Market Systems Development Approaches that Integrate ICT Strengthen Youth Engagement in Agriculture in Ghana
In Ghana, the average age of farmers is reportedly around 55 years old, yet over 30 percent of the population is between the ages of 10 and 24. Ghana's large youth population must be purposefully included in agricultural development activities so that as the aging population retires out of the sector, younger generations can support innovation and enhance the sector's productivity.
The second iteration of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement Activity (ADVANCE II) started in 2014, with the goal of increasing the competitiveness of the value chain for staple crops such as maize, rice and soy. ADVANCE II utilizes the outgrower business model that is characterized by businesses using backward integration, or a market-led approach, where eventual buyers of the agricultural products invest forward to support smallholder farmers with services, seeds, inputs and market linkages to facilitate production. This model helps ensure sustainability in the sector by employing an integrated approach across sectors and fostering relationships between businesses in hopes of establishing long-term relationships that are maintained beyond the life of the activity.
ADVANCE II is also intentional about attracting youth (defined by USAID as people aged 10-29, while also recognizing diverse national and cultural definitions) into the agriculture sector. The Activity facilitates opportunities for youth that demonstrate that entry into agriculture is a viable option for young people, including by facilitating their access to tools and experiences that allow for their participation. Information and communications technology (ICT) has been a key feature of this work, including through radio, mobile phones, tablet-based apps, smartcards and geographic information systems.
At the 2020 ICTforAg conference held virtually in November, Pearl Ackah, the USAID/Ghana Private Sector Team leader, and project manager for ADVANCE II, expressed that youth may be more inclined to enter the agriculture sector if they can clearly see a role for themselves and opportunities to participate. ADVANCE II demonstrated many roles for youth in agriculture, including as software developers, spray service providers, tractor service providers, aggregators and community bankers. ICT tools such as precision spraying technology, e-commerce platforms, weather data access on phones, e-extension services and mobile money have contributed to youth participation by reducing the labor intensity in the sector, therefore making it more attractive to the youth population. Overall, about 26 percent of the 131,000 participants have been youth, and youth are 27 percent of participants engaged in Village Savings and Loan Association groups.
One example of how ADVANCE II has successfully engaged youth is the story of 27-year-old Prince Danso from Ejura, who, in 2017, was the youngest outgrower business owner within the activity. The activity trained Danso and his farmers on best agronomic practices such as row planting, use of certified seeds and proper application of fertilizers and other agrochemicals. Additionally, ADVANCE II provided him with a tablet and projector, which he utilizes to profile his farmers, teach them good agronomic practices and keep records. With the help of the activity, he was able to prepare a business plan and become linked with Esoko Limited and Ignitia Ghana Ltd. to receive text messages on agronomic practices, market prices and weather information on a weekly basis, in order to inform his choices when scheduling planting and harvesting. These resources and trainings provided measurable benefits to Danso’s business. His farmers achieved higher yields due in part to improved agronomic practices, and higher yields resulted in greater income for Danso and his farmers. Danso is working to build a farm service center where his farmers would be able to access different services, inputs and extension education resources. With ADVANCE II’s support, he also has plans to air a radio segment to encourage more youth to take on agricultural endeavors.
As the youth population enters the workforce, ICT can encourage them to join the agriculture sector and improve their economic conditions. ADVANCE II’s outgrower business model has forged relationships between food system partners that create a sustainable framework applicable in many contexts to engage youth at all levels of the agri-food system. Youth oftentimes want to create solutions for the most pressing problems in their communities. However, it is not always clear where to start. Programs like ADVANCE II can help open doors and reveal pathways for youth to become engaged in meaningful and necessary ways.
This post is written by Pearl Ackah, USAID/Ghana Private Sector Team leader, and project manager for ADVANCE II, and Katelyn Hickey, Masters candidate, Cornell University and USAID/RFS Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) intern, USAID/RFS Youth in Agri-food Systems.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views and opinions of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).