Check your assumptions at the door: examining three common beliefs about youth agripreneurship

Agripreneurship,Knowledge brokering06 Mar 2023Rojan Bolling, Martha Kapazoglou, Joscha Betke

Over the past decade, youth agripreneurship has gained significant traction as a ‘hot topic’ within development cooperation. That is because youth agripreneurship, especially in the African context, is seen as an innovative, cross-cutting approach to tackle a multiplex of challenges, including youth unemployment and indecent employment, food insecurity and climate change.  Collaborative research by The Broker, Netherlands Food Partnership and INCLUDE into the potential of youth agripreneurship shows that only some of this promise is based on evidence, while a lot rests on assumptions. Understanding and critically reflecting on the following three commonly held assumptions will help policymakers and practitioners channel their efforts, time and money more effectively.

Click here to read the insights report and policy brief.

Assumption 1. We can solve the youth employment crisis if young people have a more appropriate skillset.

Youth agripreneurship programmes, much like traditional youth employment approaches, are often—implicitly or explicitly—premised on the idea that the lack of decent employment for youth in Africa is fundamentally an issue of skills deficit. Indeed, many young people lack either the entrepreneurial, business or value-chain specific skills necessary to harness agribusiness opportunities. To remedy this, agripreneurship programmes tend to offer what the literature calls ‘supply-side activities’ to build youth’s skills, such as technical capacity building, skills training, and mentoring.

However, this is only part of the story, as supply-side activities alone are not sufficient to address the lack of decent employment. Consider the following scenario: a young woman attends a skills training programme, graduates with sharp skills, and is ready to venture into the labour market in search of agribusiness opportunities. What happens, however, when she enters the labour market and no such opportunities exist or the general market environment constrains her instead of enabling her to pursue available opportunities? The skilled young woman is, then, likely to end up unemployed or employed under inadequate or even exploitative conditions.

This is why more and more agripreneurship programmes are integrating demand-side activities—to create employment/agribusiness opportunities—and system-level measures—to foster an enabling environment conducive to youth agripreneurship. Our insights report elaborates on appropriate demand-side activities to integrate into programme design.

Assumption 2. Negative perceptions of farming prevent African youth from venturing into agribusiness.

A youth representative from an African-based agripreneurship network explained during one of the project’s learning sessions that youth enrolling their programme are highly likely to drop out if they secure a formal employment opportunity in another sector. This reflects a larger assumption: that African youth see agriculture as an unattractive and outdated employment sector. Taking this assumption as a starting point, youth agripreneurship programmes often offer mindset re-orientation activities to alter youth’s attitudes.

While there is some merit to this assumption, a singular emphasis on youth’s “negative attitudes” is misguided. In most cases,  youth do not venture into agribusiness simply because agriculture is not a profitable and decent employment option. Not because of their “negative attitudes”. What is more, emphasis on attitudes neglects the structural measures required to enhance the agricultural sector’s profitability. Put more simply, emphasis should shift from altering youth’s “negative attitudes” to strengthening the profitability of the agricultural sector by, for example, creating efficient local markets.

A growing number of programmes are making this shift, combining mindset re-orientation activities with systemic efforts to modernize and professionalize the agricultural sector, efforts which will ultimately make the sector more profitable.

Assumption 3. The positive effects of youth agripreneurship programmes are well understood.

The “hype” around youth agripreneurship, referenced in the introduction, can partly be credited to the assumption that this approach yields significant positive outcomes for youth (i.e. skills development, employability outcomes and income increase). But, what does the existing evidence base tells us in support of this assumption? Well, it tells us fairly little: skills training programmes improve youths’ skills and their performance at work, but do not affect their income. There is also some evidence showcasing that access to finance—another key feature in youth agripreneurship programmes—has a modest positive effect on youths’ income. Beyond that, the current evidence base on the impact of youth agripreneurship programmes on youth is full of knowledge gaps. In scaling up youth agripreneurship programmes and policies and ensuring their positive impact for youth, greater attention to monitoring, evaluation and learning will, thus, be of paramount importance.

For more insights into agripreneurship and its potential for African youth, you can read our Policy Brief and Report to learn more about designing effective programmes addressing the needs of different groups of young people. The Policy Brief presents six actionable policy recommendations for policymakers looking to invest in creating decent jobs through effective and inclusive youth agripreneurship initiatives, while our Report identifies what works and what doesn’t in terms of promoting youth agripreneurship.