Currently in Côte d’Ivoire, about 35% of young people are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) – a statistic that is not only alarming, but also points to an impending future of unemployment and under-employment. Furthermore, over 50% of young people are also in vulnerable employment positions – meaning that they are working in low-paid jobs with little job security and few opportunities for career progression. The transition from school to work has also been prolonged and many graduates are unable to find suitable employment opportunities. What's more, these young people often have limited access to finance, restricting their training and/or education opportunities.
Youth unemployment and child labour in cocoa producing communities pose serious threats to the sustainability of the cocoa sector in general. One the main causes of child labour on cocoa farms is the lack of labour services and the high cost of the few available labourers in cocoa producing communities. There is a high level of youth unemployment in those communities, such as Daregba and Colonel. With decent employment opportunities lacking for young people, they migrate to cities in search of non-existent jobs.
These challenges also bring opportunities: currently, there are young people in the area who occasionally provide labour services to farmers in Daregba and Colonel. Farmers pay for these services. However, the services are not readily available, especially during the peak season. This is an opportunity to create employment for young people in the area, make professionalised labour services available and affordable to farmers in the area and contribute to solving one systemic cause of child labour, namely the absence of labour services in cocoa growing communities.
"With this project, we aim to empower youth through training, guidance and exchange so they can play a part in the transformation of their communities."
We adopt an integrated approach to providing unemployed rural youth in the San Pedro region of Côte d'Ivoire. We focus on four key areas:
Firstly, we sensitise and train young people from cocoa-producing communities in entrepreneurship and the general management of small and medium-sized enterprises. The training courses deal with marketing and sales, finance, human resources etc. We have also made online training content on Good Agricultural Practices available via an application called FARMBOOK. The young entrepreneurs are also coached by experienced agricultural engineers specially recruited for the purpose.
Secondly, the project also offers material and technical support to the young people trained in setting up Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and carrying out economically viable, socially beneficial activities, enabling them to become self-employed. These new entrepreneurs will then in turn create employment opportunities for other young people in the cocoa-producing community. This support is provided in the areas of developing innovative proposals, investments, business planning, setting up management tools etc.
Thirdly, we partner with ICT4DEV, an Ivorian agricultural solutions company, and work with investors to provide commercial finance to SMEs in cocoa-producing communities. Thanks to this financing, SMEs can roll out their plans, increase their professionalism, and play a key support role within the cocoa-producing communities. Through this project we are also able to link SMEs with potential microfinance institutions to develop financing products and de-risking mechanisms. This will increase business investment in SMEs in these cocoa-producing communities. It also contributes to the creation of opportunities for SMEs to interact and communicate with the entire local economic ecosystem. In order to establish trust between stakeholders to facilitate access to credit, it is necessary for Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to understand and master the functioning of the targeted agricultural value chains. The project will therefore focus on building the capacity of MFIs to function within these sectors and to put risk mitigation instruments into place.
Fourthly, the project also works to create a platform for collaboration of the entrepreneurs with their sub- peers through bilateral exchanges, inter-country and inter-continental study tours and teaching.
We have created an online platform called FARMBOOK, where young people could register for the project. To reach young people and key stakeholders, we set up an information and communication campaign that included publications in places frequented by the targeted proportion of young people, as well as group meetings and door-to-door outreach to young people in San-Pedro and targeted rural communities. A joint Rikolto-ICT4DEV mission also visited the San-Pedro region to present the project to other stakeholders and potential partners such as the Agence Emploi Jeunes, the Regional Council, the Town Hall, youth leaders, community leaders and so on.