Facilitating Youth Employment in the Vegetable Sector
By Elijah Mwashayenyi, EWS-KT Head of Africa
What Do You Want to Be?
Walk into any classroom in Africa and ask what the students want to be when they grow up, and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone picking agriculture as a career. One of the reasons is that many children live in farming environments and are involved in chores like weeding, irrigating, and harvesting before or after school and during weekends and vacations. It is therefore not surprising that as many reach adolescence, they see education as a way to run away from farming to supposedly greener pastures.
The Importance of Farming
By any standards, agriculture gets a raw deal; it does not often get the respect it deserves. Take for example the budgets allocated to agriculture. Despite the African Union’s 2003 declaration in Maputo, which states that African governments should allocate at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture, few countries meet that specification.
And yet . . .
- Agriculture contributes about a third of Africa’s GDP and employs 65%–70% of the continent’s workforce (United Nations).
- If done right, farming can be very profitable and hence a source of food security, nutrition, and livelihood.
- You do not need to prepare a CV to embark on farming.
- You do not need a big investment to commence farming; you can start with what you have.
- In other words, farming is employment waiting to be had.
Making Farming Attractive
It is not a secret that conventional, less profitable ways of farming do not attract young people to agriculture. To increase participation of youth in the sector, it is critical to make farming attractive. This should include showcasing what youth are already achieving through farming, something that we at East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT) have embraced.
Other ways we are seeking to increase youth participation in vegetable production include:
- Treating vegetable production as a business, including showing youth (and other farmers) the profitability of various vegetable ventures.
- Hiring young people as Technical Field Officers to lead by example.
- Selecting youth as key farmers (farmers who manage their own crop demonstration plots using improved, climate-smart techniques under the guidance of EWS-KT field staff). In this way, they experience the increased productivity and profitability for themselves and can serve as role models to attract other young people to farming.
- Supporting development of agricultural-input dealers, including youth. This includes training of agro-input dealers in product knowledge and in safe use, storage, and handling of chemicals. We also train agro-input dealers in crop management so they can offer relevant and accurate advice to farmers.
- Engaging youth via radio, which continues to be an effective means for reaching farmers in general and for encouraging youth to begin farming. We have weekly broadcasts in Nigeria and broadcasts every two weeks in Tanzania and Uganda. Ghana is still loading!
- Using digital platforms for extension services and farmer interactions. Given that many youth take pride in having smartphones and spend time on social media, this is an opportunity to share farming information with them.
- Linking farmers, including young farmers, with markets for better income.
Over the past 4 years, 54.5% of the farmers we have been working with in Nigeria are youth; in Tanzania, 51.5%; and Uganda, 55.3%. Increasing youth participation in agriculture is critical for the sustainability of the sector.
EWS-KT has found digital platforms to be very popular among young people. We utilize a variety of digital platforms to engage more farmers.
- GrowHow, our in-house platform for free, accessible learning materials
- Podcasts in Nigeria
- Funzi mobile learning of farming techniques via smartphones in Nigeria
- Kucheza game-based learning of the business side of farming via smartphones in Nigeria
- WhatsApp groups
While in-person coaching and training are always needed, digital platforms and radio allow for greater reach and can reinforce what farmers learn during on-field activities.
Increasing Youth Participation
Against the backdrop of aging farmer demographics, it is important that new generations continue to take up farming. At EWS-KT, we are helping youth to realize that some of the lucrative employment they have been seeking elsewhere is right there in their own backyards.
Increasing youth participation will go a long way toward improving food security, incomes, and livelihoods in Africa. Such initiatives are vital not only for the sustainability of agriculture in Africa but also for the very survival of the continent.
Partner with us to increase youth employment through farming.