IITA’s approach to engaging youth in agriculture and generating employment

Increasing youth engagement in profitable agriculture and agribusiness is critical for sustainable agricultural development. IITA’s youth-in-agribusiness program was initiated in 2012 and is now being used by other development organizations and donors to drive an Africa-wide movement that is helping increase youth employment, generate jobs and income, and encourage local industries and entrepreneurs to go into agribusiness, thus helping African economies to develop agriculture for development.

In 2012, a project was initiated in IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria, to guide underemployed university graduates towards careers in market-oriented agriculture and agribusiness. The approach used was experiential, with clusters of youth who completed their mandatory year-long youth service provided with support—resources and expertise—to explore options for income generation, and then develop business plans and enterprises around the most promising ones.

This IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative incorporated diverse but complementary skills of an initial 32 individuals. Within 18 months, the group successfully produced tons of quality planting materials (seed, stems, suckers) of cassava, maize, soybean, and new plantain varieties. They initiated vegetable, fish and soy milk operations, leading to the creation of a marketing arm within the group. After one year, IITA launched similar incubations in DR Congo (32 members) and Tanzania (48 members). In Nigeria, many local government and private organizations in Nigeria are now organizing youth groups using this same model.

IYA has now spread Africa-wide with youth groups established in several locations within Nigeria―the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja, Kano, Onne, and Borno State―and other African countries like Kenya, DR Congo (Bukavu, Kinshasa, and Kisangani), Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

IYA now runs an incubation center where young graduates who are interested in agriculture undergo training in agribusiness for 18 months after which they develop bankable business plans to venture into any chosen agribusiness enterprise. A group known as the Green Wealth Agripreneurs was the first set of participants that underwent this program. A second group, called Green Magic also started the program and is now managing their own start-up businesses.

IYA also has an active training arm that organizes and facilitates training for other youth and youth groups. Since they started in 2013, IYA has trained more than 2,000 other youths, some of who are now successful agribusiness entrepreneurs.

This IYA model is now being used in the African Development Bank-funded project called Empowering Novel AgriBusiness-Led Employment for Youth in African Agriculture (ENABLE Youth) implemented by IITA. The Program’s goal is to “expand opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness to youth as a means to advance rural livelihoods and economic development across Africa.”

The Africa-wide program is designed as a comprehensive outreach effort that would provide information, proven technologies, and opportunities to about 800,000 youth in at least 20 African countries. Program opportunities include more than 20,000 internships, over 10,000 agribusiness startups and over 30,000 new jobs in rural and urban areas, leading to incomes of at least $450 per month and over $160 million per year into the future. Through these interventions, the ENABLE Youth Program will mobilize the energies and ambitions of youth as engines for employment and agricultural transformation, reducing migration to urban areas, and will improve the image of the youth among themselves, within their communities, and across society as a whole.

ENABLE Youth is a five-year program that combines the vision of IITA and the African Development Bank for youth in Africa and is undertaken in collaboration with at least 20 national and many more private sector partners in Africa. It will operate through four Regional Hubs and at the country level. Its activities and gains are intended to extend well beyond the project’s timeframe through linkages between youth groups, national programs, financial services and future strategic interventions by the African Development Bank and other development partners. The total benefit from ENABLE Youth is pegged at half a billion dollars per year.