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A youth group works on an OFSP vine multiplication site on the outskirts of Kigali. Photo Credit: Ndayisenga A/CIP Rwanda

TOPIC 16: Empowering the youth through agriculture: What is their role in sweetpotato seed systems?

Part 1 of 4 articles

Lead discussant: Aime Ndayisenga, International Potato Center (CIP) – Rwanda

Compiled by Kwame Ogero


April 10 – May 10, 2018 the Sweetpotato Seed Systems and Crop Management Community of Practice (SSS-CoP) held an online discussion titled “Empowering the youth through Agriculture:  What role for sweetpotato (seed systems)?”. The discussion sought ideas on what can be done to attract young people into agribusiness and explored opportunities available within the sweetpotato value-chain. The discussion, led by Aime Ndayisenga, Communications Specialist, International Potato Center (CIP) – Rwanda, was pegged on the strong consensus across Africa and the world that involvement of the youth in agriculture will play a crucial role towards meeting global food security needs and reducing unemployment. According to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy young people between 15-24 years of age constitute between 35 and 40 percent of the workforce in most sub-Saharan African countries. An additional one-fourth of the workforce is between 25 and 34 years old. Approximately 11 million young Africans enter the labour force annually but only about a quarter find paying jobs. If well tapped, agriculture can provide a solution to the rising unemployment in Africa. The discussion culminated in a meeting that brought together seed system practitioners from across Africa to discuss opportunities for youth engagement in sweetpotato production. The meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda on May 15 – 17, 2018 included a talk show on youth engagement in sweetpotato seed and root enterprises and a panel discussion on experiences with capitalising on opportunities for youth engagement in agribusiness. The panel discussion questions were based on three key points that arose during the online discussion:

  • Understanding differences between different youth categories to get a clear distinction on interests and choices.
  • Making agriculture attractive to young people.
  • Developing robust sweetpotato value-chains to create business opportunities for the youth.

This four part series of articles summarises the key points from the online discussion.

Youth and agriculture: The challenge

Most countries in Africa are grappling with a big challenge of youth unemployment with more young people graduating annually than can be absorbed in employment. This is exacerbated by the high number of school dropouts especially in the rural areas. Agriculture, if harnessed properly, can provide a solution to this. According to a World Bank report Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 with increased access to capital, electricity, better technology and irrigated land to grow high-value nutritious foods. Agri-food value-chains present enormous opportunities for young people.  Unfortunately, the agricultural sector is still not developed enough to economically attract the youth as a profitable sector. Majority of the youth are born in rural areas where most farm households are struggling economically due to subsistence farming. Most of these households are characterised by poverty, periodic famine, unattractive price incentives for produce and poor amenities. Because of this, a large percentage of young people view agriculture as arduous and non-profitable therefore opting for white-collar jobs in urban areas. However, conventional employment opportunities are often limited leading to many unemployed youth in urban areas. This poses a security rick since these young people can be frustrated to the extent of joining criminal gangs.

Policy makers have not been keen on developing and implementing policies that can attract the youth into agriculture. Despite being the leading sector in most African countries, governments  have not invested capital resources and associated capacity building commensurate with the role that the sector plays. Agriculture is also not receiving the attention it deserves within the education sector. For instance, it was among the subjects scrapped from primary school curriculum in Kenya.

In addition to lack of interest, youth participation in agriculture is constrained by limited knowledge of requisite agribusiness skills, lack of start-up capital, lack of information on agribusiness opportunities, limited access to land and limited exposure to successful agripreneurs.

Part 2 of the series covers the discussion on the question ‘Who are the youth?’

About Rosemary Kihiu

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