In many West African countries, the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas has led to an exodus of young people, both to major cities in the region and to Europe. This is a serious loss, as the young offer a potentially dynamic labour force at a time when the agricultural sector is desperately short of workers.
A two-year project launched by CTA in early 2018, ‘Promoting Youth Entrepreneurship and Job Creation in West Africa’s Rice Value Chain’ (PEJERIZ), is tackling the problem by encouraging young people in Mali and Senegal to stay in the countryside and help to increase the rice sector’s productivity. The project involves a collaboration with AfricaRice and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.
There are good reasons for focusing on rice. In West Africa, rice consumption has been steadily increasing as a result of changes in eating habits and rapid population growth. However, production lags far behind demand, and every year about 40% of the rice consumed comes from Asia. Many urban consumers favour imported rice, as it tends to be cleaner and better packed than local rice, most of which is manually processed. It is hoped that raising the production and quality of rice through PEJERIZ will reduce imports and boost the rural economy.
There are two main components to the project. One focuses on training young people in technical subjects related to the rice value chain. This is managed by AfricaRice. The other component, managed by the Syngenta Foundation, involves setting up centres of mechanisation and promoting a mobile app which provides farmers with advice. It is anticipated that over 660 new jobs will be created by the project, which will lead to significant increases in revenue for 10,000 smallholder farmers.
Over 300 young Senegalese and Malians, approximately one-third of whom were women, attended two mobilisation workshops organised by AfricaRice in July and October 2018. They learned about the income-generating opportunities presented by the rice value chain and the importance of mechanising the industry.
Following the workshop, AfricaRice selected 205 young people from the original 300 who attended the mobilisation workshop to attend further training sessions on a range of topics, such as entrepreneurship, marketing and the provision of services. The first sessions were held in October 2018 and the final session is scheduled for early 2019. AfricaRice will then select 80 young trainees with the most promising business ideas, and they will be provided with financial support and further training.
“Some of the young participants are already running their own businesses and wish to upscale the innovative ideas they developed in the rice sector,” says Dr Mandiaye Diagne, Regional Coordinator of PEJERIZ. “Providing them with technical training and coaching will help them to become successful agripreneurs.”
Meanwhile, the Syngenta Foundation established 10 Centres for Mechanised Services (CEMAs), five in Mali and five in Senegal. “Once these are fully running, each of the centres will have between five and 10 full-time employees and 30 part-time employees, most of whom will be young people,” says Vincent Fautrel, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator on Value Chain Development.
By the end of 2018, the CEMAs had recruited and trained 45 service agents, who are responsible for promoting the RiceAdvice app to farmers. Developed in Nigeria and Mali by AfricaRice, the app is a decision-support tool, which farmers can download free on an android smartphone. It generates recommendations which help farmers to apply mineral fertilisers more efficiently and decide exactly when to sow, plant and harvest. Nigerian rice farmers using the app reported significant yield increases and income gains of up to US$200 per ha. By late 2018, the PEJERIZ project had introduced over 470 rice farmers in Mali and Senegal to the app and they were planning to use it the following season.