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Youth Agricultural Sales Agents: Building Youth Entrepreneurship in Rural Areas
This blog shares a summary of the findings and lessons from the E-FACE project’s pilot intervention to build youth entrepreneurship among rural communities in Gamo Gofa and Wolaita districts in Southern Ethiopia. The full case study can be found on MEDA’s YEO website.
The Youth Agricultural Sales Agent (YASA) program provided 250 young people (138 male, 112 female), aged 14 to 17 years, with business skills training to increase their knowledge of markets, as well as life skills training to improve their confidence and communication. The technical and entrepreneurial skills provided by the training program were complemented with start-up kits to transition the youth from exploitative labor to productive work.
The YASA program was developed by MEDA to address gaps in agricultural value chains and to create appropriate income generating opportunities for youth in rural areas. The youth agricultural sales agents were to serve as go-betweens for seed companies seeking to rapidly disburse inputs to farmers in a cost-effective manner. Farmers would then be able to access inputs in small, affordable quantities and improve their productivity.
The youth were provided with training on sales methods, financial literacy and small business management to increase their product and market knowledge, in addition to life skills training to improve their confidence and communication. The youth were linked to promoters, who acted as role models to guide the youth on business matters. The youth were also linked to brokers and distributors as a source for wholesale supplies. All of these intermediaries were meant to mentor the youth and support them in building networks and product offerings.
What transpired? Did the YASA model work?
Follow-up with the youth revealed that most were now equipped with the skills to start their own small businesses, and are working as sales agents, trading in a variety of products, including some with value addition. Of the surveyed youth, the primary business is agriculture-related, with 59% of them engaged in some form of vegetable and fruit-related retail. Other activities involved coffee processing, seed retailing, animal husbandry and the repurposing of used materials (e.g., clothes and shoes). The majority of the youth (91%) are selling at open markets and on average, committing three days per week to their business ventures.
The youth have experienced a lot of changes, both financially and in their personal lives:
- Improved Life Skills and Future Aspirations, including behavioural changes and increased confidence. Most of the youth also discussed a renewed interest in education and future opportunities, emphasizing their eagerness to invest in their businesses and to continue with higher education. The youth are aspiring for better futures for themselves and their families.
- Increased Resilience and Ability to Take Care of Themselves, as evident in youth reporting being able to afford personal items for their own use. This allowed for more of the household funds to be allocated to other areas such as garden expansions, home renovations, and medical bills.
- Improved Income Generating Skills, including improved marketing skills and the ability to assess what products and prices were relevant for their clients. The youth are exhibiting physical record keeping and improved financial management skills. All are also members of Village Savings Associations for Youth (VSAY) (1).
- Reduced Engagement in Exploitative Labor is probably the most obvious change in the lives of the youth. As a result of the program, the youth are identifying entrepreneurial opportunities rather than menial, often dangerous, work.
What made the YASA model successful?
Perhaps the most important success factors were the model’s design and flexibility, and the relevancy of the training to address life and business skills. These allowed youth participants to make adjustments to better suit their realities — a clear indication that the market trends and opportunity identification trainings were being applied by the youth. MEDA’s Building Skills for Life was rooted in their local context, boosted the confidence of the youth by increasing their product knowledge; trained them on how to interact with customers and suppliers; and created business opportunities with established input suppliers. The training component was most referenced and appreciated by the youth was the financial literacy/ savings.
What improvements can be made to the YASA model?
The case study explores the many challenges and opportunities of the model, including the need for more refresher training for promoters and promoting business partnerships among youth. There are many lessons to be learned from MEDA’s Ethiopian experience and these will be applied for all future programs addressing youth employment, especially in rural areas.
Do you have similar experiences to share with MEDA? We would love to hear from you! Are there success factors that you can share? Get in touch with us through twitter! Twitter.com/@Meda_Youth
(1) A community-based saving group composed of 10-20 working youth between the ages of 14 -17. The group members save small amounts out of their earning during weekly meetings. Please see Youth Savings report for more information on the VSAYs.