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Ghana Conference Encourages Youth in Entrepreneurship and Agriculture

 

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ACCRA, GHANA – Cecil Ato Kwamena Dadzie, 21, converged with other young people from across the continent at the African Youth and Governance Conference this month in Accra, Ghana’s capital.

Dadzie, a Ghana ambassador for Voices of Future World, a project that aims to increase youth participation in public debate, says the conference provides the opportunity to network with other young people from various countries and discuss youth development issues.

“After the conference, my expectations have been met, and much more has been said,” he says. “I only want to see us moving from talk to action.”

Dadzie says that among the many issues that the conference addressed, the one that caught his attention was youth in agriculture. He says that many young people in Ghana aren’t interested in agriculture because some teachers at local high schools use it as punishment for students.

“I remember very well that in school, any time a teacher had to punish us, we had to go and weed a vast area of land for long hours, and this made us skip certain classes,” he says. “This was not done only in my school, but [also] in various senior high schools across the country. By so doing, my interest in agriculture is very minimal.”

But he says that the conference improved his view of agriculture. He says he learned that agriculture offers an ideal profession for young people since a large percentage of the nation depends on the agricultural sector for food and raw materials.

“Now agriculture is attractive to young people due to the introduction of new mechanisms and technologies,” he says.

He says that he’d like to get involved in agriculture, or “agric” as many call it here, on top of a law career.

“I will love to pursue agric with my natural career as well, which is law, aside [from] social work and volunteerism,” he says. “I will want to grow maize, cereals and poultry.”

Ghana hosted the Third African Youth and Governance Conference this month to discuss the economic development of youth. Two of the conference’s focuses were youth entrepreneurship and youth in agriculture. The government has promised to increase youth participation in agriculture and other sectors during the coming year, acknowledging the rapidly expanding youth population in Ghana and around the world.

The World Bank Group has projected that there will be 3 billion youth by 2015, with 2.5 billion of them living in less-developed countries. Young people ages 10 to 19 made up 22 percent of Ghana’s population in 2009, according to UNICEF’s latest statistics. Thirty percent of Ghanaians live below the international poverty line of $1.25 USD a day, according to UNICEF.

Ghana hosted the Third African Youth and Governance Conference this year under the theme ”Dialogue and Mutual Understanding: Our Year, Our Voice” from Aug. 10 to 12. The event led up to International Youth Day, commemorated annually on Aug. 12. The day also marked the close of the United Nations’ International Year of Youth.

The conference aimed to bring young people from various countries together to identify the challenges they face and to propose solutions. The event drew participants from nearly a dozen countries across the continent and also from the United States.

Youth Bridge Foundation, a local nongovernmental organization, NGO, that seeks to promote and develop young people through leadership, equity, empathy and partnership, organized the three-day conference.

In his welcoming remarks, Seth Oteng, executive director of the Youth Bridge Foundation, said that Africa’s population would increase to about 2 billion by 2015, with the majority under age 25. As such, he said this year’s conference focused on youth and economics, with a special focus on five areas: education, information and communication technology, agriculture, youth development and entrepreneurship.

He said that there had been an increase among Ghana’s youth in their awareness of the African Youth Charter, a treaty among African Union member states to increase youth participation. But he said that the government needed to do more to make the provisions in the charter a reality.

Ghana ratified the African Youth Charter in December 2010. The charter addresses issues such as freedom of expression, youth participation, education and skills development, health, socio-economic integration of youth, youth employment and the need for national youth policies.

Oteng also commended the support of the National Youth Authority, the government’s youth development service organization, for making the conference a reality.

Sedina Tamakloe Attionu, national coordinator of the National Youth Authority, said action needed to happen now to ensure youth participation in national and international issues.

“The development of young people is now,” she said during her speech.

Having the African Youth Charter as a country expresses how important youth issues are to the government, Attionu said. It becomes a tool through which young people can hold their governments accountable for youth development and participation. She said the National Youth Policy of Ghana, created by the government in August 2010, was another tool.

“Through the National Youth Policy, programs such as the youth indexing program, entrepreneurial training, youth in agriculture and various skills training is being organized for the youth by the government,” Attionu said.

In addition, Attionu said that young people around the globe faced a number of challenges. They include: the proliferation of religious faith with divergent doctrines, the erosion of the extended family, low media coverage of youth issues, low levels of education, and the lack of skills training, entrepreneurship and opportunities for young people to explore their talents.  

But Attionu said there were many opportunities for youth in Ghana and around the globe. She said the government had shown a high level of commitment to youths and that there were also a lot of youth-related NGOs promoting the spirit of youth volunteerism and participation. Examples of these NGOs include Youth Bridge Foundation, Youth Empowerment Synergy, Global Youth Action Network and Curious Minds.

One focus area of the conference that caught participants’ attention was entrepreneurship.

Mayor Odikuke, a young person who attended the conference from Nigeria, says he has participated in the African Youth and Governance Conference every year.

“Each year has its exciting moments,” he says.

He says his focus at the conference was on entrepreneurship.

“My focus is on youth and entrepreneurial skills and development,” he says. “As much as we get the talks and advice, we will be glad if there were channels through which entrepreneurship for young people will be easy.”

Youth entrepreneurship was also the most important aspect of the conference for John Essilfie Jr., a young person who works with the Youth Bridge Foundation as an information technology technician. He says volunteer work offers a strong start to getting involved.

“Being a volunteer for a company for a number of years in order to gain some working experience and also gaining knowledge is very vital,” he says. “However, young people of today have lost the spirit of volunteerism.”  

The conference also focused on introducing young people to agriculture.

Essilfie says that many people don’t realize agriculture’s income-generating potential.

“We can use the little that we have in feeding ourselves and to export the rest in order to get some income for the country,” he says.

But he says there are also challenges in this industry, which dissuade him from a career in agriculture.

“I think agric is tiring, and moreover, people don’t see farmers as important people,” he says.

Shakespeare Dzokoto, an agronomist of Blue Skies, a fruit company that has a factory in Ghana, gave a presentation about the threats to youth in agriculture. These threats include the lack of expertise, inadequate knowledge of technology updates, negative social impacts and the land tenure system, in which land custodians sell one plot of land to about five people and the case becomes too tiring to resolve in court. Agriculture is also seen as a job for the poor, unemployed, illiterates and school dropouts, he says.

“As if that is not enough, too much attention is being shifted to only cocoa, and other crops are being neglected,” Dzokoto says.

In his State of the Nation address in February, Ghana President John Atta Mills said that modernizing agriculture, enhancing food security and creating job opportunities along the entire agricultural value chain were his administration’s priorities.

“There is an upcoming National Irrigation Policy, which will be completed and launched later this year, since our goal as an administration is to make locally produced food more abundant and affordable,” he said.

The president also promised to expand youth participation in agriculture next year through a pilot project.

“Our president is into farming, which is a good example, and it is now a form of prestige depending on your focus,” Dadzie says.

He says the conference increased his interest in farming and that now it is up to young people to turn words into action.

“After the conference, I hope to get in touch with my new friends and share ideas and make changes in our little way,” Dadzie says. “I don’t need to wait for another convening or conference to share my ideas.”