There are more young people in the African population than ever before. In fact, approximately 70 percent of the over 1 Billion people living in Africa are under the age of 30! Whats more, fewer and fewer young people are attracted to agriculture, or see it as a viable future for themselves.
Emmanuel Ngenge Ngeh, Cameroonian founder of the Young Farmers Development Group based in Cameroon, and Olawale Ojo from South West Nigeria, a graduate of Agricultural Engineering and CEO of AGROPRENEUR Nigeria, give their insights on this preoccupying matter during the 6th FARA Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) in Accra, Ghana.
Agriculture is often seen as the profession of the poor. Sadly, the average age of farmers in Africa is 60 years old. If the future generation will no longer produce food, how will we eat? As the farming population in Africa gets older and youth remain skeptical about farming as a career, are we setting ourselves up for prolonged famine?
A food-secure future requires attracting young people to all agriculture-related professions, from farmers and livestock herders to service-providers like extension agents and researchers.
But how do we do that? How do we ensure the future generations of farmers are motivated, encouraged, empowered?
How can Agriculture be made more attractive to young people in Africa?
Olawale: To make agriculture attractive to young people in Africa a couple of things needs to be done. First, school currisula need to stress the importance of food security, and enterprising farmers both young and old shold be recognized and appreciated for the work that they do. Second, government policies need to start giving more attention to agriculture. The agriculture sector should not be isolated; instead, it should be a driver for other sectors like finance and infrastrucuture. Lastly, considerable supportboth financial and otherwiseneeds to be given to young people in agriculture to encourage their involvement.
Emmanuel: In Cameroon, like elsewhere in Africa, agriculture constitutes the backbone of the economy. However, many young people are not attracted to the profession. To solve this problem, the government and other stakeholders should give incentives to young people who are already practicing agriculture, subsidize farm inputs and facilitate access to farmland.
The creation of a young farmers bank with low interest rates and the organization of young farmers settlement support programs can attract young Africans to agriculture. Young people can also be encouraged to join the profession if processing factories for agricultural products are based in their own communities.
The accelerated uptake of modern agricultural technologies would also help, as these make agriculture more profitable and thus more attractive to youth.
What drives young people to agriculture as a career choice?
Olawale: Some are there because they have no choice. Eitherthey are placed in the profession by their university, or they lack the financial resources or mobility to seek jobs outside of a rural agricultural community. Others are privileged to have seen examples of successful farmers, and they want to follow in their footstep. Still others have been able to understand the future of the sector and wished to get into it while the time was ripe.
Emmanuel: Based on my experience in Cameroon, young people who get involved in agriculture are driven by different factors. Heritage is one of them. That is, young people get involved in agriculture because it is what their parents have donethey want to pick up where their parents left off. Some get into agriculture because they want to make money, others are searching for steady employment, and others are looking for a way to fight food insecurity and poverty. Some young people get into agriculture because they are interested in research and innovation.
What are the opportunities for young people in agriculture?
Olawale: Opportunities abound in agricultureits quite a long value chain. From production, to the rendering of services, to packaging and storage to extension, and much more recently the application of ICTs to agricultureall of these are ways to get involved in the sector. The result is that individuals with many different skill sets can apply what they know to agriculture.
How can agriculture be promoted, marketed and packaged as a viable career for youth?
Olawale: Financial support is key. Most youth start with nothing, so they need financing to make headway in the sector. A flexible loan incentive for young farmers is a good idea, as is general investment in better infrastructure for rural farmers. Other pathways to youth involvement are ICT services for rural youth, better communication between research centres and farmers using young people as the principal communicators, and awards and incentives for creative entrepreneurship.
Emmanuel: Agriculture can be promoted and marketed through the organization of farmers competitions, with prestigious awards for young farmers who distinguish themselves in the field. Agric shows or trade fairs are another way to generate interest, as is the consumption of locally produced agricultural products. Young people can make agriculture a career if the government and other stakeholders subsidize young farmers, invest in infrastrucuture to improve farm-to-market access, and develop agricultural industries.
What type of incentive and reward system should be put in place to encourage more young people to go into agricultural research for development (AR4D)?
Olawale: First of all, funding should be available to support young people doing innovative research. The results of the research should be credited and recognition given when successful application is achieved. Young people should be made part of the decision-making process at research bodies and institutes. Capacity building and mentorship is also key in this regard.
Emmanuel: Research requires finances and other materials, so for young people to engage in AR4D they need the accompanying finances, input materials like improved seeds, access to research institutions, among other things. In most developing countries where the young constitute about half of the working population, access to scholarships for agricultural activities are totally unavailable.
How will your participation at the AASW6 impact on the lives of African youth interested in agriculture?
Olawale: I will use my participation at the AASW6 to communicate relevant information and opportunities across Africa to the individuals that need it. Science and technology are key for advancing food security in Africa but there is a need for more people, especially farmers, to have better access, and this I will stress this point at any session that I attend.
Emmanuel: I will be participating at the AASW6 for the first time. This will be my first experience of how agriculture is practiced in other African countries. The knowledge I will acquire will thus be disseminated when I return to my country Cameroon and particularly in the Donga Mantung Division where Young Farmers Development CIG carries out its activities.
On my return to Cameroon I will encourage other youths who have not yet seen the green light in agriculture to take up the challenge and get in the business. I will take advantage of events like mini-agropastoral shows to sensitize farmers and non-farmers alike on the need to improve agriculture vis-à-vis the outcomes of the AASW6.
Considering the ideas of Olawale and Emmanuel, African youth should heed this challenge by President Barack Obama: Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones weve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
This not a time to wait for change, its a time stimulate change and take up an interest in agriculture. Otherwise, Africa may be headed for hard times once the older generations of farmers are gone!