By Roland Niwagaba and Nkechi Charles
Ugandan population is mainly comprised of youth with about 78% of the population below the age of 30 years. An uncomfortably big majority of these youth find themselves entrenched in unemployment.
This number is bound to increase if the rate at which institutions of higher learning are churning out fresh graduates continues to exceed the rate at which new jobs are being created.
We have seen chronic unemployment among the youth incite unrest in several countries like South Africa and Brazil. For that reason, it is imperative that Uganda meets this challenge head on before it escalates.
We, at the Agency for Transformation, believe agriculture should be one of the livelihoods emphasized as a strategy for addressing the problem of youth unemployment. There is notable reluctance for the said youth to engage in agriculture, a topic with which many articles have attempted to theorize and diagnose the cause. We, however, attended the recently concluded 22nd Annual Nile National Agricultural Trade Show in search of solutions.
Focusing our attention on farmers, who are benefitting from agriculture, we inquired about their thoughts on the best way to get the youth involved in this sector that has transformed their lives. Farmers in Schools, Family Apprenticeship, Agricultural Clusters, and Youth-to-Youth Engagement were among the wealth of ideas we heard.
As we spoke to many farmers that day, one undeniable fact stood out: farmers are as passionate as we are about the potential for agriculture to transform the youth of this country.
Farmers in school outreach
The high attendance of youth brought to the trade show by their schools was an encouragement to many farmers. Understanding that the annual trade show only occurs once a year, a farmer from the Mukono Farmers Association spoke of how she proactively engages schools and requests permission to speak with students about agriculture, its importance and the future opportunities that exist.
Another farmer from the Isingiro District Farmers Association championed parents, involved in agriculture, to go beyond bringing their children to the trade shows.
It is more strategic to have their children intimately aware and engaged in the agribusiness process from beginning to end (i.e. from working in the field, harvesting, transporting crops to the market, selling crops in the market, to receiving money to pay their school fees…). Youth would benefit from this form of apprenticeship, gaining agricultural skills in addition to their academic education.
Thus, they would be in position to take the agribusiness to the next level if they elect to work in the agricultural sector. We saw this in action as we spoke with a member of the Kiyindi Women's Fish Processors Association in Gulu who came to the tradeshow with her daughter with the intention of teaching her the ropes of her business.
Too often the youth find themselves wandering around Kampala, unable to successfully secure a job upon completing their studies. Parents can provide another option by supporting an agricultural ‘start-up’ project.
The youth could work part of the parents’ land to further develop their hands-on experience in agriculture and keep the money they earn. With the right guidance, they can invest the money they save by purchasing land of their own and expanding their agricultural projects.
Members of the Kampala Poultry Cluster facilitate field trainings in their community, sharing their collective expertise in agricultural practices for free. The cluster is part of the Innovation Systems & Clusters Program (ISCP). Over the past nine years, ISCP has supported over 31 Cluster initiatives throughout Uganda in agriculture and eleven other sectors and subsectors.
According to their website, these clusters “have enabled relatively weak small and medium enterprises increase their competitiveness through creation of strategic linkages, and access to larger or new markets, enhanced productivity, value addition, income and employment.”
In the agricultural sector, clusters are organized according different agricultural products.
One of the members of the Kampala Poultry Cluster emphasized their general training philosophy as demand-driven. In the past, similar groups have focused on increasing the supply of information in the community, forcing it on those who are not interested.
In contrast, the cluster generously invests their time to share their expertise with anyone, especially the youth, who contact them and express a genuine interest in gaining knowledge. Not only does the trainee benefit, but the cluster benefits with the possibility of gaining a new member that would lead to the increased income of the entire group.
Nothing, however, can be more powerful than youth engaging youth. The youthful farmers we talked to expressed the need to highlight success stories from the youth who are currently involved in agriculture and provide a platform for these youth to speak to their generation. The youth will be more receptive and willing to follow suit if they hear their peers sharing their success.
Moreover, putting into place some kind of agricultural incubation system needs where youth can learn agriculture entrepreneurship skills, like cost benefit analysis and practical farming, would set the youth up for even greater success.
With all these brilliant ideas, and even more out there, we hope those reading this can make them into a new reality that engages the youth to take up the mantel and lead the way for the prosperity of the agriculture sector.
Nkechi is Msc student at University of Texas, Huston & AidData Fellow at Agency for Transformation
Roland is head of Communications and IT at Agency for Transformation
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