Jobs For Africa, Food For The World
Why investing in agricultural entrepreneurship is the best bet for generating wealth and food security in Africa
Young people, no matter where they are from, search for a different life from the ones their parents lived. It is not surprising therefore, that so many young Africans are reluctant to take on farming as a career. Globally, the average age of a farmer is 55 years old, and backbreaking labour in harsh weather conditions still dominates the sector’s image.
Yet a successful business is driven by demand, and never has the appetite for varied, nutritious food been as strong in the rapidly developing urban centres in Africa as it is today. The rising demand for food and swelling populations in Africa have universally been considered an obstacle to development – but is it time to look at these factors as an opportunity? Increased demand for food and a bigger workforce should mean that anyone willing to invest in agricultural businesses is in for a profitable, vibrant career, if they are given the support they need.
And you may not always find agricultural entrepreneurs on a farm. They might be innovators that see an opportunity to take farming to the next level. Take Sanoussi Diakite, from Senegal, for example. He spotted the demand for the popular and nutritious cereal fonio, which grows in sixteen African countries under most soil and weather conditions. The problem lay in the time-consuming, labour-intensive way fonio had to be husked. To unlock the potential for trade in this cereal, Sanoussi invented a machine that was able to remove the husks in a fraction of the time.
Since then, the machine has undergone extensive field trials and is now manufactured in Dakar and in use throughout West Africa. In regions where the machines are used, farmers are planting more of the cereal. More than 20 machines are now operating in seven West African countries, and Sanoussi is now seeking financing to set up a factory for large-scale production of the device. The possibilities for Sanoussi’s business are boundless; fonio also offers a potential source of foreign exchange for West Africa as it is highly sought after by West African emigrants.
So how can Africa cultivate more innovative enterpreneurs like Sanoussi, and show Africa’s young workforce a new vision of agriculture?
This week, the Montpellier Panel of European and African experts releases a new paper – “Small and Growing: Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture” (click here to download it) – which seeks to revamp the idea of what a career in the agribusiness value chain could look like, and outlines concrete recommendations on how donors and governments can make targeted investments to nurture a continent of burgeoning entrepreneurs like Sanoussi.
One group of recommendations centres on finance. Farming related businesses are often seen as high risk. Young people and women often don’t have the land or assets to guarantee a loan and the profitability is seen as uncertain as the weather. Improved access to finance for these groups, by considering the viability of the whole value chain when lending, will help these groups get the capital to kickstart their businesses.
The second group of recommendations centres on education. Not just higher education in the agricultural sciences, but vocational and business management training, that will equip people with the skills to run a small business, write a business plan and help that business grow.
Finally, governments need to take leadership and invest in the institutions and infrastructure that a generation of agricultural entrepreneurs requires. The right economic policies need to create an enabling environment that will allow these businessmen and woman to flourish.
With the right investments, agribusiness can transform into a thriving, vibrant sector, replete with jobs that can offer profitable careers to populations across the continent. Producing food and building wealth can go hand in hand, and dismiss the portrait of a struggling farmer once and for all.