It is widely acknowledged that agriculture, or more properly agribusiness, is the key to transforming African economies. That indeed is the core message of the latest African Transformation Report: Agriculture Powering Africa’s Economic Transformation. Of course, there are several means by which this key can be turned to open the possibilities of transformation that the sector presents. Relevant questions such as ‘what is the role of governments?’, ‘how can private enterprise help stimulate growth in the sector?’, ‘where should the focus be – smallholder farmers or large scale commercial farmers?’ are being asked. And a topic getting more and more attention is the role of the youth in this transformation agenda. Youth unemployment is a major concern as more young people – both educated and uneducated – enter the job market than the number of jobs created. Yet agriculture provides a major opportunity to provide employment while also guaranteeing food security, the opportunity to hit two birds with one stone!
The youth have not been blind to this opportunity and many have taken up agriculture, working in all aspects of agricultural value chains. We now have a landscape of highly innovative start-ups run by young entrepreneurs doing wonderful things across the agricultural value chains. These so-called agripreneurs are showing that the youth are ready for the challenge.
But while youth enthusiasm and enterprise are crucial, they are certainly not enough. Successful start-ups in the agriculture sector may be the start of new and potentially crippling challenges. Indeed, growth can be the greatest enemy of a start-up. For the challenges that face a growing business are very different from those facing start-ups. As a business grows, the entrepreneurs become managers above all else, managing many moving parts whose failure can result in very unhappy customers. Therefore, for a growing business, capacity building is the key to sustainability.
The Young Innovators in Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development (YIELD) project seeks to build the capacity of agripreneurs who are at the verge of take-off so that they can negotiate the turbulent waters of growth. A three-phase project, YIELD has the core objective of helping young agripreneurs to scale up their agribusiness by studying thoroughly what works in the field and how this can be integrated into the business models of these agripreneurs. It is being implemented by three partner institutions, namely the African Center for Economic Transformation, a pan-African think-and-do tank based in Accra, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and Michigan State University, with funding from the African Alliance for Partnerships.
Phase one of the project is critical. It involves conducting a thorough study to determine how agripreneurs operate. This is critical firstly because the subsequent phases largely depend on it, but more importantly it puts evidence at the core of policy discourse and agribusiness development. This means that any actions and policy advice offered will be based on what is concretely happening on the ground. Thus, interventions will have a fair chance of succeeding. But evidence alone is not enough.
Phases two and three build on the evidence in two ways. First, using technology as an enabler, select young agripreneurs will be taken through skills training sessions in the form of webinars. This is aimed at helping them scale up their businesses. Secondly, there will be two convenings – one each in Ghana and Tanzania – where policy makers will be presented with possible policy changes at the governmental level to promote agripreneurship.
The YIELD approach therefore combines three elements that are essential to promote entrepreneurship in agriculture – evidence, skills development and policy advocacy. I believe this will lead not only to successful agripreneurship promotion but will become a model for other projects.
Dr. Julius Gatune Kariuki is Senior Research and Policy Advisor at the African Center for Economic Transformation.