By Kwame Yeboah
At the same time, growing populations, urbanization and rising incomes are fueling increased demand for food and agricultural products in the region, featuring more diverse, high value and processed foods including meat, dairy and horticulture. However, because of prevailing low productivity levels, Africa’s agricultural production systems have not evolved proportionally to keep up with this growing demand. Consequently, an increasing share of the continent’s food demand is being met through food imports, which is estimated at US$68 billion annually according to the African Transformation Report 2017. Improving the capacity and productivity of local producers to re-capture this growing food market could accelerate economic growth and create jobs for young people both on the farm and in off-farm activities including improved seed, fertilizer and machinery service provision, as well as in post-harvest handling, marketing and food manufacturing.
Unfortunately, agriculture is widely perceived by many young Africans as unattractive – an obvious result of the historical low profitability and drudgery associated with traditional agricultural practices. Even those young people with a predilection for agriculture typically lack the skills and/or access to productive resources to effectively take advantage of opportunities in the rapidly evolving agricultural and food system. Also, many of the youth-in-agriculture initiatives across the continent have neither been scaled up nor have they yielded the desired results. This is partly due to the fact that most initiatives are occurring within a limited evidence base and much of the existing narratives are largely devoid of the inputs of the young people they are intended to serve.
In response to these policy challenges, the Young Innovators in Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development (YIELD) project seek to assist young entrepreneurs to access and maximize opportunities in the rapidly evolving agrifood system in Africa through an integrated approach that combines actionable research with capacity building. It strives to strengthen youth voices in programming by learning from the experiences of successful young entrepreneurs in agricultural value chains (also known as agri-preneurs) and documenting new knowledge about their success factors and challenges. The findings will inform the design of capacity building programs to equip these young agri-preneurs with relevant foundational, soft, and industry-specific skills required to increase their performance and scale up their operations.
In line with the project’s objectives, YIELD is convening in Accra selected agri-preneurs from Tanzania and Ghana to share their experiences and learn new techniques to advance their enterprises. The selection was based on specified criteria that took into account the characteristics of the entrepreneurs and their enterprises, including years of formal education, number of employees, segment of the value chain the enterprise operates, a performance score for the past 3 years, innovativeness, youth network affiliations, and registration status of the business. The convening in Ghana is conducted in partnership with Design Thinking Ghana Hub, National Entrepreneurship and Investment Plan (NEIP) and the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI).
YIELD is funded by the Alliance for Africa Partnership (AAP) and is being implemented as a partnership between Michigan State University, USA, Africa Center for Economic Transformation, Ghana, and Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania. Through the YIELD project, it is expected that a network of successful young agri-entrepreneurs could be created to serve as role models and catalysts for promoting entrepreneurship among other young people across Africa.
Dr. Kwame Yeboah is an Assistant Professor of International Development, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) at Michigan State University and is AFRE’s lead team member on the YIELD project.