Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru is a young Nigerian lady passionately driving the beauty in agriculture in her home country. Proud to be a farmer, she’s got her swag – twitting @PrettyFarmer on her sleek tablet.
Cynthia produces food to feed her nation, and delights in inspiring other young persons to take up a profession in agribusiness.
Her company, Honeysuckle Ventures, distributes livestock produce to fast food companies and restaurants in Lagos and one of her farms is used for research and training of young farmers in the agri-food sector.
For Cynthia, it is critical that women and the youth focus less on the drudgery of agriculture and rather focus on the opportunities therein for financial independence and the nutritional security of families.
“If people are concerned about the quality of the food that they eat, they should be concerned about the quality of the produce that comes out of the farm…it means that we need to be involved” she noted. “Now if as women, as young people we love to eat, wear cloths, we love to spend money, then I think it’s critical that we begin to look closely at the agric sector”.
Cynthia inspires her peers not only in Nigeria but others of Africa to venture agriculture, a profession often perceived to be unattractive to today’s African youth.
“I think that people need to begin to look at the brighter side and then appreciate agriculture for what it is – a wealth creating platform. This is one sector that singly is capable of creating total employment across its value chain”, she added.
In Ghana, the government’s Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP) was established to increase employment opportunities and incomes, encourage entrepreneurship, and upscale food production.
With the average national farmer age at 55 years, the programme seeks to increase productivity in agricultural sector by tapping into the energy of the youth who compromise about 30percent of Ghana’s active population.
According to National Programme Coordinator, Alhaji Adam Mahama, the Ghanaian youth are interested in venturing agriculture but financial constraints remain major obstacle.
“My office, on daily basis, is filled with applications, proposals from youth, university graduates – both male and female – who are interested in going into agriculture but I’m constrained by funding”, he stated.
Alhaji Adam estimates that a minimum of Gh₵10,000 ($5,000) is needed to support a university graduate to be able to take off into full-time agriculture, but such funding is not readily available.
He however does not subscribe to the establishment of a fund by government to be accessed by the youth “because immediately government takes too much interest in funding such things, people don’t want to be independent”.
Hence, government should provide the farming inputs whilst the private sector is engaged in providing financial packages for such agricultural ventures, he opined.
“If a package is made in such a way that they take the money from the banks that they can use and pay back to the banks [and] account to the banks, then they’ll learn to be independent and good private sector”, noted Alhaji Adam.
Private sector agribusiness players believe the public-private partnerships are important to drive young people into agribusiness but this, they say, must be devoid of politics.
Prince Obeng Asante, Deputy Managing Director of Ghana Nuts Company, says concepts geared towards youth employment must move from a political platform to a pseudo-business organization for the private sector to buy into them.
“It should be partnership which is built on rock, not on sand which can easily be washed away when the political season comes to an end”, he observed.
Ghana Nuts is a leading agro processor, manufacturer and exporter of a gamut of edible oils, animal feed input materials and Shea Butter.
The company has been supporting the agricultural project under the National Service Scheme and recently received 4,000 bags of yellow maize from the NSS Wenchi Farm to produce feed for the local poultry industry.
The NSS project is making some inroads with an expected harvest in excess of eight metric tonnes of maize by end of 2012 from the combined 2,120 acres it is farming in five regions.
It is early days yet to ascertain what percentage of the young national service personnel engaged in the NSS agric project would opt for full-time ventures in farming or agribusiness at the end of their service.
But Prince Obeng says there is the need to critically show young people that agriculture could provide a dynamic and productive future for them.
Young people who see the profitability in agriculture will naturally move into the sector, he said.
“The cost of production vis-à-vis the revenue has been the major bottleneck; the guy is spending Gh₵1,000 per hectare and the revenue coming from it is Gh₵900, why do you think the youth will be there?” queried Prince. “But if today we say that you spend Gh₵1,000 but your revenue is Gh₵2,000, so the [profit] margin is Gh₵500, I tell you even the dead will resurrect and go into agriculture”.
To set the agenda right, Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru, who is currently a Youth Consultant to the African Union Commission, has emphasized the direct engagement of the youth in agricultural policy formulation whilst providing avenues for the youth to access mentors and role models to success in agribusiness.
Already, youth in agriculture is one of the driving issues on which the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focuses its work.
“Granted that there are a lot of countries benefiting from oil and natural resources, but most of the countries in Africa today are primarily agriculture-based communities, so when you think about the future of agriculture you should start with the source which is the young people of Africa”, said James Tefft, Senior Policy Officer, FAO Regional Office for Africa.
He wants the subject of young people in agriculture to be embedded within national policies in the implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
He says investments in the agricultural sector should be about the people and integrating youth in agriculture is essential in addressing the demographic challenges.
“The policy framework in Ghana with respect to METASIP exists but we need to get into the specifics of how these partnerships between public and private actors actually take place… we need the young people, civil society [to be] engaged in the process. So to move forward, we need to move into the specific of the dialogues at very decentralized levels”, said James Tefft.
The Ghanaian government developed the Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP) to implement the Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II) over the medium term 2011-2015.
Whilst expecting agricultural policies to be youth-centered, there is the potential for women and young people to strategically plug into the sector by “unlocking their minds and view agriculture as a business; it is not just about farming and tilling the soil – there is processing, packaging, distribution, cold storage, marketing – the opportunities across its value chain is enormous”, said Cynthia Umoru.
Transforming mindsets are the core values of the AgroMindset Organisation, which is educating a new generation of entrepreneurial minded agriculturists in Ghana.
“Our idea is using the bottom-up approach to transform youthful thinking from fork (state of consumption) to field (state of activity and productivity), and so we seek to introduce the concept of agric entrepreneurship to young people right from childhood”, said Founding Director, David Asiamah.
The Organization seeks to erase negative perceptions about farming, showcasing that it can bring people great wealth and prosperity, through strategies like organising the Agro Summit and Agro Tourism events, embarking on outreaches, undertaking Green projects and promoting agribusiness, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“We have visited over 5000 young people in basic schools and our meetings attract interested students and industry experts to learn and share ideas at the same time churning them into entrepreneurs”, he said.
Without a clear policy strategy for engaging this rising group of rural youth, Africa’s leaders and the development partners that work with them risk creating an economic time bomb for their successors, warned David Asiamah.