A coming of age for African youth in agriculture

The IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) program has indeed come a long way since its inception four years ago, growing in number and activities and getting recognition along the way. The IYA was formally recognized as an IITA program in October 2016.

The IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) program has indeed come a long way since its inception four years ago, growing in number and activities and getting recognition along the way. The IYA was formally recognized as an IITA program in October 2016. An Office was established and personnel—a coordinator as well as one who underwent training and mentorship under IYA— were hired to oversee its operations. The Youth in Agribusiness Office coordinates all activities and projects of IYA.

Youth Agripreneurs: Surging ahead

In 2016 IYA partnered with Chevron Nigeria Ltd in a capacity building project in the Niger Delta region to train young men and women on agribusiness. In the first phase of this partnership, IYA established demonstration sites in different communities in Warri, Delta State.

IYA used its experience from its first private sector-funded project to leverage additional funding from other private sector players to implement projects that aided in reaching more African youth. Among these were the Hello-Tractor project sponsored by USAID through its Feed-the-Future Partnering for Innovation Initiative, and the Agrifood Youth Opportunity Lab (Ag Youth Lab) in partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) and sponsored by the Master Card Foundation.

Under the Hello-Tractor project, IYA trained young adults on the business of owning and managing a fleet of smart tractors— versatile farm machines that are networked to powerful software that increases their operational efficiency. In this business, farmers in need of a tractor can be connected to an owner of a smart tractor simply through text messaging. Those trained are expected to develop a business plan to enable them to apply for business loans from banks to start up their own smart tractor enterprise, with the longer term goal of promoting mechanization and improving farm efficiency in Nigeria.

The Ag Youth Lab is a multi-million dollar project that will run for five years and focus on the major food producing regions surrounding Lagos (Oyo, Osun, and Ogun states) in Nigeria and Dar es Salaam (Pwani and Morogoro regions) in Tanzania. It aims to train disadvantaged, outof-school young people between the ages of 18 and 24. It will assist more than 14,550 of them in getting access to higher wage jobs and starting businesses in horticulture, aquaculture, or poultry keeping, and in the cassava or oilseeds sectors. The program will have a special focus on promoting gender equity across its activities.

In 2016, the IYA expanded its reach to Kano in northern Nigeria and Onne in Rivers State. Nine Agripreneurs were deployed to establish a replicate group and give the youth in the northern and southsouth parts of the country an opportunity to go through the group’s incubation program. The group at Onne has partnered with a major chain store in Port Harcourt, supplying them with catfish that they raise. They are also becoming known for producing disease-free plantain suckers for local farmers. The Kano IYA group has started a ram fattening business and sorghum production. They have also partnered with Honeywell Flour Mills for sale of the sorghum.

The IYA mother group based in Ibadan expanded its membership to compensate for the numbers who were relocated to Kano and Onne. During the year, a new batch of Agripreneurs, who call themselves the Green Magic Agripreneurs were recruited after going through a screening exercise.

Agripreneurs harvesting vegetables to be sold to a wholesaler in town

The success of IYA paved the way for the African Development Bank (AfDB) to adopt it as a model for its Africa-wide ENABLE Youth Program which was launched in 2014. More than 30 countries indicated an interest in the Program. Towards the last quarter of 2016, the Bank approved the Program for Algeria, Nigeria, DR Congo, and Sudan as stand-alone projects; 12 other countries integrated the Program as a component of existing youth projects. IITA’s own IYA members have been requested by the Bank to provide support.

During the year, IITA, in partnership with a private company, Ekimiks Nigeria Ltd, trained IYA members on developing business plans that would enable them to obtain loans from financial institutions to establish their own agribusiness enterprises. This is in line with IYA’s tenet that Agripreneurs must put into practice what they have learned after an 18-month incubation program. Over 25 business plans were developed by the trainees, which are being reviewed by financial and business experts for funding in 2017.

In the DRC, the IYA opened a town center store that sells high-quality cassava flour that the group produces and that they also export to Rwanda, competing with a major brand there. This is a major market breakthrough for IYA in the country as it presents an expanded business opportunity. Similarly in Nigeria, IYA’s business ventures continued to hold sway, seeing the group’s earnings in 2016 jump by 40% over the previous year.

Influencing young minds, IYA in 2016 organized another debate during the visit of the IFAD President, Dr Kanayo Nwanze. The visit of Dr Nwanze heralded the jubilee celebration of IITA. Topics discussed included “There is more value in production than processing,” “It is better to invest in loans than make grants,” and “Men are better at production and women are better in business.”

Agripreneurs harvesting vegetables to be sold to a wholesaler in town.

Increasing its visibility, IYA contributed youth-in-agribusiness articles in regional and international publications such as the World Farmers Organization, and ICT Update. Through stories, IYA is promoting its vision of African youth actively engaging in agriculture to influence a shift in the generational mindset. Technically, IYA is also sharing its experience in the use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles – UAVs) as a tool in agricultural development. Members of IYA in Abuja also won a computer programming talent competition called AgriHack, which was organized by the Center for Technical Cooperation in Agriculture (CTA). The competition was based on how ICT can aid in fish farming. The IYA group won the top prize of $5000 and gained national recognition for their effort.

Still on the ICT front, the IYA group in Uganda has continued to successfully deploy their online marketing and sales platform, which has helped eliminate the need for middlemen in the sale of the vegetables that they produce. This has helped to boost the group’s profits, avoid being tied to prices usually dictated by middlemen, and get a better share of the market. Fewer vegetables are spoiled as they do not need to stock and display them.

In Kenya, the youth group is also making waves in the production and sale of farm-fresh tomato particularly in the Mombasa area. The Kenyan IYA group is also known for producing vitamin A potato crisps, the brainchild of one member. The potato crisps, known as Beta Crisp, are sold in shops and markets in the Kibwezi area.

Agripreneurs flanking the CEO of Master Card Foundation, Reeta Roy, at the Youth Summit in South Africa.

In 2015, business start-up grants were awarded to 40 young men and women in Borno State, Nigeria, who had been trained on agribusiness under the IITA-led N2Africa project, which is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This year, many of the grantees now run their own successful agribusinesses and are employing other young people in their communities.

Also in 2016, an IYA member, Alabi Kelvin, won a scholarship to study in Japan under the African Business Education Initiative by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Kelvin will be pursuing his MSc degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Ashikaga Institute of Technology in Tochigi, Japan.

The Abuja Agripreneurs during the year hosted a visit by the AfDB President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, and staff members. During the visit, they gave an update on the group’s recent successes and made a pitch for financial support from the Bank for some of their activities. This prompted an invitation from Dr Adesina for the group to make a reciprocal visit to AfDB’s Headquarters in Abidjan, where they addressed the officials—the first Agripreneurs ever to do so. This visit resulted in the inclusion of IYA as one of the beneficiaries of AfDB’s Youth-BOOST Africa initiative.

Oyindamola Asaaju: hope restored

Asaaju graduated with a Second Class Upper Division in Home Science and Management from the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 2012. Like every graduate, she had lots of hopes and the ambition to get a decent-paying job, but competition was stiff so she eventually ended up as a server in a local restaurant.

“I am a college graduate but I couldn’t find a job after I finished school so I moved to Ibadan from Lagos with the hopes of getting one. However, the only job I could get was that of a server, cleaning tables and serving drinks and sometimes working in the pantry—a far cry from what I was hoping to get, given my education,” Asaaju related. “Although there is nothing bad about being a waitress, I felt that I needed to be in a field where I could be mentally engaged.”

Then she came across the IITA Youth Agripreneurs. “Being an Agripreneur turned things around for me,” she said. “I got trained in various aspects of the agricultural value chain. I experienced my first plane ride when I was part of the IYA group that travelled to South Africa for a Youth Summit by the Master Card Foundation. Another was on a trip to Los Angeles where I was also an IYA delegate to another Youth Summit that was held there. This has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of agriculture as an enterprise. Today, I lead a team of Agripreneurs at the IITA station in Onne, Rivers State.”

Youth entrepeneur Mercy Wakawa is now the CEO of her own groundnut oil processing company, Confianza Ltd

Mercy Wakawa: from depressed to impressive

Mercy studied Food Science and Technology at the University of Maiduguri, also in Nigeria. After graduation, she tried for a position at the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) but was disqualified because she was not tall enough. Then she got an opportunity to participate in a training conducted by IYA under the N2Africa project.

“I got depressed when I didn’t get the job at the NIS but, as they say, when one door closes another opens. I was fortunate enough to be included in an agribusiness training conducted by IYA. Soon afterwards I applied for and received a grant from N2Africa, which I used to start my small groundnut oil processing business,” Mercy narrated.

“Today, I am the CEO of my own company, Confianza Ltd, and I employ eight people from my community,” she proudly stated. “I am encouraging others like me to build their careers in agriculture, and help other young people as well. IITA and the IYA helped me get to where I am now, and I am grateful.”

Yohanna Yakubu: Kano’s groundnut chinchin king

Yohanna is also a beneficiary of the N2Africa training. He is a graduate in Zoology and currently owns and operates a groundnut processing enterprise which he started with a grant from the project. “Before being trained by IYA, I had been employed in a bank but was retrenched because of the economic recession,” he related. “With the training provided by IYA and the seed fund given by N2Africa, I now produce groundnut chinchin, which I supply to major stores, markets, and schools in Kano State,” Yohanna happily reported.

His business venture has a healthy cost-benefit ratio of 1:1.8, which means that for every 1 Naira of investment he puts in, he gets back 1.8. Not too shabby for someone who would have been a simple bank employee if not for IYA.

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