Welcome to our first blog post! We are excited to finally be launching our online presence after over a year of developing our concept and beginning the journey from theory to practice. Since we are a new organization, we felt it important to introduce ourselves in order to share who we are, why we do what we do, and how you can help us achieve our goals.
Who we are
The Youth in Agriculture Initiative (YAI) is a not-for-profit social enterprise that is focused on providing youth between the ages of 18-25 with technical agricultural skills, as well as basic business management knowledge using a hands-on, experiential learning approach. Preference for beneficiaries, or students, of the program come from the most vulnerable households in the Soroti District, located in Eastern Uganda. The measure of vulnerability is assessed by level of education and food insecurity within a household. We are targeting young people that have limited, if any, education, in hopes that we can provide these youth with the skills required to begin a successful, sustainable agricultural business.
Our initial project site – known as a testing pod – will operate out of Gweri, a sub-county of Soroti. This area was selected out of need and the concentration of individuals that met our criteria. The District is also known for its fertile soils, with a specific specialty in producing citrus and sweet potato.
Currently, we are in the process of seeking official NGO (non-governmental organization) status, which we hope to achieve later this year.
How it all started
The idea behind YAI stemmed from a conversation in the back of a passenger van between participants of a multi-level educational dialogue series, known as The Learning Route. This journey took place in several areas between Eastern and Northern Uganda at the end of 2015. Upon completion of the meetings, a number of individuals began discussing their reflections and thoughts on the way back to Kampala. It was during this conversation that the gap in youth retention and ability to participate in the agriculture sector became apparent.
In the months that followed that back-seat discussion, the three founding members, Emily Kennedy as well as Olweny Charles Mulozi and Cosmas Alfred Butele (no longer involved on a daily basis), met to further expand on this issue. From these meetings, the foundation of the Youth in Agriculture Initiative was born.
What we hope to accomplish
As noted previously, it is the aim of YAI to provide vulnerable youth with agricultural and business training in an effort to curb food insecurity, while offering practical skills, using hands-on, experiential learning.
The program will take place over the course of a year, with the first cohort anticipated to begin in February 2018. Within these twelve months, students will spend equal time in the field and in the classroom. Each cohort will be limited to 20 participants at a time in order to produce a welcoming environment, without compromising the students’ ability to retain the information taught.
During field sessions, students will be given the opportunity to prepare land, plant and maintain two gardens until the produce grown can be sold at market (another component of the curriculum). The methodology behind operating to gardens is to educate students on the importance of plot separation, where one is for household consumption (which will be divided amongst each of the students), and the other for sale.
The classroom sessions will focus on basic business skills, including accounting, human resources, and marketing/gaining market access, for example. It will also, when possible, involve taking students to successful operations in the area, and inviting guest speakers from various aspects of the food production process to deliver talks.
Upon completion of the program, students should have the knowledge and confidence to use these newly acquired skills within their home gardens. In doing so, it is the hope of YAI, that successful participants will be able to move their households beyond the subsistence level of food production, leading to a reduced instance of food insecurity.
Why is this an important cause/issue?
Agriculture makes up 80% of employment across the country, both formally and informally, while 34% of Uganda’s population remains undernourished or food insecure. The area YAI has selected to initially operate out of his heavily impacted by this 34%. It also has seen a lot of its previous support funnelled to other parts of the country, creating an even greater challenge to the area.
Aside from the fact that food insecurity is rampant, there is a much bigger issue at play – employment opportunities are becoming more and more scarce for youth in this area due to the lack of education. As many households are struggling to meet basic needs, school fees are increasingly becoming a secondary spending priority. The result of this is that the ability for households to pay for school fees is becoming more difficult, leading to a generation of jobless, uneducated youth, without a skillset to help them provide form themselves or their families. This is a big part of why we have targeted this demographic as the beneficiaries of our program.
How you can help
In the coming days, YAI will be launching a crowd-funding campaign using the online platform, Chuffed.org. This will be launched on our website, as well as all our social media platforms. This campaign will be asking for the financial means required to fund our start-up costs, as well as the first year’s operating expenses. In addition to the standard donation option, there will also be a place where potential donors can fund specific aspects of the program, such as tuition for one student.
If you feel inspired by our mission and can’t wait, or are an organization wanting to donate a larger sum, please contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.