Ethiopia’s youth find hope in agricultural entrepreneurship

Story of Amiat Ahmed

Each year, rural areas lose a significant proportion of their workforce to migration. Luckily, agriculture has the potential to generate much needed job opportunities for employment. © Emily Enberg Packer


27-year-old Amiat Ahmed and her two-year-old son live with Amiat’s parents in the South Wollo Zone of Amhara Region, Ethiopia. Like many other young people in her region, Amiat used to feel that there were limited opportunities to earn income in her village, which led to her decision to migrate to Saudi Arabia.

“I witnessed young people from my village sending money back to their families,” Amiat says of those who inspired her to make a similar move. “I thought I could do the same thing for my parents.”

Unfortunately, Amiat’s plans for her future in the Middle East did not turn out as she had hoped. In order to reach Saudi Arabia, Amiat had to walk for days in the desert without enough food or water, and was mistreated by traffickers along the way. After a difficult and risky journey, she finally arrived in Saudi Arabia, but it was not a warm welcome.

“Nothing was as expected,” says Amiat.

She spent 5 years in Saudi Arabia working as a domestic helper for a local family. Although her reality was different from what she had imagined at home in Ethiopia, Amiat continued her work in order to send money back to her family. In this way, she partly fulfilled her dream: she managed to earn enough money to buy oxen for her father, and also to send her younger brother to university. But before Amiat could earn the money needed to help her family construct a better house, she had to leave Saudi Arabia because of her status as an irregular immigrant.

“My plan was to work for three more years to save money for my family, but I was forced to return,” explains Amiat.

Upon returning home to the South Wollo Zone, Amiat had no income or means to provide for her family. But with some help from local administrators, she joined a poultry farming cooperative started with the support of the FAO Rural Youth Mobility (RYM) project.

Left: Amiat initially migrated in the hopes of providing her family with enough income. Now, she has joined a poultry cooperative that allows her to support her family and remain in her home village. ©Emily Enberg Packer Right: Amiat’s poultry cooperative buys day-old chickens and raises them in order to sell them to others in the community. ©FAO/Tamiru Legesse

The South Wollo Zone of Amhara Region in Ethiopia is one of the areas of focus for FAO’s two-year project on Youth mobility, food security and poverty reduction. With funding from the Italian Development Cooperation, the RYM Project began in 2015 and ended in February 2018.

About 71 percent of Ethiopia’s population is under the age of 30 years, making it a country where the potential workforce far outbalances job creation. As a result, there is a lack of opportunities for young people to make a living in their hometowns, leading these youths to migrate to other countries in the hopes of finding decent employment. RYM directly addressed the main adverse drivers of rural youth’s migration in Tunisia and Ethiopia, while harnessing the potential of migratory movements.

With the help of national stakeholders, the RYM Project provided unemployed youth with training and equipment, helping them launch their own small agricultural businesses and thus generating profitable alternatives to migration. While working side by side with youth in rural areas, through RYM, FAO boosted financial literacy and raised awareness about the risks of irregular migration. All these efforts helped foster decent youth employment and agricultural entrepreneurship in Tunisian and Ethiopian areas with high outmigration rates.

One of the positive outcomes of the RYM Project is the poultry farming cooperative that Amiat joined after returning to her village. The members of the cooperative buy day-old chickens, raise them for 45 days and then sell them to local communities. As the profits grow, the members share the dividends among themselves. 

Amiat can choose to stay with her son in her home village instead of migrating now that FAO’s RYM Project has helped create new agricultural entrepreneurship opportunities. © Emily Enberg Packer

Now, settled back into the South Wollo Zone, Amiat reflects on the journey that has allowed her to create a stable economic future for herself and her family, one that does not require them to live apart.

“I see my future in our poultry farming business. I have a cute son, I don’t want to leave him,” says Amiat with a smile.

The RYM Project gave young farmers and entrepreneurs hope and confidence in their capacity to work and be productive in their home communities. This was done by confronting issues like limited access to land, credit, market and technical training, all of which can cause a general lack of hope for the future in young people who already don’t see agriculture as an attractive prospect. Furthermore, RYM established partnerships with local administrative authorities, training institutions and rural communities, which contributed to these youths developing a sense of ownership and engagement at a local level.

RYM also worked to raise awareness about the risks of irregular migration. Safe, orderly and regular migration can promote development and provide benefits for the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Amiat has no current plans to leave the expanding poultry business she has become a part of, but acknowledges that “huge life challenges can drive people to migrate. If I should leave for migration again, I’ll do it the legal way.”

The RYM Project helps create sustainable solutions to local unemployment, ensuring that migration is not the only viable option. Now, young people like Amiat have access to the resources that allow them to choose to stay with their families and find decent jobs for a secure future in their areas of origin.

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5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth