With over 83% of unemployment rate in a country like Uganda and high numbers of youth drifting to urban centers in search of better livelihood opportunities, the agricultural sector in Uganda is poised to major challenges and drawback for the economy.
The US based Population Reference Bureau which released its 2011 World Population Data Sheet, further reveals that Uganda has maintained its position as the world’s 2nd youngest population after Niger with up to 48.7% of the country’s population under the age of 15 years. These daring statistics requires a concerted effort and a multidisciplinary approach to improving the situation in Uganda especially in getting young people to participate actively in farming. Agriculture development practitioners, policy makers, the private sector, agricultural government agencies and other professional must therefore articulate a new vision of agriculture that can be attractive to the young people and align with their aspirations and interests.
Agriculture in Uganda employs up to 80% of the total population. The sector remains crucial in improving the livelihoods and stimulating growth in the economy and yet it’s characterized by serious challenges such as traditional modes of production, limited attention and insufficient investment on the sector from the part of government, poor image and perceptions of the youth into agriculture, lack of investments in agriculture by most Ugandan farmers and the unattractiveness to most young people in Uganda.
And yet as Enoth Mbaine , a Business Development Service Consultant puts it “Agriculture has significantly changed. Farmers are now educated, business-savvy entrepreneurs who possess some extensive training and knowledge are into agriculture. There are currently many formally employed people who are abandoning their lucrative jobs to venture into farming.”
As agriculture sector continue to employ a large percentage of the total population in Uganda, the roles of young professionals who view agriculture as an engine of growth for the economy, who feel the need for their maiden contribution to be felt and who is passionate and tirelessly working to serve as an example to the rest of fellow youth and countrymen is crucial in shaping agricultural development by young people in Uganda.
Can the trend change in favor of more youth participating in agriculture, including all aspects of Value Chain?
“Because of varied interests, not all youth can participate at production level in the agricultural Chain and thus they can choose to be active even in the areas of marketing, including processing and or value addition” says Mr. Egwel, a fruit farmer in Apac District, Northern Uganda who is venturing into marketing alongside crop and fruit farming. He is one of the youth professionals with a passion in farming and a background in development studies.
An essay contest organized by CTA ARDYS in 2010 titled “A story of a young fruit grower in Apac, Northern Uganda” submitted by one Maureen Agena won an award as finalist under the category Increasing Rural Agricultural Productivity Through Technology. Mr. Egwel says after 6 years of farming strategically, he is expanding to involve marketing where he buys produce from farmers and farmer groups which he in turns sells to his suppliers. He says he has made several contacts with input suppliers especially seed suppliers who supply the seeds and ensure after harvest the crops are sold to them.
Mr.Egwel argues that the biggest challenges to farming as a youth is the over reliance on “rain fed agriculture” meaning that in the event of weather vagaries especially drought and floods, farmers are greatly affected and this discourages. He says a lot needs to be invested in the sector to motivate youth and inspire them as a reward option than doing petty businesses in urban centers. He says, his business in Agriculture pays him more than what he earns at his professional level and argues that examples of his “experiences in agriculture can serve as a learning model for other young people” to get involved.
Mr. Ahmed Naleba, 26 years old working with Mifumi project in Eastern Uganda is an established rice farmer in the region. He says his inspiration to farming was largely drawn from his family background that was basically agricultural but continues to observe that along the way “things changed and started being inspired by the struggles of small scale farmers who work hard to produce and yet get very little from their sweat”. He said this prompted him to look for “solutions to help increase production” while serving as a model for other youth.
He pointed that most youth in rural areas become farmers not by choice but because circumstances forces them and in the event that a better offering in town or urban center emerges, they leave and hence the need to make agriculture enjoyable, rewarding and attractive for them. As he works in the District of Tororo, Ahmed has moved ahead with support from partners to establish a Community Based Organisation in his home District of Butaleja, called CITARD (Communication for Information Technology in Agriculture and Rural Development) harnessing the power of ICTs and his experiences in rice growing to benefit his farming communities
I had actually met Ahmed as one of my student trainee of web 2.0 and Social Media and shared with him my passion for agriculture and my work in that regard and I learned that he was heavily involved in agriculture. Ahmed story inspired me because as someone who had practically not been long experiencing farming on-ground, he assured me that his net income on a good and given season is normally 1.4 Million Uganda shillings (Approximately 550$) which he believes is way much what an average youth Ugandan receives in formal employment and thus concurred with Mr. Egwel that indeed agriculture is “admirable and well paying” if taken seriously.
Throughout my interactions with young people especially those who share the passion for agriculture in Uganda, we have continued to be friends always holding the belief that the quest for youth involvement in farming actually begins with us and therefore means practicing what we preach in Agriculture as young people and that is why we will be very happy to share our experiences through different mediums and foras to draw the attention of other young people. We will continue to advocate, engage and put our voices forward in the areas that affect our lives especially in agriculture and rural development for young people. We also continue to hold the view that ICTs are essential coordinating mechanisms in the Agricultural and rural development field and hence its integration in the delivery of agricultural information, markets and all the processes across the value chain is significant.
With a country like Uganda so rich with fertile soils and a promising population capable of transforming agriculture in Uganda as power economic house, our Governments have done little to attain this much needed effort and yet Uganda’s economy is largely dominated by the agricultural sector, which accounts for 41.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 85% of the export earnings and 80% of employment opportunities. This sector is therefore paramount towards sustaining Uganda’s economy and its Population of 34 million people and hence the relevance of heavily investing in the sector , changing mindsets and building capacity, skills and knowledge base of its Citizens and individuals towards the sector.
Blogpost by Moses Owiny, one of the AASW social reporters