SEATTLE, Washington — Many African millennials perceive farm work as a last resort, a shameful form of employment that is indicative of poverty. Young African agripreneurs (a shortened form of “agricultural entrepreneurs”) are trying to reverse the stigma by professionalizing farming and transforming it into a more lucrative and attractive employment option for the youth.
The Current State of Agriculture
Africa is home to 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land. The continent has tremendous untapped crop potential that could drastically reduce food insecurity and produce surpluses that would increase exports. However, the average age of the African farmer is 60, and there are not enough young farmers to replace the aging ones. Instead, young Africans choose to flock to cities for urban jobs or alternative forms of employment.
The continent imports more than $35 billion in food each year, meaning that farmers are not able to meet demands even at current levels of agricultural employment. Food insecurity will only increase if the youth do not replace aging farmers. African agripreneurs have taken it upon themselves to attract youth back into farming by implementing scientific approaches, data analysis and innovative apps that could drastically improve crop yield and transform farming into a profitable option.
Farming is also threatened by forces other than a lack of youth interest. Changing climate patterns, unreliable rain-fed irrigation and desertification put pressure on the agricultural sector. Current farmers are neither trained nor equipped to face these challenges. African Agripreneurs have worked to develop platforms and workshops where they can share useful techniques and tools to combat the forces of climate change.
The Youth and Agriculture
Africans under 35 years of age constitute more than 60 percent of Africa’s population. While this could be considered an asset in terms of human resources, the rate of youth unemployment is also extremely high. An estimated eight to nine million Africans between the ages of 15-35 years are unemployed. Due to the stigma of farming, youth pour into the city in search of jobs in an already saturated job market. This leaves many of them unemployed or turning towards more illegitimate sources of income that can destabilize regions.
The mission of African agripreneurs to destigmatize farming is an important one not only for food security but also for political stability. By developing and using apps like CowTribe or FarmDrive, agripreneurs could turn farming into a more profitable business. It could increase the number of unemployed youths who would give farming a chance and remove themselves from the risk of falling into informal employment.
Governments agencies and nonprofit organizations recognize the importance of what millennial African agripreneurs are doing. The African Development Bank (ADB) has committed $35 million to the Enable Youth Program, which aims to give African agripreneurs the resources and training they need to succeed. In addition, the ADB hosts a conference every June to allow these agricultural entrepreneurs to network with investors and development partners while sharing their ideas with like-minded colleagues. The three-day conference exposes young agripreneurs to the entire process of business development, financing and marketing.
In Kenya, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture signed a pledge with Climate Smart Agricultural Youth to support young agripreneurs with training and capacity building exercises. Additionally, the two organizations plan to improve access to digital tools and financial resources in order to create more opportunities for these youths to develop lucrative and sustainable businesses.
In Ghana, the government sent out 27,000 agricultural officers to go to communities to educate farmers on the most effective farming practices or to pass out seedlings for hardy and high-yielding crops. Entrepreneurs who have profited from agriculture have taken it upon themselves to fund research to improve fertilizers, soils and irrigation systems and even dams. In fact, more than 570 irrigation dams have been built in Ghana since 2018. Celebrities use their platform to make farming cooler by singing about it or starring in farming reality television shows.
African agripreneurs are the driving force behind the new farming revolution. More and more youths are looking towards farming as an attractive, profitable and honorable trade. This renewed interest in agriculture is very good news for the future of Africa.
– Julian Mok