The youth are the future of the agricultural sector

Posted on June 16, 2022

“The youth is the hope of our future”. This is the belief that Dr Joze Rizal held and continues to echo in us today. The youth play an extremely important role in shaping and contributing to our society.

Today, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up approximately 18 per cent of the global population and this is expected to increase over the next decade. Approximately 88 per cent of these young people live in developing countries, particularly in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. These areas remain underdeveloped, and for the majority of people who live there, agriculture is their only source of income. While the average age of those involved in agriculture is reported to be close to 60, the youth that works in the sector play a significant role in our food system. Unfortunately, very few people are attracted to working in agriculture, and those who do face a number of challenges in participating in the sector.

Why is it important to get the youth interested in agriculture?

Agriculture is the backbone of many African economies and offers many employment opportunities for the youth. James Mukombe from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development (DAEERD) argues this point, saying that “Agriculture is the easiest way to get rich, especially in countries like Zambia where we are underutilising our land resources. We have vast land and water resources, yet we have a lot of people being food insecure. I think agriculture provides opportunities from which we can tap as young people. I always tell myself that where there is a problem, there is an opportunity. Therefore, high levels of food insecurity in Africa provide us opportunities of assisting in finding solutions that also create employment for us.”

Apart from the opportunities that agriculture offers the youth, the food system is also under increasing pressure to feed growing populations. The agricultural sector employs as much as 60 per cent of Africa’s labour force, but the sector is already suffering from a shortage of skills, which has a negative impact on productivity and output. We need to encourage the youth to not only participate in agricultural activities but also develop their skills. Dr Manana Mamabolo who recently completed her PhD in Agricultural Economics believes that “One way in which they can become involved in agriculture, is to consider studying one of the many areas of specialization such as Agricultural Economics, Animal Science, Soil Science, Agronomy, Horticulture, Veterinary Sciences, and Agricultural Engineering.”

The sector is facing many threats and it is essential for us to encourage the youth to take an interest in agriculture. Dr Wegayehu Bigale Fitawek from the DAEERD points out that “Food and agriculture are immensely important for the youth because if you look at the world today, climate change and war can have huge impacts on food supply and food prices. Young people can offer new ideas on how to address these challenges, and ensure food security for all.”

The key challenges that the youth face in the agricultural sector:

  1. Insufficient access to knowledge, information and education. This includes poor education and skill development which limits their potential and productivity and contributes to inequality and poverty.
  2. Limited access to land. This is specifically problematic for young women who are excluded by inheritance laws and customs. Additionally, very few young people can access the finances needed to buy land.
  3. Inadequate access to financial services, including credit, savings and insurance needed to kick start agricultural activities and improve productivity.
  4. Difficulties accessing green jobs that can provide more sustainable livelihoods in the long run.
  5. Limited access to markets, which is caused by an increasing influence of large supermarket chains, and limited education, training and information on market and trade.
  6. Limited involvement in policy dialogue. This means that their voices go unheard, and their needs are not met.

Addressing the key challenges that the youth face in agriculture

Many of these challenges need to be addressed at a policy level and supported through programmes. For example, many children in rural Africa do not receive formal education beyond primary school and end up either unemployed or working as unskilled labourers in low-paying, temporary positions.  This means that they struggle to overcome poverty. Those who do receive a formal education face a different problem. In many countries, agriculture does not form part of the curriculum, and the educated youth are therefore unlikely to choose to work in the sector. In countries with large rural populations involved in agriculture, governments need to implement policies that ensure that all children receive an education and that the education they receive provides them with the necessary skills to enter and make a meaningful contribution to agriculture. Programmes can then be implemented to expose the youth to different aspects of agriculture at an early age, which can help increase their interest in the sector. Programmes are also needed to support the training of teachers and provide the necessary resources required to educate the youth about agriculture and food system activities.

The government together with the private sector also needs to invest more in agricultural development and technology, and support the youth entering the agriculture sector. Financial institutions, for example, need to provide the youth with better financial opportunities and make it easier for them to access these. This can be done by removing some of the barriers faced by the youth in accessing credit, such as requiring assets as collateral and should instead offer them partnership opportunities. Policy needs to be designed to reduce the risks for financial institutions and develop better risk management strategies. The private sector can also play a role in developing the financial skills needed to participate in agribusiness, by offering internship opportunities and workshops for people who are interested in it. Corporations that are already involved in agriculture can also provide young people with opportunities to both learn about and access the market.

Technology also plays a key role in attracting the youth to agriculture and improving productivity within the sector. Technology can provide a platform on which information, necessary for agricultural production such as weather warnings, can be shared. It can also be used to improve skills and provide education and training for people living in remote areas. Technology such as sensors and drones can provide farmers with a means to monitor crops and livestock, and make educated decisions. We are already seeing the benefits of technology, but many people still lack access to these products.

Where to from here?

Currently, the youth are facing many challenges, specifically in agriculture. This also means that there are many opportunities for the youth. We need to empower the youth to make the most of these opportunities and give them the tools they need to be successful in the agricultural sector. We need to commit to addressing the challenges they face and pave the way for a future in agriculture.

- Author Andrea du Toit
Published by Andrea du Toit

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