Engaging youth in agripreneurship calls for a shift in the “dirty” industry mindset

An IWMI and IFPRI-led workshop discussed the multiple challenges to growing young people's interest in agriculture as a source of livelihood in Malawi.

An IWMI and IFPRI-led workshop discussed the multiple challenges to growing young people’s interest in agriculture as a source of livelihood in Malawi.

By Phindi Nkosi and Nilu Rajapakse

Participants at an AICCRA multi-stakeholder dialogue held in Zambia in June, 2022. Ernest Mundia/AICCRA
Participants at an AICCRA multi-stakeholder dialogue held in Zambia in June 2022. Ernest Mundia/AICCRA

Youth is key in Malawi. According to the 2018 census, half of the population falls in the 10–35-year bracket, an age that is full of energy, creativity, and innovation and that is transitioning into the labor market. But agriculture is not generally seen as an opportunity, particularly among the youth. Rather, they perceive it as a “dirty job” that only those without any options take up.

This is just one of the many common misperceptions and challenges that stand in the way of youth agripreneurship in Malawi and one that the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Malawi Strategy Support Program ried to combat with the Youth Engagement in Agripreneurship: Landscape Analysis in Malawi Stakeholder Validation Meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi this December. The event was supported by the CGIAR Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa, also known as Ukama Ustawi (UU).

Led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in partnership with several CGIAR organizations, UU aims to tackle the many obstacles to youth agripreneurship in Malawi. These include the absence of readily available markets, input shortages, low access to finance through loans, poor coordination, a lack of youth programs and skills development, a lack of equipment and start-up capital, among others. As much as there are challenges, the opportunities for youth in agripreneurship are also vast. In order to harness these opportunities, the right conditions need to be met, including the involvement of the government, the presence of processing plants, factories and businesses, as well as opportunities for organizing and empowering youth.

Participants at the December 2023 workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi. Phindi Nkosi / IWMI
Participants at the December 2023 workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi. Phindi Nkosi / IWMI

Engaging young people in food systems

“This workshop could not have come at a better time because it is clear that agriculture remains the hub of this country. If you don’t do agriculture, you will eat nothing. Being here helps to build on our Malawian Agenda 2063 which features agriculture as the first pillar. As government, we have a number of initiatives, but unless we can demonstrate that we have a passion for youth, we still have a long way to go. In spite of youth experiencing challenges such as not having money and wanting things to happen fast, we need to involve youth in agriculture so we can combat their views that agriculture is a dirty job. The minimal use of technology is a deterrent of youth in agriculture,” said Pearson Soko, Director at the Department of Agriculture Extension at the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture. Soko also emphasized that the Malawian government needs to push the envelope to incorporate the youth in agriculture, and such discussions on youth programs in agripreneurship were signs that the dial is moving. “Let me thank the CGIAR and Ukama Ustawi for helping us to tackle this issue. Our work here today will go a long way in making sure that youth in Malawi are supported,” he said.

Amon Kabuli of Kirk Development Consultants Team said the findings of the study on youth engagement in agripreneurship showed that “Across all the districts, youth participation in agriculture as agripreneurs is very low. For instance, in Chikwana, focus group discussions showed that only 30 percent of the youth in this community were participating in agripreneurship. Furthermore, more young men were involved in agripreneurship rather than young women.” He said women were unable to raise capital to invest in agripreneurship while men had work and ganyu-related opportunities (short-term rural labor opportunities) to work and secure capital, which they invested in agripreneurship.

“We already know from the stats that organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization emphasize the importance of youth involvement in agriculture to achieve sustainable development goals. Initiatives such as training incubation programs, access to credit, and mentorship for young agripreneurs can significantly impact Malawi’s agricultural landscape and youth employment rates. We take that a step further by asking, how can we ensure gender, equality and social inclusion in our proposed solutions?” queried Ojongetakah Baa, Postdoctoral Fellow – Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) Agribusiness at IWMI. According to Baa, Ukama Ustawi supports climate-smart agriculture and livelihoods in 12 countries in East and Southern Africa. The countries include Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, eSwatini, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. A GESI framework developed by Ukama Ustawi on gender and social inclusion enumerates the different barriers and opportunities for women and youth in agribusiness in East and Southern Africa. While these challenges and enablers are known, there is a need to find collective solutions and action.

“Fostering youth agripreneurship in Malawi is imperative for both the present and the future. Empowering young individuals to engage in agricultural entrepreneurship not only addresses current challenges in the agricultural sector but also cultivates a resilient and sustainable future for the nation. By investing in the skills, knowledge, and entrepreneurial spirit of the youth, Malawi can harness its agricultural potential, bolster economic growth, alleviate poverty, and create a dynamic and innovative agricultural landscape,” remarked Karen Nortje, Senior Researcher – Gender and Social Inclusion at IWMI. The work in Malawi is done through the Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) approach, where individual households and communities in Malawi can envision and create enabling environments for women and youth in agriculture. She added “By prioritizing and supporting youth agripreneurship, Ukama Ustawi is paving the way for a more prosperous and food-secure Malawi, where the energy and creativity of the younger generation become catalysts for positive transformation in the agricultural sector and beyond.”

This view was further reinforced by Kristin Davis, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) who emphasized the need to come up with a clear sequencing and action plan to move forward. “What is the clear sequencing that is required? Is it training first or funding or something else? From the talks today we realized that we need to follow an integrated approach which combines learning and finances. The link between knowledge and skills needs to be bridged. A needs assessment needs to incorporate capacity and innovation. Above all, we need to implement what has been planned and to integrate technology in youth and other programs.”


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