Finding the farmers of the future: Encouraging youth engagement in agriculture

Young people
The youth of today could be our farmers of tomorrow but how do we encourage them to take a career in agriculture seriously?

Special International Youth Day report by Rebecca Quaterman

The number of young people involved in agricultural work in East Africa is significantly dwindling in an age of celebrity, quick income and the ‘side hustle’.  Quite simply, the future of farming rests in the hands of the youth of today and tomorrow – otherwise agriculture’s vital role in providing stable incomes and, ultimately, greater local, regional, national and global food security could be at risk.

Yet, today is International Youth Day; an ideal time to highlight what can be done to boost involvement in essential agriculture. The theme for this year, promoted by the UN, is ‘transforming education’. This complements the idea that a new, transformed approach must be taken to harness the drive and capability of these young people in the agriculture industry.

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Right now…

Youth unemployment is at 22%, and the population of Africa is growing faster than jobs are being created. The 10 average youngest populations in the world are all in Africa, so there is no shortage of hands for labour. It just simply is not cool to work on a farm.  Young people – significantly more than in previous generations – are concerned with social perception, career prospects and labour to wage ratio. To them, farming is undesirable in all these facets, yet it is still very much required. So, what has changed in the last decade?

The term youth itself has become a misnomer; when does ‘youth’ begin and end? Some believe that starting the threshold of youth at 16 to be beneficial for vocational training. Legal stipulations around defining youth brackets have made applications for funding more complicated and more difficult to approve.

In recent years, the rapid proliferation of technology has revolutionised the social landscape of Africa; the “digital renaissance” of modern times. Networks are faster, broader and more effective than ever before. There is the common view that Agribusiness does not fit with the modern digitised world.

The ‘Side hustle’ is another key proponent that has arisen in youth culture in the last decade. Young people are juggling numerous jobs in an effort to make ends meet as living costs are rising whilst wages are staying low. Youth are merely supplementing their lifestyle by involving themselves in farming in a casual manner. It is seen as the least profitable and least appealing way of earning money.

How can we turn this around?

Primarily, strategies need to be implemented that overturn the perception of agriculture currently held by young people. Agriculture needs to be desirable. This can be done firstly via celebrity endorsement; role models actively participating in an activity has proven to be an effective method of instigating uptake of behaviours.

The promotion of technology services within farming is also essential; setting up mentoring schemes and creating online forums will renew perceptions of the agricultural lifestyle. Digital resources will be instrumental in boosting employment as associating modern technology with a seemingly archaic process will capture youth audiences. Phones are being used now in even the most remote communities; relationships can be struck between young famers with commonalities across the continent.

Young farmer
One way of ‘tapping’ into the young farmers of today and tomorrow is through innovative new technologies

Agriculture must be presented with a 21st Century angle to be accepted and adopted by younger generations. Technology can transform how information can be delivered as new developments such as SMS updates, sensors and tracking devices can revolutionise young farming. Education can be fun and profitable – but not just in a fiscal sense. Youth can make profit in valuable friendships, life skills and character traits through agriculture. Bridget Deacon from Well Told Story highlighted that for young people, often social capital – networking together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation – is equally, if not more important than financial gain.

Therefore, there must be a multi-step process implemented to promote youth Agribusiness. Regional centres and institutions should promote ‘Agripreneurship’ through providing business training and resources to those who need it to start up their trade. Campaigns such as YESA – Youth Empowerment in Sustainable Agriculture – have strengthened and supported youth groups to establish their own business via seed funding and training.

Movements like these are proven to be successful, yet they are often temporary or short terms schemes. So, to continue the intervention and boost social capital, groups such as LAFco, Mkulima, and international not-for-profit organisations like CABI can add to the value chain. Informing young famers of improved trade routes and innovative profit generation ideas can also be communicated via digital messaging and Plantwise plant clinics to harness the power of research and continuously evolving education.

It is clear that the young modern farmer needs an updated incentive for engagement in agriculture. There cannot be underestimation about the time and effort that is required, but emphasis can be put on the tangible rewards available to youth in agriculture, steering them away from any negative stigma. These rewards are not only revenue from production – which is being continually streamlined and enhanced with research – but also the social gains of farming within a community and a busy lifestyle. Instead of outdated and unattractive, transformed education can present farming as fulfilling, compatible with their side hustle, and consistent with the modern world.

This Blog was influenced by Teddy Searight’s Bursary Report for CABI – ‘Youth Engagement in Agriculture: A Case Study of East Africa’.

Additional information

International Youth Day 2019: “Transforming Education”

See in this video from BBC Africa Dimakatso Nono Sekhoto give 5 top tips for being a successful young farmer.

 

 

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