Rural youth recently reported that access to information, lack of credit and negative perceptions around farming are the leading reasons why African young people are leaving small farming at such alarming rates.

The comments came during the 2016 Youth Agribusiness, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship Summit on Innovation (YALESI 2016), held in Dakar, Senegal from 29 to 31 in March.

The conference – which gives young African men and women living in rural areas the opportunity to discuss key issues and learn new skills – is an initiative that came out of the IFAD-supported Global Youth Innovation Network.

During the conference,  which was co-organized by IFAD alongside the Government of Senegal and GYIN, IFAD hosted a number of sessions on agribusiness and entrepreneurship practices, as well as shared agribusiness and entrepreneurial know-how for over 250 African youth.

“High youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems currently affecting African youth,” said Moses Abukari, IFAD’s Country Programme Manager and Youth Focal Point for West and Central Africa.

“When youth can’t find viable jobs in their communities, they begin to migrate from rural areas in search of opportunities in bigger cities or different countries where they face an uncertain future,” he continued.

According to Abukari, when young people can participate in community decision-making and take management roles in local organizations, they improve their situations while also contributing their energy and creativity to their communities.

“Young people have many innovative ideas but are often excluded from planning and policy processes relating to the future of rural areas,” said Abukari.

“This conference is unique because it gives young women and men, from both rural and urban areas, the tools and skills they need to make lasting changes within their communities,” he continued.

“It serves as a platform for youth to speak about problems that directly impact their lives, but also for them to share their solutions and successes.”

Offering youth a future in farming

With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world.

Unemployment for youth is a growing concern. Youth account for 60 per cent of all African unemployed, according to the World Bank. In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 30 per cent. It is even worse in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria and several other countries.

The ability of rural youth to engage in productive agricultural and non-agricultural activities has social and economic benefits for both the young people and the economy.

However, many youth in developing and transition countries have negative perceptions of farming.

“Young people are usually not interested in this field of work, in large part due to their perception of farming being antiquated and unprofitable,” said Abukari.

“The image of agriculture traditionally has been more about subsistence; you produce enough for you to eat. It is not seen as a business,” he said.

Information and credit critical for young farmers

Young men and women who want to go into farming face other obstacles as well, including limited access to information, technology, and financial services.

Banks often turn away potential farmers because they do not think that farming is a viable business, or that land is a sufficient source of collateral. This adds to the perception that farming is not an attractive enterprise.

To help tackle the issue of access to credit, the Global Youth Business Incubator was launched during the conference with the purpose of connecting young entrepreneurs with investors, organizations and supporters. 

Also, IFAD has many different projects that establish and strengthen micro-lending institutions that give young men and women the jump-start they need for their business.

During the conference, there were a number of presentations from rural women from IFAD-supported projects.

According to Abukari, the intentional choice to focus on young women also highlights the important role they play in agricultural transformation.

“From different countries you can see that young people, young women especially, add a lot to the value chain where there is a lot of opportunities,” Abukari said.

“Young women, in my opinion, are the future of small holder farmers. Every time we give youth an opportunity, we should help women in any way we can.”

Zoeliharimalala Nirinarisoa of Madagascar is connected to PROSPERER, a project that works with rural people in five of the country’s poorest and most densely populated regions to increase income.

Zoeliharimalala gained access to the market with her yogurt product, which she processes, packages and sells. She added moringa to her yogurt, a crop with medicinal value, to make her product more nutritious and give it a delicious new taste.

Her business endeavours was a success, and she now employees other members of her community.

Another panelist, named Nurat Okeowo, hailed from Nigeria.

Through the Rural Finance Institution-Building Programme (RUFIN).  Nurat was able to gain access to credit, something not usually available to a woman who did not have a high school diploma.

She was also trained by the program to manage a fish farm, and today Nurat has expanded her business significantly. She not only has a substantially larger income, but also employees and oversees men. Nurat now is well-respected within her community.

Another panellist was Awa Caba, a member of the Global Youth Innovative Network from Senegal. When she participated in the Agricultural Value Chains Support Project (Projet d’appui aux filières agricoles – PAFA), a project that integrates farmers into profitable value chains, Awa discovered that the price and market information put in place by PAFA needed to be improved. She was successful in her role, and later became a consultant for PAFA.

These young women represent the benefits of empowering women, and young people as a whole said Abukari.

“From different countries, you can see that young people, young women, add a lot to the value chain.”