Youth-led research highlights key challenges facing youth in agric

Youth Think Tank, a youth-led research initiative of the Mastercard Foundation, has launched an agri-food system research report aimed at building inclusive agricultural technologies for young people.

14 African youth researchers presented findings on barriers and opportunities to the creation of agricultural technologies, their promotion, and uptake by young people at the launch of the initiative in Accra organized by Restless Development in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation.

The findings provided tangible and actionable next steps for the development community for implementation. It also captured the experiences and challenges faced by young people creating agriculture technology and those who wish to use it, using a rigorous peer-to-peer youth-led research methodology.

According to Ashley Collier, Program Manager, Education and Learning at Mastercard Foundation, the agri-food system is important to the Foundation because of the opportunities it holds for young people on the continent.

She said: “Across the continent, millions of people derive their livelihoods from agriculture. It remains the single, largest source of income, employment and trade. And it is a sector that is particularly relevant to the youth. We believe that agriculture holds the greatest potential for catalyzing economic growth and creating employment for the youth, particularly for young women.

Young people are excited and passionate about working in agriculture despite negative perceptions that it is labour intensive that only provides a marginal income. Thanks to the continent’s dynamic and innovative young agripreneurs, that perception is changing. Young people know that agriculture is more than farming – it is modern business that has the potential to feed Africa and the world,” she said.

One of the challenges highlighted in the report was that young tech designers struggle to find resourced spaces where they can access information, mentorship, collaboration, as well as digital and offline tools to prototype their designs.

Another challenge highlighted in the report was access finance for young people who design technologies and those who take them up. However, it is important to note that the two groups have different needs when considering financial products.

For example, designers need seed capital products and competitive incubation grants, while end-users require loans with flexible repayment schedules that reflect an understanding of the agricultural season.

Some recommendations from the report stated that agricultural technologies must be tailored to optimize opportunities for young people, particularly rural young men and women, to maximize on-farm production and ease their entry into off-farm activities.

Another recommendation noted that agricultural technologies must be promoted using channels that are accessible to end-users. While tech designers often use social media to promote their products, end users tend to learn about new technologies by word of mouth.

The report again suggested that training in foundational, technical, and soft skills is required to ensure that young people can access and operate agricultural technologies because even when young adopters are aware of technologies, they sometimes lack the skills to utilize them.

Patrick Lolung, a Youth Think Tank member from Kenya noted that: “The Youth Think Tank evidence-based research report is an echo of young people’s voices, our perspectives on the way things ought to be done. The report has come at the right time when we, the young people, are rapidly advancing and incorporating technologies in our lives in every aspect. The findings and recommendations we arrived at perfectly address the current challenges we grapple with and [suggest] what could be the way forward for policy actors and other stakeholders.”

The Youth Think Tank was established in 2012 to ensure young people were meaningfully engaged in improving their economic opportunities in Africa. The first cohort had eight East African researchers, today there are 28 hailing from across the continent 6 including Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. This year’s cohort ranges from 15-24 and they are from rural and urban areas in East, West and Southern Africa.