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IITA: Farming is cool with youth empowerment

IITA: Farming is cool with youth empowerment

By Ayo Oyoze Baje

Recently, yours truly came in contact with a group of young Nigerians- both male and female-in Abule-Egba, Lagos, all dressed in black t-shirt with the captivating statement on the back, reading: ‘IITA-Farming is Cool’. On close interaction with one of them he explained that they work in three groups, as professionals adding value to processes such as poultry and catfish farming. That is not only a commendable initiative but brings up the significant issue of youth empowerment as championed by IITA over the years.

In fact, one has warned that youth unemployment, which refers to the share of the labour force for ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment has been on the high side in Nigeria for decades. According to Macrotrends, Nigeria youth unemployment rate for 2022 was 13.44% up from 12.59as at 2018. It is like a ticking time bomb. On its part, Statista.com estimated that about 60% of Nigeria’s youth population is either unemployed or underemployed. Obviously, this scary situation poses great danger to the Nigeria society in terms of crimes and assorted social vices. Therefore, this generation of young people faces the dual crisis of unemployment and insecurity.

So, for IITA to get some of our youth of the streets of joblessness, anguish, misery all that snowball into crimes and criminality is worth noting. As made known on its online portal, with the engaging title: ‘IITA-Enabling Youth in Agriculture’ IITA has been supporting the dreams and aspirations of many African youth. That is being done by creating a veritable platform that encourages them to choose a career in agriculture.

The IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative, reportedly started at the IITA Headquarters, Ibadan, Nigeria in August 2012. Good enough, it has grown over the past 12 years spreading its value-chain creation across the Africa continent and guiding and building resourceful young people to become owners and co-owners of independent agribusiness enterprises.

Many of these young people who were unemployed and underemployed before their encounter with the IYA initiative did not see themselves creating a career path along the agricultural value chains. In fact, some of them did not embrace agriculture as a real business, but IITA with its huge potentials in career development availed them the opportunity to identify, highlight and grow their potentials in agriculture.

To re-orientate their mindset from the negative perspective about agriculture, IITA organised trainings on agricultural commodities, business management, and leadership skills. By providing mentoring and facilities to explore available opportunities, IITA became the game-changer to the once restless and rudderless African youth.

Within a short period of time, the success story recorded by the initiative “became an adoptable model used by organizations and corporate bodies to execute youth in agribusiness projects. One of such projects is the ENABLE-TAAT project.

“The ENABLE-TAAT project, which is funded by the African Development Bank, is one of 15 Compacts comprising the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation Program (TAAT) and led by Youth in Agribusiness Unit of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

To implement one of the objectives of the project by funding, IITA is assesses the business plans and ideas of the applications. The intellectually igniting exercise is being done in partnership with business experts from EKIMIKS Nigeria Limited. As at 2018 it selected 34 businesses out of the 51 applications received from Agripreneurs in DR Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. The enterprises were selected after review, grading, and recommendations based on key business elements and perceived viability.

Those who qualify after the insightful analysis of their proposals are provided with some amount of money, which will be used to start and expand their businesses. The funds earmarked for each enterprise is always disbursed to their business accounts in four tranches as loans and grants.

It would be recalled that a co-owner of F-Step Cassava enterprise, Seun Ogidan, while giving an update on the business, stated that the company acquired 15 hectares of land at Ago-Owu in Osun State to establish a cassava farm. The business, which is registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission, is jointly operated in partnership with another Agripreneur, Funmi Lamidi. Back then in 2018 she added that a sum of 600,000 Naira, which she borrowed from an uncle, has so far been invested in the business. She stressed that the partners are willing to expand their production to 25 hectares if they have access to more funds.

As for the CEO of Gracevine Ventures, Abosede Idowu she needed the assistance of the IITA initiative because she required some funds for expansion and penetration of her business into a larger market in Lagos. Prior to this opportunity, she started her business in 2016. But she wanted to upgrade her packaging to meet up with international standards. At that time she was also planning to invest some funds in cultivating cowpea to produce cowpea flour, which was a major raw material used in the production of her commodities. Gracevine Ventures located at Moniya in Ibadan, Nigeria produces yam flour, plantain flour, packaged stone-less beans.

In addition to these heart-warming testimonies of the value addition, Frotchery Farms, which is another spin-off from IITA Youth Agripreneurs, has been progressing well, venturing into the business of catfish smoking. The business is owned by three young graduates—Ngozi Chituru, Babatunde Ismail, and Oni Hammed. Some six years ago they planned to acquire about 17 ponds to enable them to have access to raw materials.

The challenges they had to contend with included the non-availability of the required sizes of catfish. Yet, within a year of operation in 2017-2018, the business realized a revenue of $18,000, penetrated 12 states in Nigeria, and three countries. It also launched a website to enhance the visibility of the company. The business has provided direct employment opportunity for some young Nigerians by indirect employment through retail, distribution and sales.

Over time the beneficiaries of the IITA Youth Agripreneurs have ventured into livestock, bread production, snailery (production, processing, and packaging), cowpea grain and seed production, rice production. Others are maize aggregation, plantain flour production, plantain chip production, as well as maize seed and grain production.

As a means of motivation, the DG of IITA, Nteranya Sanginga enjoined the young beneficiaries of the initiative to be humble and work as a team. He encouraged them to always support each other as they all need one another to grow in the business.

It is interesting to note that similar opportunities have been given to the Agripreneurs in East, West, and Central Africa sub-regions. The noble aim is to pitch their business ideas before a panel at an agribusiness workshop which took place in Nairobi in August, 2018.

Worthy of mention also is that adequate monitoring and evaluation are being carried out for further checks and balances, backstopping to monitor the growth of the businesses.

Other youth interested in this initiative should contact Adenmosun Adetola, [email protected] or Yvonne Olatunbosun, [email protected] or Kathy Lopez, [email protected]