Theme: Youth & Women as Catalyst for Agribusiness Development & Growth
West and Central Africa continue to face major challenges of youth unemployment and under-employment that is set to worsen if determined and innovative measures are not deployed to curb it. Despite the fact that the crisis of ‘youth unemployment has been a persistent concern of politicians and policymakers, youth development - particularly among the rural poor - has remained at the margins of national development strategies in most countries. Rural – urban migration continues to further deplete a rapidly aging farming population as well as adding to increased delinquencies often associated with lack of opportunities for the young. There has been more rhetoric and cosmetic interventions than actual investment to solving the worsening problem. Procrastination will only worsen an already dicey situation and the time has never been more urgent to invest in young people in the sub region. Like in other regions of the world, notably South East Asia that productively utilised its youth bulge, the solution is in sound policies and institutions. With good policies set and consistently followed through, the potential to reap a dividend from a larger, younger work force is great.
Agribusiness offers realistic opportunities for job and wealth creation for young people. Nonetheless, a very significant proportion of young people are not currently attracted to the agricultural sector as they view it as drudgery, largely subsistent and characterized by inefficiency and very little profitability. Even rural youth that engage in agribusiness, do so largely on a subsistence scale. Whilst subsistence farms provide a source of food and a relatively small income for rural youth, they generally fail to produce enough to make re-investment possible. In addition, subsistence agricultural is currently plagued by high post harvest losses of products arising from lack of appropriate technologies (for processing, packaging, storage, marketing), and lack of proper handling of agricultural products especially perishable ones. Turning this trend around and getting young people to become catalysts for agribusiness development and growth is a challenge that must be overcome.
Young people can also act as catalysts of rural development and provide innovative ideas when crafting development policies. In order to realise their potential to contribute to economic growth and productivity improvement, rural youths need to be sufficiently incentivised to stay or return to their communities, with concrete opportunities to improve their livelihoods. There is a need to invest in pro-agricultural rural youth programmes that elevate economic and employment opportunities.
A vibrant rural sector generates local demand for locally produced products and services. In turn, this can spur sustainable off-farm employment growth in services, agro-processing and small-scale manufacturing. This is crucial for rural employment. Recognizing smallholder farms as agribusinesses, irrespective of their size or scale, is an important first step in making the sub region’s rural sector a viable choice for young people. The challenge is to create a vibrant rural economy by making agriculture more productive, efficient, remunerative and competitive with the view to creating employment for young people.
It is in this backdrop, the project – Youth & Women as Catalyst for Agribusiness Development & Growth in West &Central Africa was conceived. The project combines research on successful agribusiness enterprises such as the Songhai model with stakeholder consultations – ultimately aimed at developing policy guidelines for formulating agribusiness programmes as well as national policies that are focused on improving employment opportunities for young people in the agricultural sector. This youth workshop fair is a key aspect of the stakeholder consultation process.