Jonathan AGWE, from IFAD, introduced the panellists and kicked off the session with a brief quiz to the audience concerning the definition of youth. Using the UN Secretariat definition of youth, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, about 14% of the 9-billion global population will be classified as youth by 2050. However, according to the African Youth Charter, which defines youth as those persons aged between 15 and 35 years, the number of young people will be at unprecedented highs by 2050.
Agwe explained that segmenting Rural Youth (RY) is more complicated than using an age basis. For example: a woman of 25 could already have three children and a husband, while her needs and environment are constantly changing. This makes product development for this population segment difficult, and tailored approaches are crucial to developing interventions to include RY.
Agwe described six challenges and limitations faced by RY: access to knowledge, involvement in policy dialogue, access to land, access to markets, implementation of agro jobs and access to targeted inclusive rural financial services. Furthermore, RY tend not to find agriculture attractive due to the small profit margins, low adaptation of technology and hard labour. Agwe introduced the opportunities and interventions that IFAD implemented over the past 14 years in the RY sector. Many RY are educated, migrate constantly between urban and rural areas and are eager to try new technology to grow their business. Through increased investments in the creation of an ecosystem with opportunities and market linkages, youth can become considerably less risky. Incorporating the Value Chain Approach (VCA) was acknowledged to have a positive effect.
Agwe then opened the panel for the speakers to share their practical experiences on the six challenges identified.
Ken LOHENTO shared the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) experience of working through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with young farmers and young entrepreneurs offering ICT services to the agro-food sector. ICT is used by youth farmers for multiple purposes such as farm management, traceability, pest management, mapping the value chains using GIS and GPS, for extension services and agricultural product promotion. CTA also promotes successful young agripreneurs by working with a young company which broadcasts their best practices through a webTV to inspire other youth.
CTA has worked with IFAD and FAO to promote best practices in access to land through the publication "Youth in agriculture: Key Challenges and Concrete Solutions1". A start-up supported in Senegal helps stakeholders who want to engage in agricultural production to collaborate with farmers and land owners.
Rahul ANTAO described IFAD's youth engagement through market linkages and the promotion of green jobs and scaling them up using the Value Chain Approach. Examples included supporting the ‘Slow Food' movement, which uses a system of certification to promote a label for ‘good, clean and fair' local foods that are important to preserving biodiverse ecosystems while creating a value chain that is sustainable and profitable. IFAD also invests in market requirement facilitation such as in ensuring young people's access to productive resources to improve standards for quality, and product labelling. As a result of such interventions in places like Senegal, more than 4,000 young men and more than 8,000 young women are now involved in agricultural value chains and increased their income. Interestingly, through facilitating market development, IFAD observed that MFIs are generally able to become self-sustaining within a period of six years.
Yves MOURY, from Fundación Capital, focused on the limited access to finance. He shared that access to finance is not the challenge, but that finance only comes when all other necessary elements for bankable business are arranged. Moury looked at how the rise of digital solutions is causing some banks, ATMs, credit offices and MFIs to disappear, while emphasising the importance of focusing on quality financial services. He also stated that credit may not necessarily be what the RY needs; RYs need other financial products and services such as savings, payments, transfers, insurance and overdrafts. He elaborated that focusing on growing savings can lead to higher impact and de-risk RY. Subsidies could also be used in a manner that encourages RY to save, for example with matched funds.
Marie Joseph MEDZEME ENGAMA, from PROPAC, emphasised the importance of gender, education and training of the youth, with a focus on business and entrepreneurship. PROPAC has carried out some important actions for young people, such as: the structuring of youth organisations in the various countries covered by PROPAC, the creation of a Regional Training Centre for Young Agricultural Professional Operators for Rural Youth from Central African Countries, supporting their job placement after the training, youth awareness campaigns on entrepreneurial culture, rural enterprise management, initiating the creation of national rural youth colleges, capacity building sessions for young people, and support for agricultural inputs.
Medzeme Engama gave the example in guiding youth in designing and implementing well-designed business plans. She shared examples of SOCOOPMAPTA cooperative for women and youth, which specializes in the cassava value chain. This organization has a business model based on the successful integration of the various links in the value chain, supply of inputs to members, production, processing / packaging, distribution and marketing, which leads to increased value-added. The cooperative is now expanding to tourism markets (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and working with chefs to promote more sophisticated use of cassava and healthy products.
Agwe briefly summarised the presentations, and emphasised that the work with RY in agriculture is complex, as there is no one-size-fits-all, no magic bullet or right answers. Interventions must be tailor-made to fit the environment and needs of the targeted RY. He also explained that IFAD has moved away from only pumping money into MFIs to taking a broader perspective, including the Value Chain Approach.
Moury built on this by explaining that an efficient way to increase the uptake of agriculture by RY is to replicate business models once they have been validated. Lack of investment into this trial and error phase of business model validation is a major gap for RY in agriculture. He stressed the importance of not handing out credit indiscriminately; it should only be available for the ‘few'. Savings, however, need to be available for the ‘many', if not for all youth. A member of the audience asked how landless unemployed youth can be assisted if not with credit. Moury answered by stating that subsidies are key to this, but not if the subsidy is used to offer subsidized credit, as this does not foster good business models.
Another question from the audience related to ways to add value to agriculture and make it attractive to the youth. Medzeme Engama stated that value addition needs to be facilitated through incubating different ideas by bringing capacity, financial literature and market players together to grow products and build value adding chains. Lohento gave the example of incubation opportunities that CTA supports for some of their young partners through the African Agribusiness Incubator network (AAIN).
Antao explained that reverse migration is an important factor in making agriculture attractive because RY that move to the city are more likely to discover agro opportunities to capitalize on upon their return. The scale-up lies in the ability for such business models to be replicated.