Farmer organisations have a key role to play in encouraging youth to stay in the agricultural sector, and pursue agro-based livelihoods. Crucially, they have strong potential in helping young people to become thriving agripreneurs, through the provision of training and opportunities to develop their skills, as well as by linking youth to key players in the agricultural value chain.
In the case of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), the main youth programme grew out of a UNICEF funded project called FIT FOR LIFE, which reached just over 30,000 young people between 2013 and 2015 in five rural provinces of Zimbabwe. It targeted disenfranchised youth, aged between 15 and 18, who were primary school dropouts.
The programme included a range of features:
- A functional literacy and numeracy course, which taught elementary mathematics and English, to prepare young people for further training. All training material was designed to include examples from agribusiness and the agriculture sector, to make it more relevant.
- Agricultural technical training, with the option to choose training in various animal husbandry and crop production enterprises. These included small livestock rearing and sustainable crop production. Youth who performed well at this phase received intensive in-house training in a formal agricultural college, leading to an agricultural diploma. About 200 young people have been selected for this training, and 16 of them (4 of them women) went on to find jobs on farms and in agro-companies. The rest are working on family farms, with many having been allocated family land to farm on their own.
- Market linkages – youths were linked to input markets, output/produce markets, and financial markets for capital.
The FIT FOR LIFE project ended in 2015, but the outcome was the creation of Young Farmers Clubs under the ZFU and the Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, with funding from Barclays Bank. The bank provided a total of US$200,000 (€178,000) in 2015 and 2016, and a further $70,000 (€62,300) in 2017. The funds were disbursed as grants to ZFU, which distributed micro-grants to youths to start agribusinesses and used the rest to pay for training in areas that included farming as a business, financial literacy, interpersonal networking, contract negotiations and marketing. Barclays also offered 100 micro-project grants of up to $1,000 (€889) to young farmers' clubs, which helped them to set up agri-enterprises for their members.
As a result of these initiatives, many young people have engaged in sustainable business enterprises, and at least 200 live projects are now operating in the five provinces that were supported through the ZFU Young Farmers Club. The last survey in 2016 showed that 178 youths are actively farming.
ZFU is currently conducting regular refresher courses for youth members in all districts and provinces. These include agri-talks – agribusiness roundtables, during which young people witness a live club project, with the support of experts in agriculture, business, finance and marketing. A plenary session later allows youths to interact with the experts and ask questions. These events have proved extremely popular.
A number of important lessons have emerged from the Zimbabwe experience of promoting youth entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector:
- To enable marginalised youth to develop thriving agro-enterprises, an integrated and systematic approach is needed to develop skills, provide funding for start-ups and facilitate collective action through institutions such as youth farmer clubs. Farmer organisations are an effective channel for this.
- To enable youth to thrive in agripreneurship, farmer organisations or other facilitating institutions must offer support throughout – from enterprise selection to the marketing phase. In this way, the capacity of youth will be developed hand-in-hand with more formal skills facilitation, provided through training.
- There should be an explicit youth strategy within any broader farmer organisation strategy, since these organisations have the potential to access funding, develop the youth entrepreneurship sector and strengthen their institutions. Once a youth strategy has been defined, funds can be used to target young farmers. In addition, most farmer organisations are platforms for linking farmers to markets and opportunities – so it is crucial that youth is not left out.
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.