By Morrison Rwakakamba
As we gear to 2014/2015 budget reading in June 2014, we need to zoom the readiness of the country to practically tackle the problem of youth unemployment/underemployment and general productivity constraints through national budget in line with Vision 2040.
The budget should be structured towards targeted investments that open and expand opportunities for youth employment across the agriculture value chain. Agriculture remains Uganda’s dominant sector, with 70% of Uganda’s livelihoods dependent on it.
With a 2.9% allocation as indicated in the 2014/2015 Budget Framework Paper, and absence of disaggregated data on other multi-sector investments with direct link to agriculture – Uganda remains constrained in its ability to create robust and rewarding employment for its millions of youth in this sector of great potential.
Given the dependence on small-scale farming for food production and for food security and its capacity to absorb labour, how small-scale farming is supported, how youth respond to farming opportunities and whether farming, including small scale farming and the evolving agrifood sector, can meet the aspirations of youth, will be critical for both future and present food security and employment in Uganda. Youth can’t just go to farming for the sake of it.
The Government has to deliberately create an incentive mechanism to attract and harness the energy and agility of Uganda’s young population to be able to achieve quantum leap in efficiency, productivity and value addition in agriculture sector. It is now a shared understanding that increasing youth opportunities in agriculture and an agri-business sector is central to creating employment, revitalising agricultural livelihood and subsequently, lifting millions out of poverty.
Youth make up approximately one-fifth of the total population in many countries in both developing and emerging economies. Uganda has the youngest population in the world; with a very high fertility rate of nearly seven children per woman. The annual population growth is at 3.2%.
In 1980 Uganda had 12.7 million people, in 2005, it pulled to 28.7 million- and in constant fertility scenario, by 2025, and Uganda will have 58.1 million inhabitants. By 2050, it will have 152.2 million people with more than half comprised of young people (Beatrice and Madsen, 2010).
How will Uganda feed its population when its fertility rate is above its agricultural annual growth rate - currently at 2.6%? Where will all these young people get jobs, if agriculture is not modernised?
Going forward, the Uganda Government and its development partners have a key role to play in creating a supportive and enabling environment for agriculture and agribusiness including providing a new focus on rural and urban youth through agricultural policy and investment.
National employment and labour policies, including those for youth, should be revisited to give explicit focus to agriculture and the associated agrifood market chains and service industries as a major sector upon which to strengthen opportunities for securing and expanding decent employment.
Secondly, business as usual, which assumes that through broad-based ‘one-size-fits-all’ production orientated interventions that assume adequate livelihood can be secured for the majority of youth, is potentially misguided. Critical choices must be made for differentiated groups of youth including young urban farmers and rural young farmers.
This will enable transformation to take place over the coming decades while minimising risks to full employment, food security and livelihoods. Stimulating the growth of farms and firms in form of agribusinesses is essential to improve labour market performance for this and future generations.
Finally, despite a growing disillusionment on the part of rural youth with livelihood and employment opportunities offered by the agriculture sector, innovations in small-scale farming are emerging, in particular in the peri-urban environment and in new and changing agrifood market chains, which are attracting the youth.
For example, I know of many young people in Kampala, Mbarara, and Wakiso districts –etc-, who have abandoned jobs as bank tellers, and other midlevel executive jobs in private sector and government – to take on farming.
They are engaged in enterprises like poultry, piggery, dairy, goat rearing, rabbit rearing, vegetables production etc.- using small land acreage. They are supplying Uganda’s mushrooming supermarkets and other regional markets like South Sudan when it was still peaceful.
These young peri-Urban farmers are agile, skilled and technologically savvy. They use social media platforms like Facebook, twitter etc. to market their products. They also seek practical information on their own. They have sent a number of online inquiries to Agency for Transformation through agro-info website (Agency Agribizz).
They look at farming as a means of achieving their aspirations. However, these young agro entrepreneurs are not organised in Farmers’ Associations or Cooperatives. They are scattered and operating as individual actors in a diverse market. They are missing out on advantages of collectivism.
Their voice is also missing yet necessary to shape and drive public policy on agriculture. Data on how many they are is scanty. The Government through Kampala Capital City Authority and other urban authorities should target them.
Uganda National Farmers Federation and Uganda Cooperative Alliance should seek to attract them and organise them. They are the future of technologically driven, climate smart and organised modern farming.
The writer is the Chief Executive Officer, Agency for Transformation