When most people think of Uganda, they rarely associate it with agriculture. The source of the Nile River, gorilla trekking, Idi Amin, and Joseph Kony all tend to be the top links to this great country. And while these are correct associations, there is a lot more to Uganda than tourism and political upheaval.
Uganda’s Agricultural Sector
Based on the most recent national statistics (2014), approximately 80% of the country works within the agriculture sector. This majority of the population find work either formally or informally within the sector, in a range of operations from larger, commercial farms to household-run, subsistence gardens. But one thing that is often missed about these statistics is that the industry is currently at great risk. This risk, of course, is the youth factor.
Like many countries, agriculture, and food production more broadly, is at risk. Part of this is the result of climate change and other naturally occurring hardships. However, it’s the aspect of the aging population of farmers that are struggling to find younger generations to replace them that is about to become one of the leading factors in a global food crisis. Uganda, is no exception.
The Youth in Agriculture Initiative (YAI) began after an obvious gap in youth retention in the agriculture sector surfaced following a series of community discussions that took place in Eastern and Northern Uganda. In each of these meetings, the youth voice was either underrepresented (if present at all), or those in attendance shared the challenges of being a youth wanting to hold a career in agriculture.
The Youth/Employment Gap
The thing is, Uganda, like other parts of the world, is seeing a challenge in recruiting young people to take on the meaningful work that is involved in food production. It’s hard work, there aren’t many days off, and the rewarding aspect of it can easily be lost. As a result, young people are opting for office-type jobs, that in many cases, they perceive as being higher paying.
In the case of Uganda, these “higher paying jobs” are an employment unicorn – they are hard to come by, if they even exist at all. In other words, many rural Ugandan youths leave their family homes in search of better employment opportunities elsewhere. More often than not, however, these same youths end up taking on jobs that pay very little, but require long hours, such as driving boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), cleaning houses, child care, or selling merchandise on the streets. While these are all jobs that offer an honest day’s work, they are hardly what most anticipate doing when they come to the city – especially long term.
Furthermore, for the youth that do opt to stay in their villages and want to begin their own agricultural operation, they are faced with the challenge of either a) not having the financial means, b) not having the technical knowledge or skillset, or c) both.
Finding the Solution
The possibilities that are available for youth that want to be involved in agriculture may be limited but not impossible. YAI’s very aims are to provide technical training and the skills required to operate a proper farming business from land preparation all the way to point-of-sale. Our unique training program is executed of a year-long program that is designed to provide each 20-participant cohort with hands-on learning opportunities that are intended to prepare them for real work life.
But we aren’t the only one’s offering to help. Frequently there are trainings and information sessions made available through the local government and other NGOs operating in the sector, but not necessarily in a specific region. One of the biggest challenges to these sessions is that getting word out about them is more dependent on who you know, rather than who needs to know, or who will benefit most.
The government really needs to step up and refocus on the youth. It has already acknowledged the importance of agriculture to its people and GDP (an estimated 37% as of 2014). But there needs to be an emphasis on how Uganda’s youth can contribute and participate in the sector in a way that can sustain them and beyond. Given how fertile the country’s soil is (it is frequently referred to as the “food basket of Africa”), the government should be capitalizing on this and encouraging young people to stick with this line of work. Of course, the government can’t fund everything, and that is okay, but there should be some form of support – even if it’s nothing more than adding agricultural training into the curriculum of its school system!
The bottom line is simple though, Uganda has much to offer in the area of agriculture – even in spite of the growing concerns and challenges associated with climate change. Youth have the energy and inventiveness to push through these challenges and make long-lasting careers for themselves. All they require is a little support and empowerment. And that, is what YAI hopes to achieve.