Funmilayo Akinola, 28, was unable to obtain formal education because her family was poor. Pelumi Aribisala, 35, successfully acquired a university degree in Nigeria. But both live with the same reality: an inability to secure a sustainable and secure form of employment.
Their stories represent the fate of over 22.64 million others living in every rural and urban city of Nigeria. Funmilayo and Pelumi have, however, been able to create a much more fulfilling situation for themselves with the help of HarvestPlus. They have gained financial freedom and generated employment while also contributing to eradicating micronutrient malnutrition — a condition that kills 145 women of childbearing age and 2,300 children in Nigeria under the age of five daily.
Since the early 2000s, youth unemployment has become more prevalent in Nigeria. This problem is widespread across the world’s youngest continent. Youth constitute about 37 percent of the total labor force in Africa, but make up about 60 percent of total unemployment. Many resolve this by engaging in low-quality jobs in the informal sector of the economy.
Funmilayo started a microenterprise for biofortified food products and planting materials after receiving training from HarvestPlus. She uses simple implements such as a food extruder and spatula, vegetable oil, spices, cowpeas, and vitamin A cassava flour, to produce a weekly average of 2,400 pieces of a popular crunchy snack called combobites. Sales have been brisk, netting her about 700 USD (₦252,000) monthly.
Pelumi on the other hand is co-founder of one of the first biofortified food processing companies in Nigeria. Today, his company—Cato Foods—produces and markets over 62 tons of vitamin A gari, fufu and flour from vitamin A cassava. Cato Foods is also the first and largest producer of casstard, a variant of custard developed from vitamin A cassava. This novel food product is an ideal complementary food delivering up to 50% of the daily vitamin A needs of infants and children under five.
There’s been a surge in recent years in the number of youth agro-entrepreneurs like Funmilayo and Pelumi—who have shed the shame and drudgery of farming, making it a cool pursuit for many young unemployed adults. Now in Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, and Zimbabwe are young people defining their lives independently of government, using biofortified cassava, maize, millet, sorghum and cowpea varieties to earn salaries equivalent to and even exceeding what directors in federal civil service earn.
In Nigeria alone, more than one million people make significant income from full time jobs as producers, market facilitators, bulking agents, processors and distributors of biofortified planting materials and food products.
Samuel Ajewole (32) and Blessing Owoseni (33) are two such people. Samuel matches demand with supply of planting materials of biofortified crops and vitamin A cassava roots, helping farmers sell their produce by supplying biofortified materials in bulk to areas where they are needed. Market facilitators like Samuel receive periodic technical support from HarvestPlus to help facilitate access to remote communities.
“My job helps me deliver nutrition to hard-to-reach places. Satisfaction comes from knowing that I am helping to proliferate a solution (biofortification) that is positively impacting on the health and nutrition of children and women,” Samuel says.
These voices represent a few of the numerous young Nigerians whose energies HarvestPlus has helped channel into profitable and sustainable ventures. Alternatives like this give these bright people a path to decent and rewarding employment.
“Who would have thought,” Funmilayo says, “that an uneducated woman from Akinyele, in the interiors of Oyo State, would be able to use science to produce a snack which schools, health centers and supermarkets are happy to patronize? I can now comfortably cater for my family and give my children the quality education that I missed.”
HarvestPlus is helping young people shift from “a zone of bleakness” to “a bright future”, says Funmilayo. She’s doing her part, to empower them, too. She trains other women limited by poverty and illiteracy to help them achieve their fullest potential.