Engaging youth in agriculture

THE CHALLENGE IN AFRICA

ACCORDING TO THE World Bank, growth in the agricultural sector is absolutely essential to sub-Saharan Africa’s ability to both support its growth and reduce poverty. African nations, though, face diverse challenges, including a dispassionate youth.

PHOTO: CHILDREN IN GHANA SAYING THE 4-H PLEDGE.

While Africa sits atop the world’s largest youth population – over 200 million are between the ages of 15 and 24 – very few are interested in agriculture as a career. In fact, every day, young Africans cast aside their rural roots and head to the city with big dreams of office jobs and weekly paycheques. All too often, though, those dreams are shattered by the harsh reality of unemployment and poverty.

The World Bank says that higher and sustained growth will require attention to five core areas, including facilitating agricultural markets and trade, investments in infrastructure, reductions to rural vulnerability and insecurity, improvements in policy and institutions, and perhaps most importantly, improvements in productivity. Agricultural performance has improved since 2000, it says, but what good is improved performance if no one wants to farm?

FOSTERING LEADERSHIP
Youth are not interested in agriculture, says Mpule Kwelagobe, founder and CEO of MPULE Institute for Endogenous Development in Botswana. As one of three guests in a panel discussion at the Borlaug Dialogues in Des Moines, Iowa, Kwelagobe was asked to discuss how to engage future leaders in the fight to end world hunger.

“We need to make agriculture sexy,” she told the crowd. “It’s honestly a very, very unattractive and very depressing sector for young people.”

“The image that young people are getting of that rural woman with a baby on her back, a hoe in her hand, and soil, and land — that looks just really depressing.”

Nigeria is the perfect example of a nation that strayed too far from its agricultural roots and has suffered economically ever since. At one time, the country was a major producer of cocoa, cotton, and palm oil; however, since it discovered crude oil, its people have had a hard time returning to farming.

“Once we found oil we forgot all about agriculture, and we’re paying a very big price for that today,” says Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina. ‘Forgetting about agriculture,’ he says, produced an $11-billion bill spent on basic commodities like rice, fish, sugar, and wheat. In a nutshell, Nigeria lost the ability to feed its own people.

CHANGING MINDSETS
According to Adesina, infrastructure challenges and mass corruption made a return to agriculture both difficult and undesirable. And youth especially were not interested in returning to the farm. As a result, in 2011, Nigeria’s president decided that he needed to change the country’s mindset on agriculture. Soon after, he launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda with an optimistic goal of producing 20 million metric tonnes of food by 2015.

“For that to work, though, our farmers must be able to get their seeds and fertilizers,” says Adesina. “If they can’t get that, there’s no game at all.”

Getting their seeds and fertilizers had been a challenge in the past. Although Nigerian farmers had spent some $5.6 billion on fertilizers over a 30-year period, only 11 percent had actually reached their final destination, says Adesina. The rest “developed legs and walked away.”

Adesina’s first order of business as Minister of Agriculture was to dismantle corruption. He did so through the use of mobile technology. 

“For the last two years,” he says, “we have reached over five million farmers, each one of them getting their seeds and fertilizer vouchers over their phones and going to private sector agri-dealers and redeeming it straight from them.”

The changes appear to be working, says Akinwunmi Dawodu, a Nigerian reporter who also attended the Borlaug Dialogues. Prior to Adesina, he says, youth in Nigeria did not see agriculture as a viable career option.

“Most ag graduates or those youths that want to take ag as a career were too skeptical about going into ag,” says Dawodu. “The support was not there and government policies then never encouraged youths to go into ag.”

But things have changed, says Dawodu. “I have visited some of the farmland owned by some of the youths and what I saw was absolutely wonderful,” says Dawodu. “The youth are beginning to believe in the ag policy of the government.”

LEARNING THROUGH 4-H
Mindsets are not just changing in Nigeria. Thanks to agricultural programs, they are changing all across the continent. 4-H clubs, for instance, have a large presence in Africa, says Shingi Nyamwanza, Managing Director, Africa 4-H Network.

4-H Africa has created an Enterprise Garden program, designed as an after-school program for young people between the ages of six and 25. The gardens act as hands-on science laboratories where students grow horticultural crops, which are then sold at the local market. Profits are used to either expand the garden or to support school food programs.

In Ghana, 4-H clubs grow maize through a partnership with DuPont Pioneer. There, the programs are aimed at young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and are run as small businesses. The goal is to not only learn new ways of farming, but also to teach older farmers the techniques they learn. Last year, some 400 youth taught older farmers how to increase cob counts by 30 per row.

“It’s not just about production, but how do you add value to actually make money — for them to realize that you can make money from agriculture,” says Nyamwanza.

By 2015, 4-H Africa’s goal is to equip 250,000 young people in sub-Saharan Africa with the knowledge and skills needed for improved, sustainable livelihoods. Currently, there are 4-H clubs in 13 African nations, including Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. •