2017-2018 Youth Think Tank Report

Building Inclusive Agricultural Technologies for Young People

At the Foundation, young people are at the centre of our hearts, minds, and work. We are committed to listening to youth and trust them in their roles as leaders, advisors and partners. That is why, in 2012, we launched the Youth Think Tank (YTT) initiative — to elevate the voices of young people and equip them with the skills needed to conduct evidence-based research, and provide recommendations on the issues that matter to them most.

The Youth Think Tank is made of a group of young researchers ranging in age between 15-24 from seven African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. They are trained and mentored to conduct research, collect evidence and document the needs, challenges and aspirations of young people.

Since its inception, the Youth Think Tank has produced four publications that have played an important role in informing the Foundation’s strategy and programs. For example, the 2014 publication on youth engagement inspired the Foundation to strengthen its youth engagement approach. We developed key principles on youth engagement, including the importance of treating youth as leaders and partners. We also created an online platform, called Baobab platform to better connect and strengthen our youth network. The 2013 and 2015-2016 publications focused on youth employment, highlighting priorities from young people, such as the importance of developing soft skills to address skills mismatch with employer needs; the need to further support entrepreneurship and innovation; the importance of savings, financial literacy and digital finance, as well as the importance of developing and implementing gender-sensitive programing. These findings have been reflected in our strategy over the past years and will continue to inform our future strategies.

The latest YTT publication, Building Inclusive Agricultural Technologies for Young People explores the barriers and opportunities around agricultural technologies ideation, promotion, and uptake by young people. The findings confirmed the researchers’ assumptions:  Innovative technologies already exist within agriculture but its adoption by young people is impeded by a lack of awareness and access.

The research was mainly qualitative and was supplemented with a quantitative survey of 215 young respondents (57 percent male and 44 percent female; 60 percent resided in rural areas and 40 percent in urban centres).

Some key takeaways from the publication suggest that:

  • While respondents mentioned that there is high employment and income potential in off-farm activities, they stress that the average rural young person is not aware of these opportunities.
  • Forty percent of respondents identified access to finance as the most pressing barrier to young people’s adoption of agricultural technology. Both adopters and innovators are constrained by inadequate access to financial products to invest specifically in agricultural technologies — with respect to both ideation and uptake.
  • Lack of literacy and numeracy skills among rural youth, particularly the inability to use, effectively operate and repair agricultural technologies impedes their ability to adopt both digital and offline technologies. For example, 59 percent of adopters interviewed mentioned technical and soft skills as critical to their ability to access and apply these technologies.
  • Eighty percent of survey respondents indicated that they were more likely to adopt new technology if they learned about it from a family member. Fifteen percent were likely to adopt if they learned about it from their peers, and only five percent cited television/radio/newspapers as their primary source of information.
  • Sharing information through community, family and peer networks will spur uptake and scale up of agricultural technologies by rural youth and young women, both of whom are very well positioned but barely have means to access this vital information, as channels used by technology promoters are not sensitive to their unique context.

Findings from this youth-led research suggest that youth are already designing innovative agricultural technologies and solutions to solve complex challenges across the agri-food system. We are calling for a collective effort to design and scale programs that build on these youth-led technologies. Our collective efforts should fill in information gaps on work opportunities for youth in the off-farm sector. Our partnerships should also address the need for a coordinated and comprehensive educational, training, financial and network system that promotes not only the creation, but also the uptake of youth-led innovations in the agri-food sector. We are echoing young people in their call for a change in our development approach; a change that is only possible with fundamental shift in the way that actors in agricultural technology landscape interact with one another, from developing siloed or individualized solutions to collective ones.

Details on how young people are suggesting these solutions should be designed and implemented can be found in the report.

Stay tuned for the next YTT publication — to be released in Summer 2018 — and will explore youth perceptions and awareness of opportunities in the hospitality and tourism sector in Africa.