Acknowledging youth’s potential is a winning strategy

Acknowledging youth’s potential is a winning strategy

in News
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It’s around a cup of coffee or tea in a relaxed atmosphere that we enjoy chatting, debating and sharing with friends and colleagues. Cafés are networking spaces where we create connections, and at times, strategic places for the blooming of creative and innovative ideas.

On the 30th of September, our colleagues Yvonne and Hilda hosted a café conversation session at the ANDE Annual Conference. The objective? To offer a welcoming environment encouraging in-depth discussions around “youth as drivers of change in small and growing businesses and ecosystems” and to build bridges between the participants.

Young people are dynamic, energetic, buzzing with fresh and innovative ideas. How can actors in the food supply chain exploit their enormous, often untapped, potential and create ecosystems embracing their power?

Ghana: betting on young people to lead an agricultural transformation

As part of the Beyond Chocolate initiative, Lidl, Fairtrade, Rikolto and Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative (KKFU) are working together to tackle child labour, combat deforestation and ensure a viable income for local cocoa producers in the region where almost 70% of global cocoa production is sourced. The poverty level among cocoa smallholder farmers is high, and a cocoa farm only generates income 5 years after it has been established. Young people are discouraged from betting on a long-term investment commodity with low returns.

However, the cocoa sector has greater potential than it seems, also for youth. Even though Ghana is one of the world’s biggest cocoa suppliers, its productivity in the cocoa sector is among the world’s lowest. Rikolto coaches farmers to apply good agricultural practices to increase yield from their productions and ensure the sustainability of the process. The additional premium paid for a sustainable and quality product, together with income diversification (production of rice, honey, soap etc.), guarantee higher incomes for farmers. Rikolto and its partners are collecting evidence to bring young people on board. Moreover, the lack of quality input providers in the sector opens up big business opportunities for youth. Rikolto support them to set up their business through training and advising and by facilitating their access to finance and markets.

Facilitate intergenerational collaboration

The average cocoa farmer is older than 50 and has a low level of education. They often face challenges during the record-keeping of their farming activities because of a lack of literacy skills. “We decided to view young people in the community as a “bonding agent,” says Yvonne Arden, Cocoa project officer in West Africa. “We offered them a training session of one week to become facilitators of the record-keeping process and build their intergenerational dialogue skills. They all had divergent opinions and ideas to share, and they came up with a strategy to exchange with the elders.” As part of the community, young people have better opportunities to relate with older people. They know their behaviours, the social mores to follow in order to value their expertise and knowledge, and the right approach for reaching them. During the training the participants also had opportunities for peer-to-peer exchanges and networking.

Create ownership

“No answers or questions are wrong”. This is the motto with which each training starts. In rural communities, young people have to cope with challenges linked to a lack of self-esteem and confidence. It’s important to give feedback on their interventions in order to show appreciation of their ideas, doubts and opinions, and to build a relationship of confidence and trust. The trainers also delegate responsibilities, encourage young people to take charge of the activities when the programme officers are not present, and teach them to be more independent.

To strengthen the involvement of young women and men in cooperatives, it’s crucial to put young people in the driver’s seat and to support them to voice their opinions and act as leaders.

Yvonne Arden Cocoa project officer in West Africa

Tanzania: collective efforts to harness the potential of young entrepreneurs

Tanzanian agriculture contributes to more than one quarter of the GDP, provides 85% of exports, and employs about 80% of the workforce. Despite this potentially encouraging framework, the booming Tanzanian young population is not sufficiently involved in the agri-food sector and the unemployment rates amongst them remain high. The myriad of challenges youth face, such as limited access to productive resources (finance, land, agri-inputs), lack of representation in decision making, limited networking opportunities and limited knowledge on food systems, create an environment not conducive to the flourishing of innovative ideas and business opportunities.

Since 2020, Rikolto is implementing in Arusha a program – Generation Food – that aims at inspiring and supporting youth to engage in sustainable food systems together with a coalition of partners, among which ANZA, the Horticulture Association and the Arusha City Council . The common objectives are:

  • Providing young people with much-needed support from all the ecosystem players to develop their business plans. The establishment of a business incubator has already helped 25 young people kickstart their businesses, and 160 young entrepreneurs have participated in the Hackathon that took place in Arusha at the end of August.

Food hackathons, Bootcamps and Incubators…Discover all about the “Generation Food” initiative!

  • Engaging the youth in decision-making processes. Arusha is a signatory of the Milan urban food policy pact for the development of a more inclusive, resilient and safe food system. It’s crucial to involve youth in the policy discussion and making process aimed at realising this commitment.

  • Developing profitable and inclusive businesses that will give working opportunities to other youngsters.

An ecosystem of partners

Generation Food is a multi-stakeholders-led project.

Rikolto works with governments, especially at city level to make sure of creating an enabling environment for small and growing businesses to thrive in and for youth to be fully represented in the Arusha Food Policy Council. One of the biggest challenges as a facilitator is to prompt policymakers to make sure that rules and regulations favourable to youth are set up in all the different departments of the City Council.

“Thanks to partnership with the private sector and the establishment of a revolving fund, the project’s participants obtained loans at a low interest rate of 12% compared to the average market rate of 25%,” explains Hilda Okoth, Food Smart City & Youth Agribusiness Advisor in East Africa. The bank and micro financial institutions involved in the project offer loans through a revolving fund with flexible and friendly conditions such as good interest rates and long-term loans tailored to the needs of the businesses (e.g. peak seasons). The interest paid is reinvested and lend out to the same businesses or other youth businesses, ensuring the project’s sustainability.

And finally, also the role NGOs and civil society organisations is crucial. They provide access to different networks, facilitate partnerships, enable youth coaching and learning from organisations and companies that are already up and running, and showcase their innovations in the food systems, contributing to the expansion of their market share.

It’s not always easy to mobilise resources collectively and avoid duplication of efforts, but we observe that actors are increasingly working in coalition and consortium to achieve a bigger impact. In the years to come we will see more collective impact driven by partnership.

Hilda Okoth Food Smart City & Youth Agribusiness Advisor in East Africa

Our three takeaways

  • Intergenerational collaboration – In order to enhance youth empowerment, it’s important to provide young people with trainings on soft skills like leadership, public speaking and intergenerational dialogue skills, and to involve the cooperative leadership at every step in order to build mutual trust. The older generation needs to be on board, provide support and share the lessons learned during their long experience.

  • Support needs – Young people need support as coaching, advice and feedback, access to finance, equipment, social media awareness etc.… to develop and launch innovative start-ups in the agri-food sector, generating a good income for them while contributing to the sustainability of the food system.

  • Multi-stakeholder involvement - The co-creation and investment in business incubator initiatives by city/local governments, private companies,universities, local food production/distribution organisations, farmer cooperatives and young people themselves, is crucial. There should be room for creative ideas to be initiated and implemented (for example through exhibitions) with the support of these institutions. This provides a source of motivation. National policies on farming and food security need to address issues concerning young people, and as such, young people need to be part of policy discussions at the local and national level.