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29 June 2020

How can young african agripreneurs survive COVID-19 and the climate crisis?

What are the connections between young agripreneurs and COVID-19?

Photo: Artsysolomon / Pixabay.

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting agricultural value chains in Africa by threatening food, nutrition and security, as well as the livelihoods of farming communities. In addition, climate-related catastrophes, such as floods and the desert locusts, have contributed to the challenges faced by the most vulnerable populations, especially the rural youth.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), 2SCALE, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO), AgriProFocus, the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN), the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI) and Practical Action held an online discussion followed by a webinar to explore and discuss how young people working in agribusiness are coping with the effects of the pandemic in the context of a changing climate. The insights from this collaboration highlight struggles, coping innovations and policy response options.

Whilst development partners and governments have been encouraging the youth to embrace agriculture as a source of income, it is worth noting that young rural people, especially young women, are among the most vulnerable groups and are at high risk of disproportionately suffering the pandemic and its aftermath. The youth already face higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, and are overrepresented in the informal economy where they are 40% more likely to be in casual work arrangements than those above 35 years old. Most earn their income on a daily or weekly basis and have little or no access to health insurance or social security.

At the same time, it is increasingly observed that some of the policy responses and measures put in place by governments to halt the spread of the virus are exacerbating the existing challenges that rural youth face in engaging in agriculture and agribusiness. For example, several formal and informal businesses, which employ many young people have been forced to close or downscale significantly as a result of lockdowns and movement restrictions at national and local levels.

However, all is not lost: Many young people are implementing innovative ideas to address the current food availability crisis using various digital platforms, as highlighted in an online discussion hosted on the Climate and Agriculture Network for Africa (CANA) platform from May 20, 2020. Some of the interesting insights that came out from these discussions include:

“I have seen some interesting innovations with an example of youth activities in the suburb where I stay, who told me his story of how he has lost his job and to survive he has acquired an old bicycle and loads it with fruits and vegetables. He uses a loudspeaker to call out to whoever needs the items he has as he rides through the neighborhood,” commented Stella Naggujja, (CANA) in the online discussion.

During the webinar held on June 18, 2020,  Ian Mutwiri of HomeRange Poultry shared how his team has developed online manuals on poultry farming, which are freely available online, and how his team is using social media platforms, such as Youtube and Facebook, to conduct training sessions targeting the youth. Antony Malovi (CSAYN) has developed a solar drier using locally available materials given that he could not import any as a result of COVID-19 lockdown.

Marzia Pafumi, Youth Engagement Specialist (FAO), argued that youth agripreneurs responded to COVID-19 very fast, trying to adapt their business models and thinking outside the box to find new opportunities. She mentioned that as a result of the pandemic, there has been an accelerated move to online marketing and sales, such as orders on social media, home delivery and an increase in mobile payments. Agripreneurs also started to work more with adding value to primary products. Many of them started to use locally sourced agricultural inputs.

Mr Jacob Ochieng (Practical Action) highlighted the unprecedented impact COVID-19 is having on the economy worldwide. Practical Action is supporting agribusinesses and youth so they can remain safe by providing access and distributing information on the best practices about stopping the spread of the virus. Ochieng also underscored the importance of keeping essential agricultural services running. He mentioned that marketing and networking for agripreneurs is not possible during a lock-down, but digital platforms and social media that will help to coordinate are key when people can not physically meet to negotiate, transact or receive training. In conclusion, he mentioned that innovations and the combined learnings about climate change and COVID-19 should be utilized in activities related to resilience for youth in agribusiness.

Webinar Outcomes

The discussion during the webinar revealed that young agripreneurs need empowerment in the following critical areas:

  • Mentorship – Young female agripreneurs are underrepresented and this can be attributed to various challenges including socio-cultural barriers, such as access to land and lack of technical skills. Mentorship from established young male and especially female agripreneurs was seen as essential for upcoming young agripreneurs.
  • Financial Access – There is a need to offer access to capital for the youth as well as the development of youth-focused financial tools to support the establishment and sustainable operations of youth-led agribusinesses
  • Capacity building – Governments and development partners can work in partnership with established agribusinesses and with youth-centered organizations to establish centers of excellence which include demonstration sites and knowledge sharing activities for young people, including those on ICT, a field that has become vital in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

The discussions at the webinar made it crystal clear that when youth innovation in agribusiness is complemented with financial and non-financial support, young agripreneurs can not only survive but continue to thrive in the post-pandemic new world order.

The engagement during the webinar was high and it was not possible to respond to all the questions from the audience during the time of the webinar. But we have collected the most pressing questions and asked the panelists to reply via email. Read the Q&A.

Find more resources for young agribusiness owners:

Agriprenuership Alliance

2SCALE incubator program

This news story was written by Catherine Mungai, Matthew Fielding, Mary Thiong’o, Alphaxard Gitau, Sharon Anyango and Victor Mugo.