By Enoth Mbeine
RECENTLY, Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II called on the youth to remain in the rural areas instead of migrating to cities in such of elusive opportunities.
This call by His Majesty could not have come at a better time like now as youth unemployment reaches alarming levels. The migration of the youth to towns has left behind ageing farmers and declining traditional agricultural systems. Currently, the youth and young people constitute about 78% of Uganda’s population.
According to a World Bank report of 2008, youth unemployment in Uganda is at 83%, ranking only second after Niger in the world.
One way of addressing this big problem is coming up with strategic interventions to attract the youth to the agriculture sector. The call for the youth to return to villages will make meaning if the youth are encouraged to be more involved in farming.
And to do this, agriculture must be transformed from purely subsistence to commercial farming, where farmers undertake agriculture as a business that can help them earn enough income to prosper.
There is an urgent task at hand and this requires a multidisciplinary approach. Agriculture development practitioners, policy makers, the private sector, agricultural government agencies and other professional must articulate a new vision of agriculture that can be attractive to the young people and align with their aspirations and interests.
The first step is to change the image and perceptions about agriculture in the face of the youth. Agriculture, in particular farming possesses a negative image among the public (including mainly the youth). Portrayed as a low-income, high-risk career, public perception of the industry and farming must be improved to entice more youth to choose agriculture as a career.
The youth need to be educated and made aware of how farmers operate today. Agriculture has significantly changed. Farmers are now educated, business-savvy entrepreneurs who possess some extensive training and knowledge. There are currently many formally employed people who are abandoning their lucrative jobs to venture into farming.
The positive aspects of choosing farming should be emphasised to the youth i.e. owning your own business, choosing your own hours and having a variety of daily responsibilities.
One reason the young are aloof to agriculture is for a fact that they are seen as a neglected lot by government line institutions that promote the sector. The youth are normally excluded in policy discussions relating to access to agriculture and rural market development.
The policies at national level also rarely feature the concern or issues of the young on the future of food, farming and development. The line Ministry of agriculture can, for example, set up a Youth Advisory Committee to look into various ways of attracting and retaining the youth in this sector.
The committee can be composed of mainly youth who are engaged in agriculture to act as role models. The main mandate of the committee would be to meet regularly to develop and provide recommendations regarding youth attraction and retention in agriculture.
As an effort to make agriculture attractive, the Government should strengthen and maintain agricultural institutions for extension, research and innovation, credit, agro-processing and marketing in order to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of farming enterprises.
Access to affordable credit is another key factor in attracting the youth to farming. The young people tend to have fewer chances of obtaining capital or credit. Access is often tied to availability of collateral, which is usually land that the young people do not have.
It is, therefore, important that appropriate affordable financial packages are put in place by financial institutions involved in agricultural lending.
To further attract the youth into agriculture, deliberate efforts by agri-support agencies to make inputs such as good seed, fertilisers, basic mechanisation and agricultural market information available and affordable should be undertaken.
There is also a need to change the agriculture curriculum in the universities to ensure that it attracts interest of the youth and to also translate the research activities into direct action on the field for the benefit of farmers. More emphasis should also be put on creating more vocational training centres for the youth to revive agriculture.
Agribusiness support agencies should also play a key role in attracting the youth in agriculture. They can do this by highlighting in their mandates for interventions, a criterion for youth involvement for programmes they intend to support. The agricultural subsectors that have potential to increase employment of mainly the youth should be strategically supported.
When agriculture becomes a truly viable venture, we are more than certain that the youth of Uganda will be enthusiastic in taking it up. In a country where university graduates are prepared to work as night guards, street vendors etc, profitable farming can be attractive.
The challenge that we must take up, as leaders, facilitators, policy makers and private sector in Uganda’s agricultural development is to build the capacities of the youth and equip them to address the emerging requirements of an attractive agriculture and non-farm rural economy that offers prospects for viable incomes and good quality of life.
Writer is a Senior Consultant, Business Development Services
How we can attract the Ugandan Youth to Agriculture