Despite considerable efforts aimed at changing youth perceptions of agriculture in Africa, the vocation continues to suffer from entrenched negative perceptions. Many young people still see agriculture as a backbreaking occupation that rewards very little.
Despite this apparent disinterest from the youth the mammoth importance of agriculture in shaping economies of African countries cannot be discounted.
Agriculture employs as much as 60% of Africa’s labour force, according to the Africa Economic Outlook Report 2013, published jointly by the African Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the UN Development Programme. Yet because of low productivity, the sector accounts for only 25% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Despite such grim statistics, the sector has huge potential. The World Bank estimates that African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. For that to happen, there must be improvements in electricity and irrigation, coupled with smart business and trade policies. An agribusiness private sector working alongside government could link farmers with consumers and create many jobs.
Many experts have expressed alarm over Africa’s growing youth unemployment. Ibrahim Mayaki, chief executive officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Union’s development agency, calls youth unemployment a “time bomb.” Sub-Saharan Africa’s youth population is increasing rapidly, with the 15- to 24-year-old age group at 200 million, a figure that is expected to double by 2045, according to population experts.
Though grim, agriculture clearly has the clout to gainfully employ the army of young unemployed people on the continent; many of whom are between the unskilled and semi-skilled bracket.
In a 2013 report, Agriculture as a Sector of Opportunity for Young People in Africa, the World Bank added its voice to data by other organizations showing that agriculture is Africa’s largest employer and has the potential to absorb millions of new job seekers. According to the report, increased focus on agriculture could enhance productivity, reduce food prices, increase incomes and create employment. Young people’s involvement in this process is crucial. “Although farming is now often done by the elderly, the profession’s requirements for energy, innovation, and physical strength make it ideally suited for those in the 15 to 34-year-old age range that is, ‘the mature young,’” notes the Bank.
The consensus among experts is that for agriculture to create high employment, young people must get involved. Strive Masiyiwa, vice chair of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a continental body involved in assisting small-scale farmers across Africa, says it is possible for agriculture to be both more productive and hipper enough to attract young farmers. “My vision is that the smallholder farmer may still work the land…they will be using new seeds, fertilizers, modern methods they will be young, they will be skilled and have cars outside their houses and market information on prices of their produce.” Agriculture has to be dynamic and profitable to attract youths, he adds.
AGSTUD Africa 2020
To support this vision, Agrihouse Foundation, Ghana’s leading pro-agric NGO conceived an agric student’s capacity building boot camp event dubbed AGSTUD Africa.
The event now in its third year is specifically designed to improve the capacity of students of agricultural science and provide them a platform for networking and knowledge transfer.
This year, Agrihouse is set to consolidate the gains made through AGSTUD Africa in previous years by rolling out the best edition of the event yet. Already, this year’s edition has been earmarked for February 25-28 2020, with plans already in place to make this year’s edition a practical avenue for training the next generation of agric- industry professionals adept with the dynamics of modern agriculture and the colossal benefits it holds for Ghana.
Set under the theme: Growing Futures: Establishing the Agric Youth, Agrihouse Foundation is further emphasizing the continued growth and development of the agric student by setting up Business Club Units in the institutions as another important part of the programme. The Business Club Units comprise a team of 15 students and representatives of corporate organizations who adopt and mentor the students to throughout their journey. The Club Units function as agri businesses, led by a Managing Director with floor members. The units implement various models to access funds for their businesses. The agri-businesses are the initiatives of students who are empowered to manage the growth and development of the businesses.
AG-STUD 2020 promises more value and excitement. Nine (9) schools are participating and would have the opportunity to present pitches in a business plan competition for a prize at the end of the Boot-camp. The participating schools already have the business club units up and running at their various institutions with active social media handles where updates on their businesses and challenges are posted regularly. These institutions include University of Ghana (Legon), University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kwadaso Agricultural College, University of Developmental Studies (UDS), University of Cape Coast (UCC), Fair River Farm Institute, Damango Agricultural College, Asuansi Farm Institute and Northern Agri-Youth Hub.
The 4-day program would have in attendance over 600 participants with activities like Agri Aspire, soft skills training for job creation, AG-VOYAGE, AG-Career conversation, Coaching and Group presentation, Corporate Experience, Skills Set and competence presentation and awards. Topics for presentation would be selected based on students’ agribusiness area of interest. Winners of the competition would be provided with agri-materials and funding to start up their own businesses.
The Business Club Units comprise of a team of 15 students and representatives of corporate organizations who adopt and mentor the students throughout their journey.
The Club Units function as agribusinesses, led by a Managing Director with floor members. The units implement various models to nine schools who would have the opportunity to present pitches in a business plan competition for a prize at the end of the boot camp.
The participating schools already have the business club units up and running at their various institutions with active social media handles where updates on their businesses and challenges are posted regularly.
These are the schools and their business modules; • Kwadaso Agric School: birds and grass cutter rearing- plan to start adding value this year • Asuansi Farm Institute: They have adopted a mushroom farming model with plans already in place to venture into coconut oil processing in the years ahead • University of Ghana: The UG club also produce mushrooms and soon plan to expand to vegetable production • University for Development Studies: They produce watermelons and plans to explore ice cream production in the years ahead• KNUST: produces organic fertilizer-wants to expand its market this year • Northern Youth Agric Hub: Vegetable production- looking at expanding markets • University of Cape Coast: Vegetable production • The University of Health and Natural Resources: Poultry and honey production • Fair River Farm Institute: Maize and rice production • Adidome Farm Institute: They are the newest entrants and with plans already in place for them to rollout their venture soon.
To ensure that participating students enjoy the mentorship of seasoned professionals, organizers have assembled stalwarts within the agric industry and other allied sectors who have the competence to equip students with contemporary skills needed to thrive as an agri-professional.
The technical team is made of Mr. Raymond Dentey-Head Coach, Mrs. Catherine Fabbi-Head Mentor, Mr. Kenneth Nii Addy-Head Trainer, Mr. Asiworme Bierkro-Communication Advisor
Baring his thoughts on the potential impact of the of the clubs, Mr. Raymond Dentey said :“We believe that it is important to court and nurture the interest of young people at the early stages of their lives. Indeed this period of their lives represent the most important phase were we can infuse the love for agribusiness innovation into their minds .This way, we can effectively groom them to become job creators who will not come out of school to swell up the mammoth unemployed -graduate numbers that co0ntinues to give government sleepless nights.
The challenge we’ve had in Ghana is the fact that our farmers are still holding on to primitive farming practices that is only fit for subsistence farming. If we would achieve our national ambition of reinforcing agric as the lifeblood of our economy, then we must think of a future where the youth ably armed with contemporary knowledge will lead the way in ushering our agric industry into a new phase were technology dependence will prevail liberally.”
Since the inception of AGSTUD Africa, stakeholders within and without the industry have shown commendable support for the initiative.
This year, another lineup of willing firms have collectively backed organizers with varied kinds of support to ensure that the vision behind the programs blossoms to fruition.
Already aboard this year’s edition is the Serbian Embassy. In his remarks on the partnership the Deputy Consular of the Serbian Embassy, Mr Charles Annan, commended the management of Agri House Foundation for conceiving a programme that seeks to stimulate passion among the youths in the agric sector.
He assured that the Serbian government has a lot of scholarship opportunities that it was willing to offer to student participants who excel in the project.
Similarly, reputable institutions like the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, OCP, Interplast, ADB and Gihoc have all made varied commitments towards the successful implementation of the project this year.