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Framing youth in food systems: the ‘push-pull’ model

Pitch AgriHack 2019 winners


It is well-known that agriculture is a challenging sector to work in, and as a result, deters many young people from taking it over from their parents. However, many in the next generation are also recognising the opportunities; a rising middle class with more money and dietary preferences, closer ties between rural and urban areas through roads and transport, and the rise of new technology and digitisation – otherwise known as ‘the knowledge economy’.

New initiatives and innovations need to be fostered for two fundamental reasons; first, the agricultural sector must change with the times so that traditional practices are reinvented through new ideas that create investment, business and growth opportunities. Second, for the more fundamental need to sustain the growing human population as well as the ecosystems we rely on.

Because of these interlinking reasons, CTA and Wageningen University & Research (WUR), with input from a community of practice coordinated by AgriProFocus, worked together to develop a framework for youth employment and entrepreneurship in agri-food systems, referred to as the ‘push-pull’ model.

As a 6-page document, the framework provides an overview of the barriers and opportunities facing the younger generation to take the lead in reinventing food systems. More practically, it prompts practitioners to identify what young women and men need to find or create employment in agricultural production or processes – this is the ‘push’ factor. Also identified are factors that need to change in the financial, private and public sectors to make agriculture and food systems an attractive career choice for young people in the first place – the ‘pull’ factor. These are illustrated in the model below (see figure). Both the model and the text are intended to be further developed from a broad-level framework into more practical guidance.

So how does the model help frame and inform the practice? The following five cases illustrate areas and types of interventions. Projects 1, 3 and 5 are funded by CTA, projects 2 and 4 are managed by WUR.

  1. In its fourth year, the Pitch AgriHack competition is a part of the AgriHack Talent initiative to identify and support innovative e-agriculture start-ups across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. While ICT for development initiatives have been around for years, the value-addition of digitisation has only more recently really started to penetrate and reshape services, production, processing and finance in the agricultural sector. Whittling down the list from 104 semi-finalists to 22 (50% women-led), the final seven are selected during the African Green Revolution Forum, held each year in early September. The winners are provided with up to €15,000 funding as well as promotion and business growth support. To-date, 30 ICT hubs have been supported from about 40 countries.
  2. The HortiFresh programme targets the horticulture sector in Ghana, working with smallholder farmers, start-ups, and medium and large-scale businesses in the country. Youth is a cross-cutting theme across all interventions, which revolve around working with farmer groups focused on specific produce, and providing training explicitly targeted towards young farmers to develop their skillset and proactively include them. Another aspect of the programme supports access to finance by both facilitating bank loans as well as providing three different types of grant funds – one of which is a youth-targeted fund (total €200,000) to help scale up businesses that are either run by, or intend to employ more young people. The seven enterprises being provided grants – which total up to 80% of total applicant budgets – cover a range of activities, from developing an app to connect farmers to buyers and consumers, to setting up a station to process and add value to produce, such as mango and coconut. Alongside grants, the enterprises receive business support.
  3. Vijabiz was launched by CTA and their Kenyan partner USTADI after being awarded a grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Vijabiz has so far supported 166 youth agribusiness groups in the Kilifi and Nakuru counties of Kenya to develop entrepreneurial skills and businesses growth, focusing on the cereal, dairy and fisheries value chains. Working with local and national government, training sessions have been organised around agribusiness development, use of ICTs and social media. Mentoring and access to markets are facilitated in order to favour growth and job creation. Grants ranging from US$1,000-$20,000 (€900-18,000) will be provided to the start-ups showing the greatest potential.
  4. The Building Rural Income through inclusive Dairy Business Growth (BRIDGE) programme is a partnership between public and private partners in Ethiopia, which focusses on strengthening the commercial dairy sector. There is a demand for new services in the sector, such as cow hoof trimmers (known as ‘clawers’) and advisors, who can guide farmers on how to run more complex dairy businesses and get access to the required inputs, including capital. One group of young people has been trained by BRIDGE to set up a private information service whilst another were trained as clawers, and both are now earning income through these roles. The programme has shown that youth are interested in dairy entrepreneurship opportunities and more strategies are being developed to increase their role within the sector.
  5. PEJERIZ focuses on youth entrepreneurship along the rice value chains in Mali and Senegal – from production and input services, to marketing and consulting. The project will support start-up innovation and small-scale businesses that employ young people by training them in business, finance and credit management, alongside technical support in soil preparation, harvesting and crop storage. A number of the businesses will also receive additional financial support, either through loan facilitation or grant provision. Ten mechanisation centres are being established in partnership with the Syngenta Foundation, some of which are already providing services to the young entrepreneurs.

As indicated by the focus areas, the WUR and CTA-supported programmes provide a wide range of interventions to improve opportunities for young women and men, which in turn, aim to improve the systems of food provision.

However, while the cases are just a selection, their focus areas also point to the relatively greater and lesser emphases of the intervention areas; political context is only identified once for example, whilst areas like cultural context, policies and regulations are mostly absent. Put in simple terms, the focus tends to be more on the ‘push’ side, e.g. working more directly with specific groups to promote enterprises, businesses and potentially scalable pilots. The ‘pull’ side is certainly there – working with universities, financiers, businesses and government ministries on a transformation of the agro-food sector – though to a lesser extent. Finding a better balance in getting the push and the pull is potentially the next step for WUR and CTA in helping to drive systemic change in food systems that can benefit young women and men.

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CTA is an international organisation established by statute, with headquarters in the Netherlands. Its mission is to advance food security, resilience and inclusive economic growth in ACP countries through innovations in sustainable agriculture. Throughout the last decade, CTA has been at the forefront of identifying cutting-edge technological innovations, promoting digital literacy and skills, and providing training and capacity-building for agricultural stakeholders to innovate and utilise digital agricultural solutions.

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