THE rapidly transforming agrifood systems have the potential to drive the expansion of youth employment and broadbased economic development in East Africa.
Food manufacturing in Tanzania offers the highest output per worker, the second-highest rate of growth in output per worker and fairly large employment absorption at 5.0 per cent of all new jobs. Youth entrepreneurs face a steep learning curve in starting businesses and responding to market demands on an ongoing basis.
The reluctance of financial institutions to lend to youth entrepreneurs and high rates of startup failure suggest the importance of providing a longer-term incubator environment, where young people can practise essential technical and business skills as they are mentored, without the risk of catastrophic failure.
Youth entrepreneurs engaged in SMEs require assistance to analyse market potential, identify priority policy and regulatory issues and access specialised training to address emerging downstream challenges, including meeting local and international food safety standards and developing low-cost packaging.
Thus, the University of Michigan State in the US in partnership with Sokoine University Graduate Entrepreneurs Cooperative (SUGECO) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) organisations and the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) through its BUNI innovation hub, will implement a project called Agrifood Youth Lab (AYL) that aims at liberating and empowering Tanzania’s youth.
The project is in line with the “National strategy for youth involvement in agriculture 2016- 2021’ which is part of government vision that focus at turning Tanzania into an industrial economy and reducing unemployment to youth through agribusiness.
In a recent event that gathered various stakeholders including representatives of private companies, Local Government Authorities and the Youth representatives, the senior advisor of the University of the Michigan State, who is also the Director of the AG Youth Lab, Dr Julie Howard, said the project targeted the youth aged 18 to 24, adding the group had been forgotten in the community.
“This is a group, whose number has been increasing at high speed on this continent, having immense economic needs. It is also a group that has been isolated and this is what has made us turn to and prioritise it,” she said. East Africa and the whole continent face a big employment challenge.
About 11 million young Africans are expected to enter into the labour force each year until 2035. Africa has the youngest population in the world, with almost 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, which is expected to double by 2045.
Yet formal job creation in Africa’s growing economies has not kept pace more than half of Africa’s un- and underemployed are youth. The project focused on five value chains including poultry, cassava agriculture and aquaculture, Horticulture and oil seeds.
The project, which is run by the University of Michigan state together with its partners, is financed by The MasterCard Foundation. The country programme coordinator for Tanzania, Mr Michael Jerry, said the project aims at reaching out to over 5,000 youth in two regions of Morogoro and Coast who are out of school, economically disadvantaged and within the age group of 18-24 years old.
Mr Jerry adds that the five value chains include vegetables and fruits, poultry, aquaculture, oil Seed farming and cassava farming as all of which are to be carried out in Coast and Morogoro regions in cooperation with Dar es Salaam.
He said AYL five years programme specifically targets the youth, who are not in school, but the youth, who are economically disadvantaged as most of those in the latter group are aged 18-24.