MSU and Mastercard: Envisioning agriculture as a business for youth in Africa

Markets for food are booming globally and in Africa. The growing increase of urbanisation and diet have created a sharp rise in demand for food.  In 2013 the world bank Agric business report predicted that by 2030 Africa’s Agriculture and Agribusiness Markets  should top US$ 1 Trillion.

However, Since 1980, agricultural importation have continue to grow; today Africa countries has a net food import of  over $35bn annually. This according to Africa Development Bank is expected to rise to about $110bn in 2025 if the current trend continues.

Africa youthful population is also growing rapidly, With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket), Africa has the youngest population in the world and the figure could double by 2045, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report more than 60 percent of these young people are jobless or underemployed, and formal job creation is becoming more and more insufficient.

Yet agriculture which can employ most of Africa’s growing population is not viewed by young Africans as even  a “job” they instead reserve the term for employment that requires clean clothes and a desk. For a generation of young Africans entering adulthood, agriculture notwithstanding offers the best opportunity to move out of poverty and build satisfying lives.

To other young people interested seeking to establish farms different from those of their parents and grandparents also face daunting hurdles. One of them is skills to effectively move into high-value forms of production with economic value.

To address this gap the Michigan State University is  implementing a AgriFood Youth Opportunity Lab project in Nigeria and Tanzania in the next five years worth $13 million.

The project which is sponsored by the MasterCard Foundation will help 10,000 Nigeria and 5,000 Tanzania youths between the age of 18-24  access skills, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in Africa’s yet fully untapped horticulture, aquaculture, poultry, cassava, and oilseed sectors.

The Ag Youth Lab at the launching will respond directly to opportunities and constraints identified in the 2016 MSU and The MasterCard Foundation-Agrifood Youth Employment and Engagement Study (AgYees).

Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation said the foundation aimed to use the private sector to develop business opportunities for young people and challenges youths face in getting jobs. “This Parnership with Michigan State University is an example of using evidence to address youth employment”

Also speaking on the project, President of Michigan State University, Lou Anna K. Simon said: “Working with the MasterCard Foundation and African partners to address one of the most critical problems facing the continent—youth unemployment—reflects the means of pursuing the institution’s global vision. It is an opportunity to expand youth agrifood employment both on and off the farm.

Speaking to the Nerve Africa, Senior Programme Manager Youth Livelihoods, The Mastercard Foundation said the “Ag Youth Lab will assist economically disadvantaged, hard-to-reach, and out-of-school youth transition into employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the agrifood system.”

The Ag Youth Lab will emphasize policy research, data and analytics to develop a cost-effective, scalable model for youth training and facilitation. “Our e-learning and monitoring and evaluation platforms will support the program by providing trainees and other stakeholders with the information needed to succeed,” said Bunmi Akinyemiju, CEO of Venture Garden Group, the lead partner responsible for data and information technology activities

“The programme will have a special focus on gender equity, aiming for an equal representation of young men and women across its programmes and addressing policy, training, mentoring, and other constraints that affect the ability of young women to start enterprises or obtain employment.”

Using the “youth-to-youth” and “train-the-trainers” approach, IITA, through its youth component model—IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) will work with a Nigerian company known as Venture Garden Group, Tanzania’s Sokoine University Graduate Entrepreneurs Cooperative (SUGECO); and Nigeria’s Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology.

The Director New Ag Youth Lab for Sub-saharan Africa and also a Senior Adviser to the Associate Provost Michigan University, Julie Howard beaming with smiles said the project will spark a new beginning on how youths view Agriculture.

We are fully committed to this project, to let the youths know, Agriculture is much more than just farming, is an economic viable business that can transform lives of millions of people with the necessary skills and opportunities.

Director General Nteranya Sanginga,  Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) a partnering institution on the project,  said “IITA will bring the lessons from its experience to help Ag Youth Lab tap the dynamism of Africa’s youth, by creating better jobs for themselves; youth can transform Africa’s agrifood systems and build a brighter future for Africa.”