, there are many success stories coming from Africa of successful youth agripreneurs, who, despite the above hurdles have used their skills, creativity, and innovation and leveraged on technology to build strong, thriving agribusinesses. They are making a career out of agriculture.

In Nigeria, for example, Angel Adelaja, has built a successful vertical farming business and is supplying fresh vegetables to homes, hotels, businesses, and restaurants in Abuja. Jehiel Oliver in Nigeria is also making a career out of agriculture through his company Hello Tractor. Known as Africa’s Uber for farmers, his company makes it possible for farmers to rent out smart tractors to use on their farmlands to increase yields. Consequently, food security is improved. What’s more is that the use of tractors makes farming more attractive to youths since it cuts down on the labor and drudgery that is associated with agriculture.

In Kenya, Joseph Macharia, has built an online platform, Mkulima Young, that connects young farmers with each other while allowing them to share experiences and challenges they are facing as they run their agricultural enterprises. Most importantly, this platform allows them to access information on markets and prices of agricultural inputs. As a result, many young Kenyans are now pursuing a career in agriculture.

In Tanzania, Fahad Awadh has set up a cashew processing company, and it is adding value locally while creating jobs and boosting the income of farmers and the community as a whole.

Indeed, more success stories of young people making a career out of agriculture have been documented in many other African countries including Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, and Senegal. The success of many of these young entrepreneurs is definitely changing the negative stereotypes associated with agriculture and positively reinforcing the message that young people can succeed and make a living out of agriculture.

While these success stories empower and inspire, there is more that can be done to increase these trends and convince more youth that agriculture is a meaningful career.

Agriculture as a field continues to be knowledge intensive. New improved agricultural technologies, inputs, digital tools and technologies, and initiatives are rolled out every day to make today’s agriculture resilient, productive, and efficient.

To build thriving agribusiness, African youth need to tap into these new technologies and digital tools. Thus, there is a market for innovation centers, vocational training centers and other institutions that are set up to train, support and meet the needs of African agripreneurs. The good news is that such initiatives are beginning to roll out. The Green Innovation Center supported by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, in partnership with the Benin Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, and AfricaRice was launched in Benin in 2016. One of the goals of this center is to develop youth training tools to help them increase productivity and incomes.

Secondly, incubation centers that incubate agriculture-focused youth ideas must be launched, and the existing ones need to continue to be funded. The African Development Bank and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture are already in the frontline and their efforts must be applauded. For the next five years, under the ENABLE youth programs, and in several African countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya, IITA Youth Agripreneur Initiative is expected to lead and administer 16 Youth Agribusiness Incubation Centers and train 1536 agripreneurs. This incubation centers supported by AfDB aim to help African youth to sharpen their ideas and further develop their management and entrepreneurial skills. At the end of the program, the youth are expected to develop business plans that enable them to access the finances they need to roll out their agribusinesses.  

Thirdly, it is important to provide platforms where rising African youthful agripreneurs can meet. As such, there should be annual workshops and regional meetings to allow youth farmers to meet with their peers to share experiences and challenges and to develop networks. Aspiring youth agripreneurs also could attend to meet successful youth entrepreneurs who, despite the hurdles, have made a career in agriculture.

In 2017, AfDB, IITA, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, the Africa Agribusiness Incubation Network and Africa 2.0 organized the first ever African Youth Agripreneurs forum in Nigeria. This forum brought together young agripreneurs from different countries and provided them the opportunity to show their skills, creativity, and innovativeness in agribusiness and to network with other youths, development partners, and stakeholders in the agriculture sector. For the last three years, the Tony Elumelu foundation has held yearly meetings, bringing together young African entrepreneurs including those pursuing agribusiness ventures. Such meetings should continue to be funded.  

Making agriculture attractive and an easy sell to youth should continue to be among the top priorities for African countries and stakeholders in the agriculture value chain. The time to encourage many more young people to pursue agriculture as a career is now.  

About the author

  • Bio%2520picture

    Esther Ngumbi

    Esther Ngumbi is a post-doctoral researcher at Auburn University in Alabama. She serves as a 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University mentor for agriculture and is a 2015 Food Security New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute.