Want the youth to farm? Provide them with technology and good returns

Saturday October 5 2013

Gemma Ahaibwe. Photo/File

Gemma Ahaibwe. Photo/File 

By Gemma Ahaibwe

There is a declining interest among Ugandan youth (national definition, 18-30 years) in the uptake of agriculture as a source of livelihood, despite high unemployment levels and limited job opportunities in other sectors. 

The youth perceive agriculture as a labour-intensive sector with limited financial returns. Evidence from a recent study Youth Employment in Agriculture in Uganda: Challenges and Prospects undertaken at the Economic Policy Research Centre highlights the rate at which the youth are shunning agriculture.

This trend may undermine government efforts to drive growth through agriculture, which is one of the objectives of the National Development Plan 2010-2015.

However, the youth face challenges in accessing critical agricultural assets like land and appropriate technologies like fertiliser and improved seeds.

Statistics from the Economic Policy Research Centre study reveal that young farmers are concentrated at the production stage of the value chain and are less likely to use improved inputs like improved seeds, fertilisers, agricultural chemicals and veterinary drugs compared with older farmers.

According to the 2008/9 Uganda Census of Agriculture, about 31 per cent of the 18-30 years group headed households; 38 per cent used improved seeds whereas 7.0 per cent used inorganic fertiliser compared with 10 per cent of farmers in the 31-59 years age group and about 9.0 per cent for the 60+ years age group.

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Similar patterns are observed for other agricultural inputs. With this poor rate of adoption of appropriate inputs, productivity is likely to remain low and constrain the youth to subsistence farming. 

As if insufficient ownership of critical assets were not bad enough, land tenure issues continue to discourage many from engaging in agriculture, with the majority cultivating land without exclusive ownership rights. This not only limits their investment on the land but also their access to loans secured against land title deeds.

According to the 2008/9 Uganda Census of Agriculture, 42 per cent of the youth reported being managers of a plot of land compared with 77 per cent of the prime age group and 79 per cent for the 60+ group.

The mean land holding size owned by the youth headed households is 0.89 hectares compared with 1.1 hectares and 1.25 hectares for the prime age and elderly headed households respectively.

Yet, large farm sizes make farming much more economically viable for the farmers by enabling them to reap economies of scale and use better and more cost-effective technologies.

Agriculture should be looked at as a business with an emphasis on value chains, agribusiness and entrepreneurship, not on the traditional farming ways of our grandfathers. Indeed, our findings confirm a positive and significant relationship between agricultural engagement by the youth and agricultural income.

This finding affirms the proposition that if agriculture were made more remunerative and rewarding in terms of incomes and profitability, the youth would indeed be attracted to the sector instead of migrating to cities where unemployment is already high.

Hence, to engage and gainfully employ the youth in the agriculture sector, it is important for the government, through the concerned ministries, to target them.

Equipping those with land

Young people with access to land should be provided with skills and capital to invest in high-value agricultural enterprises. Our research results indicate that young married women in the rural areas and whose education levels are low are more likely to participate in agriculture.

This target group should form the primary target of youth agricultural intervention programmes. Furthermore, promotion of institutional innovations to enhance collective enterprise among the youth and access to services such as credit, agricultural services and advisory services is important.

For the off-farm youth, and those whose aspirations are beyond the farm, support for entrepreneurship and agribusiness will be crucial.

Indeed, input markets, storage and processing, and produce marketing can offer new employment opportunities for the target group if they are given the right skills and capacity to tap into these different nodes of the agriculture chain. 

For example, preliminary results from another Economic Policy Research Centre study titled Opportunities for Youth Employment along the Maize Value Chain in Uganda indicate that the potential for reaping high profits lies at the wholesale maize grain trading node of the maize value chain.

With targeted interventions, the youth can still be at the forefront of revitalising the agricultural sector and could be a potential source of employment.

Gemma Ahaibwe is a researcher at the Economic Policy Research Centre, an affiliate of Makerere University.

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