The Role of Agri-Entrepreneurship and Farming Innovations

The Role of Agri-Entrepreneurship and Farming Innovations

On January 20, 2016 a seminar was organized on the topic of entrepreneurship and innovations in developing countries for young peoples’ involvement in farming. Participants were mid-career professionals from Africa and Asia as well as Netherlands-based professionals that were representing knowledge, policy and private institutes. Three presenters brought in ideas from the fields of information and communication technology (ICT), Slow Food, and cooperatives for young professionals. These ideas were further explored in five group sub-sessions. At the concluding feedback session, (knowledge) questions abstracted from the morning discussion were mentioned for possible elaboration and future use. Questions included learning from initiatives that create new ICT jobs in agri-value chains and how to draw more attention to cognitive challenges that young entrepreneurs face.

The seminar titled, “The future of our food: What role can agri-entrepreneurship and farming innovations play to engage young women and men in the agricultural sector?” was hosted by the Center for Development Innovation (CDI) of Wageningen University and Research Center. The seminar and its participants discussed a broad range of constraints, challenges and opportunities that were based on concrete experiences of organizations. The aim of the morning session was to inspire and learn from each other in order to improve the engagement of youth in agriculture. This session followed up on the December 9, 2015 seminar titled, “The future of our food: How to engage young women and men in the agricultural sector?”. CDI, AgriProFocus, the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) and Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) hosted this end of the year seminar. A report on this December event was published by the Food & Business Knowledge Platform in January 2016.

The need of youth employment creation in Africa

The first part of the seminar provided insights from three different perspectives: research, youth networks and farmer cooperatives. Ken Lohento of the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) outlined some findings from the recent study, “Africa’s young entrepreneurs: unlocking the potential for a brighter future” This study was conducted by IDRC as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) project. It found that people under the age of 25 in Sub-Saharan Africa are three times more often to be unemployed than adults, and this subgroup makes 62% of the total population in the region. The essential job creation should come from rapid growing companies, yet in practice very few jobs are created, even in countries with many entrepreneurs. For instance, 78% of the youth businesses in Angola have created up to five jobs per business. However in Malawi, 88% of the youth businesses do not even create additional jobs. Almost 75% of the youth businesses indicated they were using technologies or procedures that are more than five years ago. The majority of the new youth businesses are in retail trade, hotels and the restaurant industry. The share of agriculture in these businesses is very low: agriculture, forestry and fishing together have a share of approximately 10%. Furthermore, young women are as actively involved in entrepreneurial activities as young men. However, young female business owners are 1.3 times more likely to only offer employment to themselves and no employees in comparison to businesses owned by young men.

The potential of patience and young boards within cooperatives

Zayaan Khan of the Slow Food Network in South Africa remarked on the importance of grassroots initiatives for youth in agriculture. Small-scale entrepreneurs working in food in South Africa show the importance of patience as the networks in which they engage in take time to develop. By starting at the local level, networks can be built and events can be organized, all the while with cultures and traditions being revived. These types of initiatives are needed to bring youth back to a career in agriculture. Additionally, Marije Clever shared her story as a farmer for the dairy company Friesland Campina and along with other young farmers, they both tried to influence the decision-making processes of the cooperative. Even though they do not have a formal say, they have been successful and influential in various issues thanks to their board of young members. Incorporating youth in the decision-making process within the value chain might be a method to engage global youth to come back to farming.

Stigmatization of youth

With the main presentations as a basis, five themes were further elaborated upon in the World Café discussions. Simon Bailey of Aflatoun, a network organization for children’s rights, addressed cognitive constraints for the engagement of youth in agriculture and their access to value chains. For example, Aflatoun is struggling with the challenges of hierarchical structures inside communities that prevent youth from ownership of assets or inclusion in decision-making processes, particularly in local programmes in Ghana and Uganda. Also, entrepreneurial attitudes, freedom from stigmatization and psychological well-being are important requirements for successful engagement in agriculture.1 Several images are feeding the stigmatization of agriculture, including the rural peripheries that are associated with poverty, the feeling of failure and being left behind. On the opposite end, cities are seen as sources of wealth, opportunity and success. Institutional arrangements, such as targeted financing or safety nets, can make agriculture as an image more attractive, especially with specific programmes that are aimed towards changing attitudes, images and cognitive capacities that, in general, could make a difference. This approach has a double benefit even: it increases the assets that the youth possess and; helps them improve their psychological and cognitive status. It is also sustainable as it seeks to reconnect different generations and transfer knowledge between them.

ICT as a fertile opportunity

In another session, the topic focused on how ICT can offer opportunities for work creation in the improvement of agri-chains. Experiences have shown that capacity building and training of young (potential) entrepreneurs does pay off. In the café session, CTA and others shared their successful initiatives of attracting youth in agri-business by using ICT. Sharing information about the farming business through social media (such as Facebook and WhatsApp) has improved skills of young farmers. Also teaching them how to exchange knowledge via blogs such as Yobloco and social media initiatives such as Makuli MaYoung has been positively welcomed by young professionals. In addition, helping these farmers get their voices heard at hackatons or at incubation ICT centers has become a beneficial strategy. The Ugandan digital platform for financial inclusion Ensibuuko is an example of a young social enterprise that sprouted from such an initiative. It has become a profitable company that creates disruptive digital solutions to make financial services easily accessible to unbanked and underserved people. Further, M-farm Kenya is a digital service that provides up-to-date market prices through a text message that is sent directly to farmers. It also gives users the opportunity to connect with buyers and farmers in their community to sell their produce. Through the social enterprise Hello tractor in Nigeria, low income farmers can measure the fertility of their soils with a mobile phone. Such powerful ICT tools and their broad scope, plus the fact that they are being developed by young professionals should be given more attention. There is a huge opportunity in ICT development for young people with an entrepreneurial spirit, particularly for those entrepreneurs who are not yet active in the field of agriculture. Its about time young entrepreneurs start to show their potential added value to ICT startups. FAO, CTA and ITU are now acknowledging the need for national E-agriculture strategies to better stimulate this entrepreneurship growth.

Inclusive policy on agroecology or agribusiness: the importance of networks

At the café gathering on the topic of policy instruments, people from India, Kenya, the Philippines, Uganda and Indonesia exchanged their strategies on what is working in their countries to attract young people to agriculture. Participants talked about the need for building trust among new and young entrepreneurs. It was concluded in the end that youth entrepreneurship can only develop in the right enabling environments, preferably in diverse public-private co-creation that allow elements of awareness, access to resources and development of skills.

At another session, the concept of agroecology (the balance between ecological soundness, economic viability and social justice) was at the centre of the debate. On one side, it was argued that agroecology improves agriculture’s productivity and sustainability. In her argument professor Irene Cardoso of soil science at the University of Viçosa in Brasil pointed to the report by UN Human Rights Council’ Special Rapporteur de Schutter that confirmed the potential of agroecology. On the other side, the viability of agroecology was questioned from multiple angles. How is it going to feed an increasingly growing world population? Is agroecology really environmentally sustainable, even if we take issues as soil composition into account? How is it going to be realized in a world of globalized inequality? All in all, there was enough information to reflect on the concept. There was also an idea to not contradict but merge all the best parts of this concept together. The talk with the Slow Food Youth Movement YPARD later concluded that networks and diversity are important in attracting young people to agriculture. It could lead to innovative solutions and resilience on a local scale.

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  • Richard Blossom