Youths are the livewire of any country. A productive youth will create a productive economy. In collaboration with the Michigan State University, Master Card Foundation has launched a programme for the empowerment of 15,000 youths in Nigeria and Tanzania.
With unemployment on the rise, the youth can find opportunities in the agricultural sector as entrepreneurs.
The Master Card Foundation and Michigan State University (MSU) Ag youth lab is designed with this in mind to assist the youth in employment and entrepreneurship in the agrifood system in Nigeria and Tanzania.
Launched in Lagos, the Ag youth lab is intended to support 15,000 youths aged 18 and 24, by improving their abilities to find quality farming and agro-processing jobs, access finance, start and grow agro-businesses, and expand opportunities.
At the launch of the lab in Lagos, the Special Assistant on Innovation & Entrepreneurship to the Acting President, Ife Adebayo, said job creation through agriculture remained a priority of the Buhari-led administration.
He reiterated that the government was determined to invest in empowering the youth to build their entrepreneurial and technical skills and spirit so that they could help boost agricultural productivity.
Adebayo said youth participation along the value chain was vital to the growth of the economy, from food production, storage and handling, to agro-processing.
He urged the youth to avail themselves of the opportunities in the sector.
The Ag youth lab, he said, will provide a vibrant space for youths development – supporting young people to play an active role in food production.
John Hannah Distinguished Professor of Land Policy, MSU, Adesoji Adelaja, said it is a five-year $13 million collaboration.
The partnership, he explained, will support the youth in major food sheds in Lagos and Dar es Salaam to access employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Nigeria, according to him, will have the lion’s share in the deal to help young people access employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the fast-growing horticulture, aquaculture, poultry, cassava and oilseed sectors.
He said the project is targeting 10,000 youths in Nigeria, adding that 75 percent of the fund will be used to support them.
He said the project could provide new jobs in agrifood systems, by identifying constraints affecting the capacity of youth to take up these economic opportunities.
Adelaja explained that the project would pursue a mixed programme strategy to increase youth economic opportunities on and off-farm. The programmes will increase the knowledge, productivity and market engagement of youth who have the desire and ability to be good farmers.
He noted that agriculture is increasingly seen as offering a bright future for young people and a way to stimulate growth in the rural economy.
Senior Adviser to the Associate Provost and Dean, International Studies and Programmes at MSU, Dr Julie Howard, said the project will seek increased investment and policy change to support the scaling up of activities to boost youth participation in Agric employment and entrepreneurship.
She said efforts would concentrate on green revolution technologies and supportive government policies that kick-started rural economic growth processes and pulling more youths into more productive jobs.
She talked about unexploited opportunities: increasing youth employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture. These opportunities, according to her, relate to modernising traditional agriculture, and range from on-farm service provision (e.g. tractors for hire, input dealers) to food processing, marketing, and the expansion of food away from home products and services. Not creating more and better economic opportunities for young people, she warned, could threaten to stability.
Managing Director/CEO, Venture Garden Group Nigeria, focuseBunmi Akinyemiju, said Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools would help modernise agriculture, make value chains more efficient, provide new employment opportunities, and attract more young people to the sector.
Specifically, he said young farmers who apply ICT tools and skills to their farming businesses have higher yields, incomes and social status.
According to him, facilitating access to ICTs and improving rural broadband connectivity are key to attracting young entrepreneurs to agriculture.
He stressed that efforts in this field must go hand in hand with increased capacity building in ICT use, tailored towards agribusiness development.
The Ag Youth Lab would emphasise policy research, data and analytics to develop a cost-effective, scalable model for youth training and facilitation, she added.
“Our e-learning and monitoring and evaluation platforms will support the program by providing trainees and other stakeholders with the information needed to succeed,” Akinyemiju, the lead partner responsible for data and information technology activities, said.
Senior Programme Manager, Youth Livelihoods, The Master Card Foundation, Alemayehu Koira, said the youth programme would provide skills training for economically disadvantaged young people so they could find employment.
The skills training focus onn developing foundational skills, such as literacy and numeracy, and technical skills.
He said agricultural production is central to young people’s livelihood. Youth participating in the programme, he noted, is given to enable them to venture into farming and food processing, value addition and sales.
The vision of MasterCard Foundation, he reiterated, is to see youths transform agriculture into agri-businesses.
One of the major goals of the project, Koira said, is a radical change in the way youths are taught agriculture and entrepreneurship. The skills required for a modern agriculture and food system, he explained, are of a higher order and need to be upgraded significantly.
Provost, Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology (OYSCA-TECH), Prof Gbemiga Adewale, said the project delivers a comprehensive package of services, including skills training, business development and mentoring to young people aimed to equip youth with the skills and knowledge necessary to capitalise on economic opportunities and increase their incomes, with the ripple effects benefiting thousands out there.
Using a “train the trainers” approach, local colleges and their graduates would train community facilitators to expose youth to new opportunities and pass on skills using an experiential learning approach.
“We will work together to establish an atmosphere where youth will be able to create jobs and become agents of food sufficiency as well as ambassadors of character,” Adewale said.
Deputy Director-General, Partnerships for Delivery, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Kenton Dashiell, said IITA would bring the lessons from its experience to help Ag Youth Lab tap the dynamism of Africa’s youth.