Young people in sub-Saharan Africa have keen interest in agriculture especially with the use of technology but are hampered with numerous challenges including limited access to land, skills set, sustainable financing and access to markets, a new report has revealed.
A new study carried out by Heifer International in 21 African countries titled ‘The Future of Africa’s Agriculture – An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology,’ reveals that 10 out of 11 countries, with the exception of Tanzania agreed that the most important support required is funding.
However, more training and mentorship were seen as more important than funding in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
The survey also reveals that whereas more youths in Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe stressed the need for support in the area of access to markets, their counterparts in Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana prioritized the need for support in agri-technologies. Access to land was the major concern for the youth in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The organisations working in the sector suggested that the best way to engage youths in agriculture is through technological innovation (39%), government support for young farmers (32%) and inclusion of youths in agriculture policy formulation (21%).
“Most youths in Africa also do not have access to land for agriculture. 59% of youths surveyed do not have access or own land. Land ownership amongst young people is lowest in Ghana, Zambia, Senegal and Rwanda,” the survey notes. “Youths in Malawi seem to have access to land, with only 14% having no access, the lowest among countries surveyed.”
Overall, technology adoption in Africa too remains low, with Ghana, Senegal and Zambia having the lowest agri-tech adoption rate. Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria have the highest technological adoption rates, according to the survey that featured 30,000 youths, stakeholders in innovations and small holder farmers.
William Matovu, a director at Heifer International-Uganda said the paradox of Africa’s economic development is that the continent’s urban and rural populations who produce most of the food is mostly comprised of smallholder farmers practicing subsistence farming while living in extreme poverty.
“This scenario scares away the continent’s youth from careers in agriculture, yet ordinarily Africa’s youth should be replacing the aging farming population but this generational shift is not happening fast and well enough to secure Africa’s food security goals,” he said.
He reckoned that Africa’s youths disapproving attitude towards agriculture is mainly a result of lack of funding which is the biggest barrier towards their interest in the sector.
Africa’s agricultural sector accounts for nearly 30% of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa and employs 54% of the work force, but it is still underdeveloped.
Mondo Kyateeka, the Commissioner for Youth and Child Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development said unfortunately, young people are selling off the only available land to migrate to cities or go abroad for low-skills jobs
He said there are also feelings that older people are not willing to relinquish the land they can no longer use, to the younger persons to use it.
He, however, said the government is seeking ways of curbing the sale of agricultural land, saying the position is that agricultural land should remain for that purpose.
As a result, the survey recommends a review of existing programmes that targets smallholder farmers and that youths must be conducted to determine if the current strategies support the African farmer with the use of technology.
“Innovation must be viewed within the context of the current realities,’ the survey notes. Beyond a smart App, the survey says providing linkages to local and regional markets will go a long way in improving the financial bottom-line of every farmer. The survey says digital literacy must also be a key consideration.
The survey says while smallholder farmers in rural areas do not have access to smart phones or Internet access, a basic phone is a good starting point in introducing the use of technology, through weekly SMS on prevailing market prices and best input bargains.
Furthermore, youths with a keen interest in agri-tech must work collaboratively with smallholder farmers to get a better understanding of their challenges and how to provide sustainable and affordable solutions.
“There is also need to capture data to provide evidence-based results on the immediate benefit and long-term impact of the use of technology by smallholder farmers,” the survey notes, adding that stakeholder engagement with the governments to provide access to land, tax waivers and fiscal policies that deliberately support youths in the sector should be a component of every programme.