Empowering African youth and women through agriculture: IITA Youth Agripreneurs’ contribution to a sustainable future

The challenge of unemployment in African countries is a high-priority issue, particularly for the youth, who make up a significant portion of the population. In response to this challenge, IITA–CGIAR established the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative, a youth-in-agribusiness model designed to combat widespread youth unemployment and foster self-employment in agriculture.

In August 2012, the institute convened young people at its headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria, and launched this innovative agribusiness incubation program. Participants received technical expertise, training, and mentorship, which opened their eyes to various business opportunities across agricultural value chains. Within a year, these young entrepreneurs were managing enterprises focused on cassava, maize, soybean, banana, vegetables, fish, and swine while also exploring value addition and food processing.

After an 18-month incubation period, participants developed bankable business plans and accessed loans from commercial banks to establish their independent agribusiness enterprises. Many, including young women, have since become owners of successful agribusiness firms.

In collaboration with partners and through engagement with stakeholders at all levels, IYA is also breaking stereotypes and accelerating women’s economic advancement in the agricultural sector through training, access to credit, and market opportunities. It has helped many young women overcome the economic, cultural, religious, and social barriers to accelerating their progress.

Beneficiaries of the program, such as the CEO of Abiqueeneth Ventures, Queen Opute, have established successful poultry and catfish businesses in Epe, Lagos. Hassana Robert, another beneficiary, runs a poultry business in Zaria, Kaduna, and plans to expand into selling chicken dung as manure for farms.

One beneficiary shared her story of losing her business capital and incurring debts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the loss of 2000 birds. Through IYA, she recovered, and she expressed gratitude for the support. “IITA has really touched our lives and inspired us. In the future, I hope to have a foundation like this to help women stand on their own and become their own boss,” she said.

By providing training, mentorship, coaching, and access to finance and markets, IYA has significantly increased women’s participation in agriculture, with 70% of participants being women. This has created a sustainable workforce that contributes to food security.

At the recent International Women’s Day celebration in IITA, the Agribusiness Hub Manager at IFAD-Agrihub, Waheed Oni, noted that in addition to investing in women agripreneurs to enhance their livelihoods, the IYA programs have mostly been led by women in the last ten years. “The initiative has 87 staff across seven countries in Africa with 51% women, and 388,504 beneficiaries of the program with 47% women,” he said.


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