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The business of farming: How digitalisation is bringing Africa’s youth back into agriculture

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Blog

They say that the future belongs to the young. In Africa, the future of the continent’s agriculture almost certainly belongs to its youth. More than 60% of Africans are under 25, and every year, 10-12 million young people enter the job market in search of employment. Vast numbers work in farming in rural areas – agriculture employs almost 70% of the population – but the prospect of higher wages and a more secure livelihood is driving urban migration for many others.

This trend, if it is not slowed or even reversed, could have far-reaching consequences for Africa’s food and nutrition security.

Digital technologies, along with the right policies and investments, have the power to change this. There has been significant growth in digitalisation for agriculture (D4Ag) over the last ten years, although in Africa it has been slow to serve the smallholders that produce some 80% of agricultural output.

At the same time, more than 70% of registered D4Ag users in Africa are between 15-35 years old. By coupling this digital savviness with rural opportunities, young ‘agripreneurs’ are identifying new and profitable business opportunities, not just in food production but across the entire agricultural value chain.

CTA is a leader in the use of digital technologies for agriculture and is at the forefront of the move towards precision agriculture solutions, including data gathering by satellites and drones, weather information and soil sensors. These digital tools are making agriculture more efficient and climate-smart, allowing farmers to plant and cultivate their crops with greater accuracy and increasing the appeal of a sector often considered physically gruelling and economically unpredictable.

Supporting digital entrepreneurship

For over five years, CTA has used the AgriHack Talent initiative to promote and support digital entrepreneurship among tech-savvy youth in Africa as well as the Caribbean and Pacific. The initiative’s primary focus is Pitch AgriHack, an annual competition for start-ups offering e-agriculture services. Entrants receive training and mentorship during a five-day boot camp. They also have the opportunity to pitch their digital agribusinesses to potential investors. Finalists have raised more than 2 million € to date and reached at least 1 million farmers and agricultural stakeholders with their services.

Likewise, the Eyes in the Sky project has supported the establishment of 30 rapidly expanding, largely youth-led enterprises that offer drone-based services in the agricultural sector. By enabling real-time data gathering and processing through the project’s support for these drone-based enterprises, CTA aims to enhance decision-making and so improve productivity and yields. The young entrepreneurs have been provided with technical training in the responsible use and piloting of drones as well as data acquisition and processing.

In Mali and Senegal, where youth unemployment is high, CTA has partnered with the Syngenta Foundation to train 50 young entrepreneurs to offer advisory services, such as advice on input use, via the RiceAdvice app developed by AfricaRice, as part of the Promoting Youth Entrepreneurship and Job Creation in the West African Rice Value Chain (PEJERIZ) project.

In Burkina Faso too, where agriculture accounts for 86% of the country’s economy but has undergone little modernisation, the Innovative Enterprise Development and Market Linkages for Young Agripreneurs in Burkina Faso (iDEAL Burkina) project is supporting young digital entrepreneurs to offer services to 300 young farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs in the country. On a broader scale, 25,000 professional stakeholders will benefit from the project, including agripreneurs, innovators and agricultural extension workers, but above all a revitalised youth population.

Africa Youth Month

Africa Youth Month offers an opportunity to celebrate the many achievements of the continent’s young people while recognising their ongoing role as key agents of change, economic growth and sustainable development in all areas of African society.

This is nowhere more apparent than in agriculture, where young women and men with vision and ambition are using digital innovations to reach and impact millions of stakeholders through CTA projects alone. As Michael Oluwagbemi, operator of Wennovation Hub, a Nigerian-based innovation accelerator, put it, D4Ag “puts ‘sexy’ back in agriculture for our youths. Farms could become the offices of the future.” Thanks to the work of CTA, its partners and Africa’s youth themselves, we are already seeing this become a reality.

Attracting further investment

However, we understand that the evidence to attract targeted investments to further develop D4Ag in Africa is insufficient. CTA’s landmark publication The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report, 2018-2019 is the first attempt to consolidate the available evidence and provide proof of impacts and knowledge that will attract these investments.

Serving as a baseline, the report positions us to start scaling out proven youth-focused solutions through farmer organisations, governments, the private sector and other partners that will enable the continent to meet its food and nutrition security, employment, gender equality and other development goals in the coming decades and beyond.

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