Sparks of prosperity

By Katrin Glatzel

During his visit to Kenya two weeks ago, President Obama told Kenyans that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to “choose the path to progress” by continuing to root out corruption and be more inclusive of women and girls. He emphasised the role of young people in particular, saying that “when it comes to the people of Kenya — particularly the youth — I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve.  A young, ambitious Kenyan today should not have to do what my grandfather did, and serve a foreign master. You don’t need to do what my father did, and leave your home in order to get a good education and access to opportunity. Because of Kenya’s progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now”.

pic1Africa’s youth hold the key to unlocking the continent’s success. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and with estimates suggesting that Africa’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040, it will be largest and youngest worldwide. However, 70% of young people live on less than US$2 per day and youth underemployment is high as Africa’s urban labour markets are unable to absorb the increasing young population. This seems like a dim prospect for Africa’s young women and men. However, there is reason for optimism: investment in rural and food sector entrepreneurship in Africa can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent and significantly contribute to Africa’s rural and urban growth.

With growing urban populations and an expanding middle class across African countries, the demand for more nutritious, varied and processed food is increasing. This generates new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for farmers and young people. However, for young people, agriculture is often perceived as unattractive, outdated, unprofitable and hard work. Yet, this is not necessarily the case and agriculture offers lots of opportunities on and off the farm along the entire agribusiness value chain.

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Credit, U.S. Embassy Nairobi

When President Obama joined a discussion with young entrepreneurs at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, he emphasised the country’s strong middle class, high economic growth, and entrepreneurial spirit, underscoring his belief that entrepreneurship is the ‘spark of prosperity’. Young people in particular see small and medium-sized businesses as an effective way to improve their lives and that of their families and communities.

In its 2014 report “Small and Growing: Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture”, the Montpellier Panel argued that entrepreneurship is rooted in small farm agriculture, but that pro-active policy design and investments are needed to help young entrepreneurs harness these opportunities.

In particular, the Panel recommends;

  • Farmers, rural communities, women and young people, must be better linked to markets to take advantage of the opportunities arising along the African agribusiness value chain. As the world’s “youngest” continent, markets must be stimulated to create more job opportunities within the agriculture value chain. These opportunities can be scaled-up by ensuring that credits, inputs and extension are available.
  • Strengthen higher education institutions for the agricultural sciences. Taught materials need to be linked to advances in technology, facilitate innovation and have greater relevance to a diverse and evolving agricultural sector, with a focus on agribusiness and entrepreneurship.
  • Harness and catalyse the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of young farmers and entrepreneurs by providing technical assistance, vocational and business training, including guidance for joint endeavours and cooperation. Beyond technical skills, building capacity for management, decision-making, communication and leadership should also be central.
  • Provide easy access to microfinance and credit to perceived high-risk groups.  Women and young people often do not have enough collateral or other resources to raise funds. Making microfinance more widely accessible is crucial for starting and growing successful enterprises, on an individual and group basis.

When Obama came to Kenya…he pointed out the obvious, but his emotional speech left Africa’s young people inspired. Given the right support – financial, institutional and educational – there is no holding back for Africa’s young generation to unlock theirs and the continent’s potential.

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