NAIROBI – In the 90s and early 2000, if you ended up in an agricultural college after high school, society regarded you as a failure while it glorified those who ended up in medical, law, or business school.
Those who ended up in agriculture-related programs, upon graduation branched to other professions doing things completely unrelated to the courses they studied, reason, they simply didn’t like the course but perhaps studied it anyway, because it is what was offered and sometimes on a government scholarship. Over the years, this perception has not changed but even become worse by the image we continue to portray of a farmer.
If you closely look at the agricultural promotional materials, the image they carry of a farmer is one of struggle, poverty, and desperation arising from several years of hard work and toil. These images not only scare away young people, but they confirm that indeed agriculture requires a lot of hard work, while the returns may not be commensurate with the effort.
A smallholder segmentation survey  conducted in Uganda by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor [CGAP], found that 66 percent of farmers would leave agriculture if offered another opportunity outside of the sector, even though about 58% of those interviewed had been farming for more than ten years at the time of the survey. It is therefore evident that many farmers are being held captive in the sector and much ready to jump out should alternative opportunities emerge.
How then, can we improve the image of agriculture and drive young people into the sector to guarantee food security given that old farmers are slowly phasing out?
Connect social media to agriculture: The rise in social media and its attraction among young people with access to appropriate technologies could be a route into agriculture if the two could be linked in some way. Smart-phone penetration among young people in Uganda is high and growing rapidly and utilizing social media platforms to show the business case in agriculture among low-hanging fruit, enterprises could go a long way in changing their perception of the sector.
Improve agriculture’s image: Farming is rarely portrayed in the media as a young person’s game but as an activity that is outdated and unprofitable. Greater awareness of the benefits of agriculture as a career, need to be built amongst young people, in particular opportunities for greater market engagement, innovation, and farming as a business. Perhaps promotional materials that seek to drive behavior and attitude change should carry images and stories of successful young farmers and the value they have derived from participating in the agricultural activities.
Create a platform that enables young people to flag barriers to participation: It is important to provide platforms that enable young people to speak out about barriers and fears to participation in the sector. Young people will need to be part of the policy discussions at both local and national levels and effectively participate in crafting solutions that remove the barrier to their participation, for we can no longer plan for them, but with them.
Make agriculture “sexy”: The potential of technology platforms needs to be leveraged to drive interest and ease for young people’s participation. Today, mobile applications are enabling farmer extension, input orders, access to financial services, price information, and linkage to markets. Interested young farmers need to be made aware of these possibilities to quickly erase the image of agriculture they have and perhaps grown up seeing with their parents and understand that technology has made farming much simpler and easier.
As old farmers bow out, the future of food security rests on the young people, the sooner they get involved, the quicker we can guarantee a food secure world.
Mr. Were is an access to finance specialist based in Nairobi, Kenya.