First of all, I would like to thank FAO and partners for taking this initiative to organise this e-discussion which touches the critical component of post-capacity development support. As a youth, I have myself been involved in some capacity development initiatives that have improved my skills and enabled me to see opportunities, grab them and make a change. I am very glad to be one of the subject matter experts and would like to respond to the questions of the debate based on my experience.
What are the biggest challenges youth in Africa face after going through youth-specific capacity development initiatives in agriculture?
I think the biggest challenge in post capacity development initiatives for youth is the reality on the ground and also lack of follow-up from the initiator/organiser of the training. For example, suppose the young participants have been trained on packaging, branding and marketing, then coming back home, the person realizes that the materials that they need for packaging is not easily available at an affordable price where they are based. Or online marketing is challenging because of the poor Internet connection, which is still a big challenge in many African countries. And of course, access to finance is another issue. These are just few examples, but there are so many examples on training v/s reality gap. Moreover, when a training is organised, its viability and long-term impact should be thought of by the organiser. Then, there is the issue of follow-up from the organisers. Once the youth go back home, if there is no follow-up in terms of communication or activity, it is rare that the youth will actually use the knowledge/skills gained from the training, unless the person has clearly had prior motivation and plans on how to use the knowledge gained from the training in his/her activity.
What are the examples of existing post-capacity development sustainability initiatives for youth in agriculture in Africa? What works and what does not? Are there any success stories and good practices that can be shared?
For me, I was already into agriculture as a student, but it’s such a broad subject that you don’t really know in which segment of the value chain you should be in and what to do after your studies. I was lucky that I came across an essay competition organised by CTA on youth finding ICT solutions that can address agriculture challenges in their country. I wanted to participate and started to do some research and read on the use of ICTs in agriculture. I was really amazed to see how mobile phones were being used to share market or weather information to farmers, something that did not exist in Mauritius back in 2010. I got inspired and submitted an entry for the competition. It was shortlisted and the next step was a Web 2.0 and social media training for development. Following that, CTA launched a blog competition a year later and I won the first prize in the individual category. This opened many opportunities to me, including job opportunities. If I am working in the area of youth, agriculture and ICT today, it’s the result of this programme. My point here is that what made it work is that it was a series of activities that was linked to each other, and over time, I grabbed all opportunities that came to me. In addition, we were added to an online network (mailing list) which, after 7 years is still active. Today, this programme is no longer here in the same format, but there are still opportunities for youth through other programmes. Recently, what has also worked has been the introduction of incubation programmes that help youth in different aspects of their business and which takes place over a certain period of time. What certainly does not work is one-time activities with no communication or follow-up after the training.
What post-capacity development support do the youth need? What can the youth do to support each other in developing their skills and capacities?
In my experience, youth networks are very useful and many of these are very often online networks. Sometimes they are not directly agriculture related, but broadly on business/entrepreneurship. I would take a recent example, which is the YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative) Network. I left my job to start a business in 2015 and during that time, I came across the YALI Network and joined. On its online platform itself, they offer many online courses on various topics (environment, business, leadership etc). In addition, the members in the network are all across Africa and have the possibility to exchange with them. This year, I was selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which is part of the YALI initiative and I was placed at the University of Iowa for 6 weeks, whereby we studied business and entrepreneurship. We were 25 fellows from 18 countries and most of us already had a business. Apart from the training itself, it was a great opportunity to learn from each other and share experiences. Even now after the programme, we are still in touch through our Whatsapp group and other communication channels. When we need a contact or information where the other fellows are, it’s easier and sometimes, we even collaborate with each other. What happens also is that when we come back to our countries, we have the possibility to become a mentor for some programmes and mentor other youth. In this way, we share our experiences and also create other leaders.
What enabling environment is needed to ensure sustainability of youth in agriculture capacity development initiatives?
- Tailor capacity development programme based on the needs of the youth and their context.
- Link with various institutions while designing the programme so that when it is completed, they can support the youth in terms of finance, technical skills etc.
- Collaboration among institutions at national, regional, International levels is also needed to avoid conducting the same activities in isolation.
Is there a role for modern technologies, including Information and Communication Technologies, in sustaining capacity development initiatives?
Yes, certainly. Training programmes are often organised in another region/country than where the young person in based and it’s not always practical to meet physically on a regular basis. From the examples I have shared for the previous questions, online platforms have been very useful in sustaining capacity development initiatives. Online platforms can be in the form of mailing lists, Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups etc.
To sum up, the following are my recommendations on post-capacity development support:
- Youth is a heterogeneous group. We cannot put all of them in the same basket – urban/rural youth, education level of the youth, their interest (production, processing, marketing, services etc.). Hence the youth group targeted must be properly identified.
- Tailor training/capacity building programmes based on the needs of the identified youth.
- Select the youth to be trained on a competitive basis. If they have to strive to get it, they will understand its value and make the most of it.
- Seek feedback on the capacity development initiative and always improve the programme, based on the responses.
- Follow up with the youth who have been trained and link them with partners and other opportunities.
- Avoid one-time activities.
- Encourage youth to get into networks. But too many networks with same activity is also exhaustive, and the youth lose interest. Hence, various institutions should work in collaboration.
I will stop here for now.
Thanks for reading!