There is a myth that most farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are over 60 years of age – which is far from the fact. According to the International Journal for Rural Development, Rural 21, the average age of the agricultural workforce ranges from about 32 years to 39 years.
However, many young people consider that agriculture is not an attractive career due to perceptions of low financial returns and a lack of status. In addition, access to land and financing as well as a lack of skills transfer remain the top three barriers for youth and women looking to enter the field of agriculture.
“Africa is naturally endowed for agricultural excellence, but economies and countries are struggling because they haven’t fully utilised the potential of our women and youth,” Managing Partner of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition and Founder of LEAP Africa Ndidi Nwuneli said when she addressed the audience as the keynote speaker. Nwuneli added that women and youth in agriculture need to have agency and a voice, as well as equitable access to finance and land.
An online roundtable attended by four agricultural entrepreneurs from across Africa and hosted by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy and Corteva Agriscience, was held to address the policy, regulatory, and financing barriers that inhibit them from starting and expanding their agribusinesses. Comprehensive support is critical to ensure that youth and women farmers are equipped to run agricultural enterprises that are resilient, adaptive to change and competitive.
Practical tips for attracting the youth to agriculture include:
- Breaking the perception that farming is antiquated and unprofitable.
- Use of digital platforms and tools: Farmers must share their experiences on Facebook and similar social media platforms to show what it is really like.
- Encourage the next generation to seek their future careers in agriculture, not only as producers but as agricultural economists and scientists.
- Give young people a voice in agricultural forums. The solutions lie with young people. It is time to involve them in finding these solutions. The time for us to support young people and create an enabling environment in agriculture is now.
- Enhance training programmes – include practical agriculture training in primary and secondary schools.
- Hands-on farming internship programmes for aspiring farmers - use working farms as incubation platforms for agricultural students to assist them to understand different technologies and encourage knowledge sharing.
- Policy reforms which take into account social constraints, such as responsibilities in the home.
- Reforms to the banking system to broaden access to finance, such as new creative financial instruments.
- Young farmers must build and maintain networks and ecosystems of support.
Make Agriculture Accessible to Youth
“This is the era of young people and women. We have women who are passionate about agriculture. If we put them on the land, we will unlock the potential of our economy,” Thato Moagi, MD of Legae La Banareng Farms, said.
“Those of us at the forefront must make agriculture more attractive for other young people. Being an example means sharing your experiences with other people, even if it is on social media, to give them an idea of what it means to be a farmer.” She advised first-generation farmers to take every opportunity with both hands. “Attend every seminar, take every learning opportunity. When you take the opportunities offered to you, it’s easier for others to follow.”
While there are women agricultural entrepreneurs involved in food production and processing across the continent, Nwuneli said there remains a lack of women in agricultural research, development, and logistics. Emma Naluyima, a Ugandan veterinarian, urban farmer and teacher, said: “It is now time for women. We have to carry our chair to the table and take our place.” She encouraged women to impart the knowledge they have gained to others, including their children.
Break down barriers through systems of support
Access to land and financing remain barriers for women and youth in agriculture. Moagi said policy around land reform and legislation should empower women and youth through ownership so they can raise financing. “Supportive social and financial structures are needed, as well as the political will to implement these, sharing is the only way in which we can support and develop people,” she said.
Reconsidering traditional co-operative structures could optimise communal land through the sharing of resources, knowledge and skills. “Finding good partners enables farmers to pool their resources, which are not only monetary resources, but can also be knowledge and even machinery. Optimising communal structures could unlock the value of the land.”
Panellist Nneile Nkholise is a product engineer who co-founded 3DIMO, a South African and US-based agritech company that provides an online marketplace for the sale of cattle using artificial intelligence. She suggested reforms to the banking system were needed to broaden access to finance, such as new financial instruments that consider overall farm productivity and not the credit record history of individual farmers as criteria for loans.
A trailblazing farmer and founder of Mnandi Africa, Zimbabwean Ruramiso Mashumba argued that policy reforms must have an understanding of social structures. For example, she explained that rural women are often not able to attend training courses or community sessions due to other responsibilities in the home or security concerns.
Corteva is confident that the right support and increased adoption of technology and innovations, including digital tools, will help increase farming output and will also help to entice younger generations to go back to the farm since it will no longer be as labour-intensive as it was for their parents and grandparents. The challenge and the opportunity lie in making agriculture sexy again.
Our world needs creative, innovative, and courageous young people who can connect, collaborate and act. We know that youth are 100% the future. The time is now to let them share their dreams and design the future they want to see. The solutions lie with young people - it is time to involve them in finding these solutions.
Corteva Agriscience has partnered with the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA) to implement an immersive tailor-made 12-month programme to assist 30 women, farmers, to develop their entrepreneurial, business and leadership skills to be able to operate and sustain profitable farms. Through its focus on self and leadership development, entrepreneurial competencies and managerial skills, the programme focuses on strengthening the capacity of women in agriculture so that they are better equipped to contribute to this key sector, and ultimately to create jobs and grow the economy.