A Rallying Cry to Support Youth in Agriculture
By Elijah Mwashayenyi, Head of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer in Africa
Youth unemployment is a major concern in developing countries, especially in Africa. A typical example is Uganda, where 80% of the youth are either unemployed or working in informal and often unstable jobs. To the untrained eye, rural areas seemingly have no employment opportunities. The result of this is continual rural-to-urban migration, or the tragic migration of young people in North and West Africa to seemingly greener pastures in Europe.
However, the rural heartlands of Africa offer an employment and income opportunity that those who do not scratch below the surface overlook: agriculture. Many of us older folks grew up farming—in the traditional way, and mostly for subsistence. Farming activities like weeding and irrigation were chores we did before or after school. Many students still do the same today. No prizes for guessing that one of the reasons we excelled in school was to run away from such chores!
Agriculture is the lifeblood of many economies on the continent, offering employment to over 70% of the population. Yes, in its rudimentary form, agriculture is challenging. However, in its more modern form, it is an attractive source of employment, income, and livelihood.
That is our experience at East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation, where we encourage farmers, including youth, to grow vegetables as a business, using quality seeds, technology, and good agricultural practices. Our quality extension services combine the conventional, such as demonstrations on farmers’ fields and radio programmes, and the more modern, such as the use of digital media, something that is attractive to many young people.
When we support the youth with the relevant tools to succeed in vegetable farming, not only do we address their employment challenges and improve their incomes and livelihoods, but we also rescue a sector that has for a long time been regarded as a preserve of the older demographic, an industry that would die without the entry and participation of younger farmers, putting communities’ nutrition at risk.
Just a few of the young farmers we work with . . .
How Does EWS-KT Reach Young Farmers?
Young people represent the future of their communities, but farming is not the first career choice for many youth.
To address this, EWS-KT uses a dynamic, blended learning approach to build farming and business capacity and attract young people to the farming sector. In the last year, we have greatly enhanced our social media presence as part of our effort to connect to more young people and showcase the benefits of a career in vegetable farming. We have also launched several mobile and digital-platform-based pilots as we explore new ways of training and guiding farmers.
Young people’s higher tolerance for risk and greater appetite to try new technologies can accelerate the pace of change and pave the way for greater sustainability of the vegetable sector. In line with our strategic goal of increasing youth participation in farming in Africa and Asia, we work to ensure that at least 40% of the key farmers we support, on average, are below the age of 35. Some of our projects, such as Catalysing Market Development for Women and Youth Smallholder Farmers in Cambodia and Enhancing Youth, Building Papua (Indonesia), concentrate partially or exclusively on young farmers.
With a focus on youth, we have already begun to increase the number of young farmers who are being trained and becoming role models for others. In this way, we have been creating a community of young leaders demonstrating that vegetable farming is a viable business opportunity, now and for the future.