SPECIAL REPORT: Ann Miles on Envisioning Agriculture As a Business for Youth in Africa – 3 Weeks Ahead of the SAM Conference in Ethiopia

MicroCapital: The Mastercard Foundation is organizing a session at SAM (Semaine Africaine de la Microfinance) on “Envisioning agriculture as a business for youth in Africa.” What tools do youth need to be successful in agriculture?

Ann Miles: Learning and training is critical for youth to succeed in whatever they undertake, so we offer scholarships for talented but underprivileged youth to obtain secondary and university education. Once they graduate, we assist young people in finding work in agriculture; accessing finance or training for entrepreneurship; or developing the “soft skills” necessary to succeed in any job, such as networking, communication, or demonstrating reliability and resourcefulness.

Studies consistently have shown that young people beginning or expanding agricultural businesses face major obstacles with access to finance. We support pilot projects that demonstrate how lenders can mitigate risk and integrate the expectations of young people into sustainable business models. There is great energy and ambition among the 11 million young people coming onto the labor market in Africa each year. Many of these young people will pursue a combination of formal employment in agriculture, informal seasonal work, family support and/or entrepreneurship. Microfinance institutions can enable young people to prosper in all of these areas by promoting savings, facilitating money transfers and removing obstacles to credit.

MC: What roles can technology play?

AM: We see technology as a game-changer, and not just to reduce costs for microfinance institutions seeking to better serve existing customers or reach new, distant ones. The future of the agri-food system is in the hands of young people who, by their nature, are more comfortable with emerging technologies. That’s why we advocate for young people to be an integral part of any planning process for using new technologies to facilitate the agricultural value chain. For example, collecting weather and crop data using GPS-enabled devices can help improve agricultural techniques. For microfinance firms, the use of new technologies to better understand and respond to customer needs can make the difference between profit and loss.

MC: Can you offer an example in which you see this all coming together?

AM: Our support to One Acre Fund is a good example of a comprehensive approach to helping smallholder farmers increase their productivity and livelihoods through access to better agricultural inputs, training, finance and markets. Other institutions should take a page out of One Acre Fund’s book and partner with other actors to do the same thing. When young people see that farming can be a profitable way to make a living, they will be more attracted to it.

In addition to farming, the work we do with organizations such as TechnoServe and SNV shows how much potential there is for young people to build small and medium-sized enterprises all along the agricultural value chain.

Ann Miles is the Director of Financial Inclusion for the Mastercard Foundation, which is one of the dozens of organizations that will share their expertise at SAM.

This interview is part of a sponsored series on the third SAM, which begins on October 9 in Addis Ababa. It is organized by ADA, an NGO based in Luxembourg, with the support of Luxembourg’s Ministry for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, in partnership with Microfinance African Institutions Network (MAIN), African Rural & Agricultural Credit Association (AFRACA), African Microfinance Transparency (AMT), the Association of Ethiopian Microfinance Institutions (AEMFI) and Kenya’s Association for Micro-finance Institutions.