Let me answer it this way: If you are a youth, you are damned if you farm, and you will be equally damned if you don’t. Farming as an option is very key to enabling the continuous production of food to meet our consumption demand. We are in an era where we have to attract the young people to join food production, since majority of them think it is dirty work. Interacting with young farmers has only left me understanding that, besides the lack of mechanisation, we lack the best farming practices that would otherwise increase our earnings.
Attracting and keeping young people happy in food production means supplying more modern and affordable farming tools and equipment to help them do the job well and more efficiently. A lot of young people see agriculture as tiresome and getting their hands ‘dirty’. There is a high level of stigmatisation from peers, and from the community who perceive those engaged in agriculture as failures. Graduates, or anyone who has attained a decent level of education is expected to get a white collar job or something cooler than a job in agriculture. With mechanisation, more youth will be attracted into the sector as it will ease their work and also give them time to engage in any other activities that could generate them extra income.
But regardless of one’s professional background, any youth can still engage in agribusiness. All they need is letting them understand the different ways they can contribute to production in their various professional backgrounds. For instance, a lawyer can play a part in agribusiness through helping farmers to register their businesses and negotiating high value contracts with suppliers, and manufacturers. An engineer and architect can help farmers to build modern and efficient irrigation systems to boost production. An insurer can provide insurance to farmers to help offset the adverse effects of climate change. A diplomat can help farmers undertake study tours to other countries. Researchers can help improve seed varieties. Politicians can formulate policies to improve agribusiness. The opportunities are endless. In other words, you don’t really have to soil your hands to engage in the agriculture value chain. This also applies to youth living in urban areas. Urban farming is not well-understood but it can be a great source of income and does not need large pieces of land. More effort is needed to promote it amongst the youth.
Governments can play a role by providing young people with a favourable investment environment and developing policies that favour their participation in agriculture. At present, young people face a lot of bureaucracy to access government financing to engage in agribusiness. Funds meant to boost agribusiness among young people barely reach them. Often you read of these funds being misused or embezzled by government officials.
Training young farmers on best farming practices, post-harvest handling, and packaging is also important in this quest. This is an area in which my friends and I are making a small but important contribution. Our network, the Farmers Guide Uganda, organises talks, training and study tours for both aspiring and seasoned farmers on topical issues, including ways to address some of their biggest challenges. If youth can see that farming is not only profitable, but can be done at different levels of the value chain, and without much hassle, we are likely to have more of them engaging in the sector in the years to come.