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Mentorship in Agribusiness: Relationships that Bear Fruit
February 13, 2019

holding hands in a circleWhen Abdourahmane Diop began talking about agriculture with young people back in 2014, he says nobody cared. Now, things are different.

“The moment you talk about agriculture, you have a rush of questions about how to do it,” says the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow.

As a member of Yeesal Agri Hub, an agriculture and technology organization in Senegal, Diop helped conduct a study on the need for information and training for young people. They held many interviews, but the answer never changed for one question: Why are you now not engaged in agriculture?

“The majority of people that replied to this question said, ‘I don’t know where to start.’”

While it varies by country, the average rate of youth unemployment on the continent is around 14 percent, according to the World Bank. At the same time, the World Bank projected Africa’s food and beverage market to reach $1 trillion by 2030. There is a real need for labor in the agricultural sector. Young people can satisfy that need; they just need a helpful, guiding hand to show them where to begin.

Access to information from a trusted, knowledgeable source is invaluable for young people looking to enter any field of business, but perhaps more so in agriculture. While farming may be familiar to rural youth, turning the family farm into a business is something altogether new. Young graduates from the city looking for work may consider agriculture, but being completely unfamiliar with farming, don’t know where to start.

Mentors Can Act as Guides

Patrick Mugiraneza, who was a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2017, founded a mentorship program called Agriyouth Rwanda Initiative that pairs unemployed graduates with subsistence farmers. While some young people might look for a mentor that represents a future version of themselves, Mugiraneza sees a lot to be gained from pairing people with different backgrounds.

“Mentors can be anyone,” he says. “It can be a farmer … who has been dealing with agriculture and knows where opportunities and challenges are. It can be someone in academia, like me, who can bring in the technical” knowledge.

It takes a certain character to become a mentor, according to Angelique Ingabire, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow. Ingabire recruits mentors for her girls’ empowerment program in Rwanda.

She looks for a good learner who can be trained in the program curriculum, but also be able to deliver it to the girls.

Mentors are expected to follow up with their girls regularly. This is crucial for establishing a close relationship and making sure that the curriculum is taking hold.

Regular Communication Is Key

Diop is constantly serving as a mentor of sorts through his blog, AgriMedias. When the study found that many youth would consider entering agriculture as a profession if they knew how to do it, he felt inspired to provide that information to them, wherever they may be.

He spends most of his time replying to questions on social media from young people wanting to know how to start their own business in agriculture. He says he gives them the “step-by-step,” or advice to help them build a business plan.

He launched the hashtag #Sunumbay, meaning “our agriculture” in Wolof, to connect agriculture entrepreneurs with questions to farmers with experience.

“It’s something that can help and highlight the huge opportunities in the agricultural sector,” Diop says.

Fily Keita, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Mali, considers herself a product of mentoring. Through the YALI Network, she was paired with a mentor who trained her in effective ways to create social change.

Afterward, she drafted a business plan for her own mentorship program called Agro-Women, for agriculture, women and entrepreneurship.

“We aim to empower women and girls through sesame seed processing,” she explains. “I will train them in entrepreneurship so that they can generate their own business.”

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blog posts contributed by members of the YALI Network.