African universities provide tremendous expertise in the areas of agricultural science but too many of their graduates have difficulty in applying these skills within business workplaces. This is attributed to disparity between the growth of universities and the economies they are intended to reinforce, focus on technologies rather than accompanying business skills, and employment opportunities being less determined by merit than other factors. The net effect is that skilled graduates find it difficult to land meaningful employment, causing many to accept lifestyles well below their expectations. At the same time, decades of agricultural research have now resulted in new technologies and innovations that offer opportunity to improve agricultural production and profits, but these breakthroughs remain under-adopted. Ironically, these same marginalized youth are urgently needed to modernize African agriculture in a way that achieves food and nutritional security and revitalizes rural economies. How best can we align these graduates to unfolding agribusiness opportunities related to proven agricultural technology breakthroughs? A pathway is to promote agribusiness start ups that incorporate these technologies into rural-based profitable enterprises that provide decent incomes for their entrepreneurs and that grow to provide additional employment for others. Recognizing this prospect, the International Institute of Agriculture (IITA) launched its Youth in Agribusiness programme (often referred to as Agripreneurs) where under-employed graduates of different disciplinary backgrounds participate in pilot agricultural enterprises in a manner that provides balanced experiential learning needed to create their own successful business. Also included in this empowerment model is training in business planning, leading to grant and credit opportunities for agribusiness start up, backstopped by a range of support services. Starting with a single agribusiness incubation in Nigeria in 2012 of 40 youth operating six pilot enterprises, the Agripreneurs have grown into a movement in 13 countries. Technology-led enterprises particularly attractive to youth include production of improved and newly released grain and legume seed; vegetative production of cassava, yams and sweet potato; fish and poultry raising; farm mechanization; production of high-value vegetables; and value-added processing. In addition, youth-led agribusiness innovation was also shown capable of reviving stalled rural development projects and stagnating commercial farms. The strength of this approach was recognized by the African Development Bank that launched the ENABLE Youth country loan programme to further scale up this youth-led effort. So too, the recent Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation Programme has included a “Youth Enabler” to backstop efforts to advance nine key agricultural commodities that quickly resulted in 54 youth-led agribusiness start ups. But the Agripreneur Movement was never intended by IITA to become a permanent feature of the international research landscape, rather universities and vocational schools are expected to adopt the principles that have led to its success within both curricular and extra-curricular activities. All graduates in agricultural science should have advanced understanding of agribusiness sufficient for them to start their own enterprise. Graduate placement could also include credit institutions as well as perspective employers. So too, universities can launch their own agribusiness incubations where participating students both develop experiential skills and obtain modest incomes. Many universities have launched agribusiness curricula, but how well balanced are scholarly and practical knowledge, and how closely is learning linked to the breakthrough technologies expected to modernize African farming? And what are the universities learning from their graduates who then go on to form their own successful or failed agribusinesses? Indeed, a paradigm shift in agribusiness perspectives must start with the Universities themselves and this could be led by the RUFORUM.
Date of publication:
RUFORUM Working document series