Adetola Adenmosun, IYA, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria

The IITA Youth in Agribusiness continued to expand its footprint in 2020, extending the gains of youth engagement in agriculture with a focus on younger youth through the Start Them Early Program (STEP) initiative.

The IITA Youth in Agribusiness continued to expand its footprint in 2020, extending the gains of youth engagement in agriculture with a focus on younger youth through the Start Them Early Program (STEP) initiative.

Although the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic posed some challenges, the youth remained undeterred as they engaged in proposal development and negotiations for resource mobilization, policy dialogue, partnerships, and scaling of innovations for various activities and expansion.

IITA Director General Dr Nteranya Sanginga had initiated STEP in 2018 after IITA received the Africa Food Prize. The strategy behind STEP was to “catch them young,” ensuring that secondary school students develop an interest in agriculture and later embrace it as a business at a young age. The initiative aims to encourage young people to view agriculture as a viable career and not as a last option if they cannot find jobs in other sectors of the economy. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and CTA funded the inception stages of the program.

The birth of STEP-Oyo

After gaining recognition from the impact recorded in 2019 across the countries of implementation—DR Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria, 2020 paved the way for STEP to expand its strategies and operations, especially in Nigeria with buy-in from government at various levels and project portfolios within the Youth in Agribusiness Unit. The year gave birth to one subgroup known as STEP-Oyo.

STEP-Oyo originated with the inauguration of Fasola Grammar School, one of the secondary schools in Nigeria where STEP piloted its strategy.

Fasola Grammar School, which is in a rural area in Oyo state, was in a deplorable state, with abandoned and dilapidated classrooms, learning facilities, furniture, toilets, libraries, school halls, etc. STEP interventions elevated the school’s infrastructure to a level that is rare to find even in urban centers in Nigeria and enhanced the skills of the school’s students in agribusiness.

STEP re-introduced the innovative but long-forgotten agricultural club into secondary schools by establishing school farms, ICT in agribusiness, value addition, use of modern farm machinery, marketing, branding, etc.

Thrilled by this model, the Oyo State government, under the leadership of Governor Seyi Makinde, requested a replication and expansion of the STEP model across its six geopolitical areas.

To commence expansion activities, STEP conducted an inception workshop, where it developed an implementation plan. It also conducted surveys in some schools in the geopolitical zones to gather baseline information to aid its intervention in the schools.

The survey aimed to understand the students’ perception of agriculture and determine appropriate/customized training strategies of modern agriculture and agribusiness management for each school.

Five hundred and three students participated in the survey—71% from Bishop Philips Academy (BPA) and 29% from Methodist High School (MHS). Of the total respondents, only 17% of the MHS and 7% of BPA students affirmed that agriculture is their first career ambition. Other students said that they could practice agriculture as a secondary activity (51%). In comparison, 26% would avoid any agricultural activity because they believed it is hard to secure land or agriculture is labor-intensive and has meager returns. Interestingly 84% of the surveyed students expressed their interest in becoming a member of a new agricultural club.

The STEP initiative is now active in four Nigerian states—Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, and Oyo.

COVID-19 intervention by STEP

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, STEP leveraged the lockdown to strengthen students’ agribusiness skills with further training in secondary schools. There was a series of training on value addition, small-scale mechanization, ICT, and crop production. A total of 150 students were engaged in STEP agribusiness training across four schools in Nigeria during the period.

Crop production Planting maize, cassava, soybean, orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP), vegetables
Value addition Soymilk production, bread, cake, doughnut, sausage, meat pie, tidbits etc.
Mechanization Use of small-scale machines such as rototiller, brush-cutter, two-wheel weeder, and motorized sprayer
ICT Using the internet and Microsoft Office


Livestock Poultry production (broiler and layer birds), aquaculture

In DR Congo, 300 students benefited from the training organized by STEP during the lockdown while they also continued to manage the established enterprises. The STEP Educ application, a training tool installed on phones and computers to enable students to learn about agriculture, livestock, and entrepreneurship, was also used to train students during the lockdown.

To continue engaging the students during the pandemic and subsequent restrictions in Kenya, the STEP team introduced the STEP Home Challenge. The challenge targeted promoting a “Do It Yourself” mentality that enables students to be creative and involved in every step of the life cycle of their enterprises. Interested students were given seedlings to start their home gardens. Fertilizers and pesticides were not given so the students could learn to recognize deficiencies and pest and disease infestations and seek corrective measures, which STEP provided. The e-learning platform was another means devised by STEP to reach out to students in secondary schools in Kenya.

Launching youth activities through partnerships

Through some partnerships established during the year, youth in agribusiness-related interventions were launched across five states in Nigeria. IYA had existing programs in some of these states, while others were new areas of intervention following partner recommendations. These states include Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Oyo, and the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja. This has now extended IITA’s youth in agriculture intervention to 10 states in Nigeria.

The partnership with the Mastercard Foundation under its Young Africa Works strategy officially commenced in May 2020. The partnership aims to equip 242,724 young Nigerian women and men between 15 and 35 years with skills to secure gainful employment in the agri-food system or become independent agribusiness owners in the agricultural value chain of choice. This would create sustainable means of income generation for themselves and employment opportunities for others.

The beneficiaries are categorized into employment and entrepreneurship tracks with 70% and 30% distribution in the respective paths. The project also pays particular attention to women’s participation and intends to attract 70% of them into the agri-food system through its intervention. The project will develop an agribusiness support strategy and financial schemes that consider and encourage women’s participation. The project will leverage and scale existing IITA youth initiatives, including STEP.

During the year, the project recruited 17 staff to implement its strategy.

The first major activity of the project was an inception workshop that served as a platform for bringing together relevant stakeholders to sensitize them about the project, seek their buy-in for an enabling environment, and design an implementation plan to guide and address critical areas of intervention. It was also an opportunity for the team to present their work plans. The team also conducted a baseline survey across the three states to design strategies that will meet the needs of its targeted beneficiaries.

Since training is a principal component of the project, the team rolled out a training application where over 60,000 applications were received. The training commenced fully in 2021 and focuses on agricultural technologies on various crops, agroprocessing, agribusiness operations, soft skills in partnership with Jobberman, business planning courses, etc.

Through partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Youth in Agribusiness office focuses on equipping young people in Imo and Oyo states and the Federal Capital Territory with agribusiness skills through the “Rural Youth Employment Opportunities: Support to integrated agribusiness hubs (Agrihub) in Nigeria” project. The project, otherwise known as IFAD-Agrihub, aims to realize IFAD’s vision of empowering African youth by establishing a network of youth-centered Agribusiness Hubs in Nigeria. These Hubs are intended to transform and integrate agricultural production and processing through skills impartation among employment and entrepreneurship track youth.

Apart from offering capacity building, training, and mentoring, the IFAD-Agrihub pilot enterprises test and refine modern agricultural technologies while demonstrating them to the broader agricultural community to attract the growth of advisory services around them. As the agribusiness hubs grow in number and sophistication, they form mutually beneficial networks in technology transfer, market intelligence, digital agriculture, and policy advocacy. The hubs serve as magnets for commercialization, attracting both new products and financial services. Over the next five years, the project will target 2,200 direct beneficiaries, 70% of whom are expected to find meaningful employment and 30% to start independent agribusiness enterprises.

The project activities in 2021 also commenced with the recruitment of staff. IFAD-Agrihub project has seven full-time staff. The inception workshop of the project was also conducted during the year.

Our impact through the Innovation Award

In 2019, the youth program received recognition for its commitment to improving agribusiness opportunities and the creditworthiness of youth across Africa. This first of its kind award, funded by the government of Switzerland, was presented during the 41st conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the organization’s headquarters in Rome. The award included a $20,000 cash prize, which was pledged to establish a Youth in Agribusiness program in the Republic of Benin.

In 2020, IYA partnered with the IFAD-funded Youth Employment in Agribusiness and Sustainable Agriculture (YEASA) Project to train 25 youth in the Republic of Benin, fulfilling its pledge. The project also provided them with inputs to start their businesses through the IFAD window for supporting small and medium enterprises. The beneficiaries established enterprises along the value chain of rice and aquaculture.

Youth Employment in Agribusiness and Sustainable Agriculture (YEASA)

YEASA started in February 2019. It is funded by IFAD. It aims to build the technical, entrepreneurial, and soft skills of young adults (18–35 years) to improve their productive capacity and increase their benefits from existing agri-food systems. Three institutions are implementing the project: the grant recipient, Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), and sub-recipients IITA and the AfricaRice Center.

In 2020, the project adjusted its implementation strategy due to the challenges posed by COVID-19. . As a result, the training program was modified to accommodate both online and onsite sessions, an arrangement that permitted batching of selected beneficiaries into smaller class sizes in both Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.

The major activities carried out in the year included:

  • The expansion of training manuals to accommodate technical, entrepreneurial, and soft skills
  • The development of audiovisual training sessions
  • Grant monitoring visit for some youth who received the grant award in 2019
  • Facilitation of training sessions for 146 youth online and 123 onsite participants.

Youth who expressed interest in training during the lockdown on the project’s website ( were selected and asked to maximize the online training modules. Courses were uploaded on the website (designed specifically for the YEASA project) with specific log-in details for commodity and corresponding courses, allowing concurrent training delivery for all enterprises – ( The primary learning tool was audiovisual presentations.

Some of the project’s milestones in the year include:

  • Training 123 youth; 62 in Nigeria and 61 in the Republic of Benin. This means 90% (180) of the target youth have been trained from project inception to date.
  • Award of grants to 103 youth in Nigeria (52) and Benin (51), representing about 62.4% of the total grant award. From the project inception to date, grant disbursement is about 91% (150) of the total.
  • Translation of training manuals along the value chains of cowpea, soybean, maize, plantain, maize and cassava into French.
  • Development of audiovisual presentations for all crop commodity enterprises in French and English.
  • Development of business plans by trained youth along the value chain enterprises assigned to IITA.

Wrapping up on youth from the creeks

In 2015, the Youth in Agribusiness office commenced a mission in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria to move youth from the creeks to the farm and help them explore opportunities available along the value chains of aquaculture, cassava, and plantain.

The project Community Youth in Agribusiness Group (CYAG), funded by Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL), closed in November 2020.

The project had the mandate to train 120 youth across selected communities in the Ijaw and Itsekiri axis in Delta State on the value chains of cassava and fish (processing and service provision). The trainees were engaged in classroom sessions with lectures and presentations before the experiential learning process at the newly constructed processing centers, built in one of the selected communities in the Itsekiri axis (Omadino).

The CYAG project established over 10 hectares of agribusiness demo sites containing fish ponds, ProVitamin A and TME 419 cassava, plantain and banana macro chamber and field. In addition, the project constructed a cassava processing center, fish processing center, and catfish hatchery section to engage all the 120 trained youth across the project enterprise value chains of cassava, fish, and plantain.

Youth entitlement mindset, low level of agribusiness activities within the project site, and community interference on activities were the major challenges encountered on the project. Still, the management team was able to resolve these highlighted challenges through sensitization and educational tours for beneficiaries outside the project location, partnership with existing agro-related organizations, and executing activities with a conflict-resolution approach.

A walk in the park

The Youth in Agribusiness park is located in Awe, Oyo State, about 56 kilometers from IITA, Ibadan. The youth use it as an agribusiness incubation center, agribusiness park, a hub for establishing pilot learning enterprises, and a training center. The center, previously known as Rural Community Development Center (RCDC), has now been named the Oyo State-IITA Youth Agribusiness Incubation Park Center. The center was a farmers’ academy owned by the Oyo State government but will now be used by IYA to expand its activities and give young people the opportunity to have hands-on experience in agribusiness.

IYA has requested the use of 100 hectares of land, access to the training rooms, dormitories, and processing facilities. Although situated in a rural community, IYA, through the state government’s approval and assistance, is transforming the center to a modern agribusiness training center where innovative and modern agricultural practices are being taught.

IYA had taken a bold step in June 2020 to transform the center into an agribusiness park where pilot enterprises could be established to support the development of youth-led agribusiness start-ups through training and a low-cost incubation model. The center will also provide agribusiness support services to youth and farmers in and around Awe.

Presently, the youth have cultivated about 40 hectares of cassava and renovated the abandoned cassava processing center, scheduled to commence full operations in February 2021. There are plans to establish a livestock enterprise comprising sheep, goats, and rabbits. Poultry raising, aquaculture, beekeeping, and modern vegetable production using screen houses, are also part of the plan. The cultivation of maize, soybean, potato, cowpea, and other crops will be introduced in the next planting season.

Through the partnership, IYA has acquired the oil palm and cashew plantation on the farm. Some of the renovation activities at the park include the conversion of the administrative buildings to offices and training rooms, the construction of a 2,500-capacity poultry house and a sheep and goat pen, and the digging and expansion of fish ponds. Having prioritized the provision of electricity, boreholes, and renovating the hostel facilities at the center, the state government also commenced the construction of a fence around the facility. IYA has posted four of its staff to the center.

About the Author

Adetola Adenmosun is a graduate of Mass Communication. She is the Communication Officer for the Youth in Agribusiness office at the headquarters in Ibadan. She joined IYA in 2014 after completing her National Youth Service Corp Scheme in IITA. Adetola has contributed to various journals and reports, including the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2015. She has also written reports and some editorials published in reputable media organizations to promote the role of youth in the advancement of agriculture in Africa.