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Invest in Entrepreneurship Among Africa’s Youth

If international development cooperation really wants to make a contribution to new prospects for young Africans, it’s time for focus and drastic choices. ICCO has made three choices.

Invest in Entrepreneurship Among Africa’s Youth

Africa faces an enormous challenge. The world’s youngest continent – half of its population is under the age of 25, and the population will increase by half a million fifteen year-olds every year up to 2035. Eighteen million new jobs are needed each year to provide work for the growing group of young people.
If international development cooperation really wants to make a contribution to new prospects for young people in Africa, it’s time to focus and make drastic choices. ICCO has made three choices.

ICCO has chosen three ways to offer young Africans new prospects 

The lack of employment opportunities, possibilities for studying and an adequate social safety net all force young people to earn money by taking jobs that are low paid or in which they are unproductive. Or to try their luck and risk their lives on unsafe boats heading for Europe. Traditional development programs have not taken demographic developments sufficiently into account. To bring about a real breakthrough we need to focus and make drastic choices.  

1. Choose for agribusiness: Africa’s agricultural sector has enormous untapped potential. Global demand for food is enormous and agricultural products command high prices. According to the World Bank, Africa has more than enough virgin farmland and water resources to sustain the growth of the agricultural sector. Today the average age of African farmers is 60. If young people have the opportunity to develop themselves in this sector and to build up agribusinesses this will provide enormous impetus for other sectors too.

A flourishing farming sector will invest in technological innovation and infrastructure and will stimulate the development of high-quality vocational training. It will also be an incentive for the processing industry to grow, where there are still plenty of opportunities for adding value locally to export products. In other words: choose agribusinesses as a catalyst for economic growth.

2. Choose for entrepreneurship: young people shouldn’t be followers; they need to become leaders. They are the ones who should shape their society. We have to support movements that enable them to emancipate themselves and become self-supporting: to make their own choices, while respecting their traditions and their parents and ancestors. We should provide training, coaching and education, and give them confidence in their own ability.

Choosing for entrepreneurship means daring to invest in the small group of next-generation farmers who have the potential to capitalize on their entrepreneurship, thereby creating employment opportunities for others. It means creating impact by keeping the inflow of development programs broad so that as many farmers as possible get a solid foundation, but funnelling further along.  

3. Choose for youth: young people have potential and are willing and able to embark on an adventure. They have a far higher learning curve than older people, and an insatiable appetite for knowledge on new technology. Geodata-based technology offers enormous opportunities to increase production, raises the status of agriculture in young people’s eyes and makes use of the practical experience that much of the younger generation in Africa already has – think smartphones etc.

Going for all sides at once

An integrated approach is needed. Going for all sides at once. In the short term young people need to be able to earn an income, while at the same time adopting a long-term perspective on developing sustainable agrifirms, taking into account climate change and global population growth. Going for both rural and urban: urbanization means more demand for freshly delivered food, but less availability of agricultural land near cities. Not only does infrastructure need to be improved in rural areas, but the possibilities for urban farming need to be looked into as well.

Going for better education that focuses on agricultural innovation. Going for access to technologies and innovation, such as using ICT for weather forecasting and smartphones for following regional, national and international markets. Going for access to financial services, so that young people can get the financing they need. Going for making grants and investments available. Going for access to improved seed, insecticides and fertilizers. Going for robust legislation and access to land and resources. And going for a better image for the agricultural sector: an image that shows how this sector can flourish and where opportunities lie.   

Focus on employment in agriculture for young Africans

African countries themselves need to take responsibility and the lead in creating programs that promote youth employment and create a good enabling environment. But international civil society organizations, donors and the private sector can contribute expertise, (investment) capital and market access.

A paradigm shift is needed. ICCO’s contribution is our long experience of stimulating entrepreneurship: deploying all the instruments that are needed, like Agribusiness booster, Terrafina and Impact booster. We appeal for a radical focus on employment in the agricultural sector for young Africans – so they no longer have to feel they are superfluous and don’t stand a chance, but can truly realize a demographic dividend for their society.

Author Marinus Verweij
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