A lot has been said about youth in Africa and there are still ongoing debates stressing the importance of involving young people in major development efforts, including agriculture. Last week, picking up on a Twitter conversation from one of the youth activists online, I concluded that, indeed, many development organizations use the term youth as an attempt to portray themselves as working for young people.
The term youth has become little more than a buzz word. At the moment, there is a need for all organizations not to just talk the talk but walk the walk.
With only a few hours before the start of Africa Agriculture Science Week 2013 (AASW6) in Accra, Ghana, the voices of the youth must be taken seriously and discussed by stakeholders and policy makers at the forefront of all emerging issues. Recommendations from the conference should clearly highlight the mechanisms through which youth can benefit from the outcomes of development initiatives.
Adopting the United Nations (UN) definition of a youth as a person from the age of 15 to 24 years and the Commonwealth definition bracketing youth as between 15 to 29 years,we can say that more than half of Ugandas population is composed of people of this category. Not only that, but the people in these brackets can be best described as the most active members of our society. Youth adopt new strategies very fast, learn new skills as soon as they evolve, and possess insurmountable energy to take on multiple projects, making them the most appropriate age bracket for capacity building in economic development.
The youth viewpoint in agriculture
The challenges affecting todays youth are spoken of quite often without necessarily resulting in the needed action. In the context of agriculture, most African countries face the difficult scenario of a growing population of young people with no formal employment. The fact that many African countries, including Uganda, have a large percentage of their total population under the age of 18 years is an indicator that achieving meaningful development will require the involvement of youth. Otherwise, youth could become a burden rather than a boon to society.
There are so many young people who fail to complete their cycle of university education. However, even those that have graduated from university face the same employment challenges. For example, each year Ugandas universities and tertiary institutions churn out 400,000 graduates who must then compete for only 90,000 jobs in both the public and private sector. That amounts to an annual job deficit of 310,000.
A lack of entrepreneurial skill and innovations has diminished Ugandas efforts to fully tap into its human resource as an engine for growth. Agriculture has become an especially unattractive sector, due to a combination of youth attitudes and perceptions, lack of investment from the government and inability to incentivize the involvement of a younger generation.
With a large number of young professionals involved in agriculture as part of the YPARD showcase team across the globe, as well as a large pool of young social reporters both onsite and remotely ahead of AASW6, a concrete way forward must be presented to address these issuesan the youth will be there to tell the story.
Gender dimensions of youth involvement in agriculture
The recent FAO State of Food and Agriculture report presents new data showing that on average women represent 43% of the worlds agricultural labor force and that women farmers are as efficient as men if they use the same level of inputs, fertilizers, seeds, tools, labor and extension services (FAO SOFA 2011). Reducing the gender gap in access to production resources could raise yields on womens farms by 20-30%, thus raising total agricultural productivity in developing countries by 2.5-4% and reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.
To effectively close the gender gap the focus should be on the roles that both young men and women can play their understanding of the issues and their involvement in the solutions is crucial to change perceptions about agriculture and gender inequities. For example, teaching gender awareness at a young age could allow future leaders to challenge the socio-cultural norms that are biased against women and girls.
ICTs give youth the power
According to Maureen Agenas blogpost on Making agriculture sexy and profitable to youth, Information and Communication Technologies(ICTs) are drivers for change in agriculture. ICTs offer the young generation a range of opportunities: socialization and network-building, employment and research, among others. The use of ICTs can have a major influence on how youth practice agriculture, now and in the future.
In addition, ICT-based agricultural training can be useful in helping out-of-school youthespecially young women with fewer opportunities to attend institutions of higher learningto acquire skills like operating and maintaining computer equipment and conducting ICT related businesses. The discussion points at AASW6 should clearly spell out appropriate ways through which governments, stakeholders and policy makers can take advantage of the opportunities presented by ICTs to address issues of sustainable national development.