Effective policies are essential

A-AO_pacific_youth_in_agriculture_policy.jpgAs part of the Pacific Youth in Agriculture Strategy, young people are looking after a community nursery in Nadi, Fiji © Land Resources Division - SPC/V Prasad

Few combined agriculture-youth oriented policies and specific instruments have been drawn up and implemented to date, although initiatives abound.

Among young people, agriculture has an image problem, generally viewed as a laborious low income activity that does not match their aspirations or offer an attractive future. As such, it’s not surprising that a broad range of different initiatives are focused on making agriculture more appealing. In Barbados, for example, the Caribbean Farmers Network’s AgroFest show highlights the diversity of opportunities, as does the Denbigh Agricultural Show in Jamaica and Festicoffee and Festicacao in Cameroon. In St Lucia, Oxfam is working to promote the link between agriculture and tourism to stimulate production and make agriculture more youth-friendly.

Weak policies

Youth unemployment, rural exodus, ageing farming populations and increased dependence on food imports are common trends throughout ACP countries, yet despite this, few countries have so far developed policies that focus on both youth and agriculture. Ghana and the Pacific provide some welcome exceptions. In 2008, the Pacific Agriculture and Forestry Policy Network and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community began reflecting on ways to encourage youth to engage in agriculture. Several field surveys were conducted in Fiji, Kiribati and Tonga, leading, in 2010, to the launch of the Pacific Youth in Agriculture Strategy 2011-2015, which recommends measures and initiatives that will prompt stakeholders to promote active youth participation.

In 2009, Ghana supplemented its National Youth Employment Programme with a new Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP). YIAP specifically helps young people gain access to or acquire land and equipment, while offering training and supervision. However, according to a report compiled in 2013, only 25% the participants are actually young people. The training is not tempting young people due to the low income potential of agriculture.

In Africa, an assessment on youth involvement in agriculture across the continent was not conducted until 10 years after the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme in Maputo. The studies were partly carried out by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network in several Southern African countries, which then put forward recommendations for developing national policies focused on youth and agriculture.

There is still a considerable way to go in taking the long overlooked concerns and expectations of rural youth into account while strengthening the dialogue between politicians and young people. Youth representation in organisations must be strengthened, even though initiatives and innovative approaches abound.

Transforming farmers into effective entrepreneurs

In Nigeria, the Agripreneurs Initiative launched by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in August 2012 has been relatively successful throughout the country and has spread to the Congo and Tanzania. ‘Agripreneurs’ are young graduates from various disciplines who are involved in agribusiness. The initiative aims to make agriculture a platform for creating jobs for youth by improving the value chains of different crops, such as cassava, maize, banana, plantain and soybean.

In Tanzania, the national MVIWATA farmers’ organisation created the MVIWATA Youth Wing, which develops sectors that offer opportunities for youth in rural areas. Poultry and sunflower value chains were identified as offering greater potential as a source of income than conventional crops like maize, beans and potatoes. Members benefit from services such as technical assistance for production and business development, in addition to credit for inputs and marketing assistance.

In 2014, the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture has focused on the entrepreneurship of women and youth, with the launching of a community-based agricultural development programme (DAC) in nine areas. Services will be offered to help farmers set up plots on 30,000 ha of land. The project aims to create 150,000 direct jobs.

The Songhai Centre, founded in Benin in 1985, is a model for providing youth with credible alternatives through agricultural entrepreneurship. Promoted by the UN as a Centre of Excellence for Africa, the Songhai model is being replicated in 15 African countries.

In Cameroon, the average age range of farmers working in cocoa and coffee growing areas is 55-65 years old. The Interprofessional Organization for Coffee and Cocoa launched the New Generation initiative in 2012, with the intention of rejuvenating the workforce in these sectors. This includes 3 years of training and technical support during the process of setting up a nursery, while providing access to inputs and planting material. The formula seems to be working, with 325 young people now managing 500 ha of new cocoa plantations. This unique initiative is beginning to bear fruit and could be replicated by the International Cocoa Organization.

Further public-private partnerships could also be combined with these different initiatives. The Youth Venture Capital Fund, for instance, was set up in Uganda through collaboration between the government and three banks. Alternatively, support for networks like Young Professionals for Agricultural Development could be improved.

A new training approach

Strengthening the technical and entrepreneurial skills of young people is of paramount importance in rural areas, where literacy and training rates are often lower than elsewhere. Farmer field schools are platforms for training and experience-sharing between farmers and have proven effective in knowledge, technology and innovation dissemination for over 2 million farmers. FAO has implemented an innovative approach specifically designed for young people in the form of Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS), in which, over the course of a year (the length of a crop cycle), rural youth acquire agricultural, entrepreneurial and life skills. First launched in Mozambique in 2003, JFFLS have been introduced in 20 further countries and around 20,000 young people and 2,000 facilitators have already been trained. In Tanzania, for example, JFFLS has focused on capacity building of cooperative members in targeted value chains, such as horticulture, cashew, red meat, fruit trees and rice, while encouraging the involvement of youth in agricultural cooperative federations. These initiatives contribute to the necessary reform of agricultural education.

ICTs

ICTs cannot solve every problem, but these tools clearly do promote youth involvement in agriculture by enhancing their opportunities, motivations and capacities. ICTs contribute to improving youth livelihoods, agricultural modernisation and creating benefits throughout value chains, especially through increased access to more effective information via many smartphone apps (see Spore 169 ICT: the digital revolution). ICTs also help strengthen and develop farmers’ organisations, especially through social networks. Many initiatives are warranted, such as training of youth on ICTs (especially in rural areas) and competitions on ICT uses in agriculture. Young software developers should also be encouraged to develop computer applications targeting the agricultural sector, which could boost their incomes while modernising the agricultural sector. CTA’s new Youth Strategy 2013-2017 involves several ICT initiatives.

Agriculture is currently a source of growth, and its development is essential to ensure global food security. Young people are needed to meet these challenges. However, as is the case with their elders, constraints will have to be overcome, mainly regarding access to land and funding, while also improving training. The necessary transformation and modernisation of agriculture also requires the increased appeal of agriculture for young people and greater productivity, but it will also reduce labour requirements. Rapid urbanisation will also lead to the development of medium-sized cities and could generate new jobs for young people in rural areas.

Anne Guillaume-Gentil



 
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