KAMPALA – The rains are here, but young people are nowhere to be seen. Most of them have fled the villages to urban centers for casual jobs – relegating food production – to their parents and grandparents. Ugandan farmers are aging, with average age now at 54 years, with no one left to pass the mantle to, the country could face food security challenges and struggle to feed its growing population, now growing at 3.5 percent annually. A few young people that are still working in the sector, are there because they haven’t found other better opportunities. A 2016 Consultative Group to Assist the Poor [CGAP] National Household survey for Uganda found that nearly 76 percent of farmers aged between 15 – 29 years and currently working in Agriculture would opt-out if offered an opportunity. This is worrying because, soon, there might be no one left to grow our food.
For many years, the perception of agriculture has been one of working hard but earning less. Most of these young people have grown up seeing how their parents have struggled and still struggle, but their lives have largely remained unchanged. This perception is what continues to drive the narrative that ‘there’s no money in agriculture, only hours of hard labor’. Getting young people back in the sector is not going to be an easy sail and but one that will require collective effort across the board.
Firstly, the perception about agriculture and its – no money narrative – has got to change if we want to get young people into the sector. This will take more than just talking but a clear demonstration that if done well, agricultural enterprises can be sustainable and profitable. This will require guiding the youth about carefully selecting high-value enterprises and developing the eco-system [access to inputs, access to finance, markets, and advisory] that can guarantee the survival of the enterprises that the youth are involved in. If properly guided and the right support frameworks are put in place, we could see many young people return to the villages and continue the food production chain.
Secondly, the image that many young people have of agriculture is one of hard labor, several hours of toiling, and the use of rudimentary tools on the farm. We need to change this perception as well and expose our young to new and modern technologies that are making farming easy and fun. We often read about agri-tech innovations that have been developed to ease production such as Hello-tractor in Nigeria – the farm tractor hailing service that is enabling many young people to access tractor services for tiling; Progmagric in Cameroon that uses artificial intelligence to reduce crop diseases on the farm or EzyAgric in Uganda that has developed an app for input ordering, advisory and linkage to finance. These new technologies are driving efficiency and quickly erasing the image of traditional agricultural practices.
Thirdly, we need to change young people’s perceptions about money. Many young people are impatient, and this is what is driving them out of agriculture given its irregular cash flow pattern. Africa’s agriculture potential is a $1 trillion market opportunity and is expected to grow as the population in most countries continues to increase. Our young people need to understand this, but also know that informal jobs, even though deliver daily income, are not sustainable and are susceptible to shocks – Covid19 has shown us this.
It will take time to drive behavioral change among young people which calls for collective effort across different stakeholders and employing all available options including using young people that are or become early adaptors as examples of how cool and rewarding it is, to be a farmer.
Nathan Were is an Access to Finance Specialist.