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There are huge business opportunities for graduated African youths in agriculture and agribusiness. That’s was the consensus of the two-day African Youth Agripreneurs Forum held in Ibadan, Nigeria, from April 25-26, 2017.
However, helping African youths to invest in agricultural production and the agricultural value chain is all too often discussed as the right track of ideas for development in Africa, but little is done by governments, warned Nteranya Sanginga, the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Other speeches by CEOs (Jibunoh Adim, President of Transcorp Group representing Tony Elumelu; Gbenga Shobo, Deputy MD of First Bank Nigeria representing Oba Otudeko, Chair of Honeywell Group, among others), professors and agripreneur experts also emphasized the strong linkages between agriculture, business and youth employment. The speakers made a passionate case that the marriage of agriculture and business holds the keys to youth employment and wealth creation in Africa.
Capitalizing on the two facts that young people comprise the majority of Africa’s 1.3 billion population and that the continent has the largest share of arable land made the case seem rather straightforward, leading to the conclusion that Africa needs to get back to the land in order to move ahead.
How to spur this agricultural renaissance is why hundreds of young entrepreneurs and experts gathered to have a conversation.
The forum had the dual objective of showcasing success stories of agribusinesses from across the African continent and connecting agripreneurs with business and development partners.
In his speech that was delivered on his behalf by Chiji Ojukwu, the African Development Bank’s Agriculture and Agro-Industry Director, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina laid out a vision for Africa to achieve self-sufficiency over the next decade in key staples that include rice, wheat, fish, palm oil and cassava. To that end, the Bank has so far approved more than half a billion dollars to help countries such as Cameroon, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria implement ENABLE (Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment) Youth Programs.
The ENABLE Youth Program in African Agriculture, is one such initiative which in its pilot phase has provided evidence that, with greater access to the agribusiness enterprise, and institutional support, youths, with their passion and energy, can become the driving force of agricultural transformation in Africa. “Through these operations, over 300,000 enterprises will be created and over 1.5 million jobs directly created for people both young and old,” said Adesina. To date over 33 African countries have requested Bank support to set up similar schemes. “I am pleased to note that the ENABLE Youth program is now a recognized brand across the continent,” Adesina added.
Success stories in agribusiness across Africa
During a discussion session on youth agribusiness, a four-member panel shared with the audience their entrepreneurial experiences. The young, gender-balanced panel was pure inspiration. Growing up in different countries in Africa (Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda), these young women and men’s successes were not born out of a privileged head start or early-in-life auspicious circumstances, but rather the power of innovation and sheer determination in the face of immense difficulties.
Whether governments should subsidize financing for youth in agriculture was the subject of a lively debate among young entrepreneurs who felt strong about the motion.
A question and answer session was also held where the audience engaged more rigorously with agripreneurs about a range of issues and concepts that include innovation, changing mindsets, value chain, incubation hubs, branding and packaging a product, and the specifics of running an agribusiness as well as the challenges.
The last session of the first day focused on “opportunities in African agribusiness with concrete examples.”
Building up capacity to transform a small agribusiness into a bigger corporation was a central topic. Harvard-educated and South Africa-based young lawyer Michael Sudarkasa explained the capacity-building initiative developed by his company Africa Business Group to help young agripreneurs take their start-up businesses to the next level. He explained that through the utilization of technology and the indispensable skill of resource mobilization, small agribusinesses can dramatically increase their capacity. The initiative is called the Global Africa Agribusiness Accelerator Platform (GAAAP) and focuses on agriculture and renewable energy.
Another thought-provoking presentation was done by Jennie van der Mheen who represented the Netherlands-based Wageningen University & Research (WUR). She pointed out the fact that despite being a very small country, the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agrifood products worldwide, the first being the United States of America. The secret of this astonishing success, she explained, is the utilization of research and knowledge to catalyze private sector growth, while working with policymakers to create an enabling environment. Van der Mheen concluded her talk by highlighting the importance of partnering and explained that WUR has a lot to offer young African agripreneurs in terms of entrepreneurial education.
How to finance an agribusiness is a topic to be navigated in Day 2 when also young agripreneurs would be presenting competing initiatives during the AgriPitch session. Three winners out of that exercise get an invitation to AfDB’s Annual Meeting in May.
The African Youth Agripreneurs Forum comprises of the following: the AYA Forum, a two-day Conference/Workshop with thematic discussions and presentation of success stories; an Agri-Pitch Entrepreneurship Competition that will lead to a selection three finalists for presentation at the AfDB’s Annual Meetings in India in May 2017; and side events including a mentor and incubator training programme. It is organized by the AfDB, in cooperation with the IITA, the African Agribusiness Incubators Network and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA).