Why agriculture remains unattractive to youth - Heifer report

According to the study, a generational shift in interest in agriculture among young people discourages their participation in agriculture.

Agriculture remains unattractive to youth in Africa despite concerted efforts to mainstream their role in the sector, a study by Heifer International reveals.

The study titled “The future of Africa’s agriculture – an assessment of the role of youths and technology” shows that despite agriculture contributing to 23 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the sub-Saharan Africa economy, the sector has remained unattractive to the youth.

This, in spite of their keen interest in agriculture and appreciation of the role of technology.

The study was undertaken to identify impediments to the proactive engagement of the African youth in agricultural activities and propose solutions that could catalyze and improve their engagement.

It further delved into the limitations and barriers for youth in considering agriculture as a career.

While speaking during the launch of the study report in Nairobi, George Odhiambo, the Country Director for Heifer International Kenya, emphasised on the significant role that innovation and technology played in addressing the challenges that have kept youth away from engaging in agriculture.

While appreciating the role of formal training, Mr Odhiambo noted that training and mentorship and experiential learning, is key. 

The report noted that in spite of the youth being a vibrant demography and comprising the largest population segment in many African countries, majority have shifted their interest from agriculture by migrating to urban areas in search of white-collar jobs. Odhiambo revealed that out of the number of youths that were surveyed, 59 per cent indicated that they lack access to land ownership and were therefore unable to venture into agriculture as a business.

He added that 37 per cent of the youth have problems accessing finance while 14 and 12 per cent respectively lacked access to land and training on farming. Charles Sunkuli, the Principal Secretary in the State Department for Youth Affairs in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs said Kenya had embarked on reforming bank collaterals to enable the youth borrow money from financial institutions with ease.

Sunkuli noted that collaterals are placed on immovable property and other assets, yet the youth do not own property to secure loans, adding that that traditional customs and family value systems have denied youth access to land and its ownership, making it difficult for them to venture into business.

“We will look at the study and pick programmes that we can run away with to help youth who have an interest in agriculture as well as help them get attracted to the business,” Sunkuli noted.

According to the study, climate change, lack of technological know-how on the part of farmers, low productivity due to unfavourable and outdated farming practices, and a generational shift in interest from agriculture among young people are threats that discourage their participation in agriculture.

The study found a low agricultural technology adoption across the surveyed 11 countries with only 23 per cent of youth engaged in agriculture using any form of agricultural technology such as an App, short message service, website or software.

As a way forward, majority of respondents ranked technological innovation, increased government support and inclusion in policy processes, as an incentive to embrace agriculture.

While embracing technology is seen to be a major boost for youth participation in agriculture, its adoption is determined by levels of literacy, availability of extension services and socio-economic status, all of which have been found sub-optimal in the report. Subsequently, awareness creation and making information access affordable have been proposed as solutions.

The prevailing Covid-19 pandemic that has stretched its tentacles into the second year, since it struck, has been cited as a key challenge. At the time of releasing the report, almost half of agriculture focused organisations had temporarily closed, while 36 per cent did not have the financial capital to grow back their businesses.

Some of the key recommendations cited include, review of the existing programmes for smallholder farmers and youths to determine if they meet their current needs.

It also recommends the strengthening of market linkages for local and regional markets and investing in digital literacy to help in on-boarding a critical mass of smallholder rural farmers.

Skill training is also encouraged to hone youth ideas, through exchange programmes, internships and mentoring.

The report recommends engagement with government to ensure the right policy interventions that include access to land, tax waivers and fiscal policies.

The youth also need to play their role through online branding and marketing communications for increased visibility by making use of the social media platforms that are affordable and have a wide reach.

Heifer International researchers conducted virtual focus group discussions with a multiplicity of stakeholders that included 29,954 youths, 299 smallholder farmers and 110 agriculture-focused organisations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

[Article originally published on PanAfrican Agriculture Magazine]

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