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Youth holding the roots from clean vines and unclean vines, northern Uganda. Photo Credit: Namanda S/CIP Uganda


Empowering The Youth Through Agriculture: What Is Their Role In Sweetpotato Seed Systems?

Lead discussant: Aime Ndayisenga CIP Rwanda

Compiled by Kwame Ogero

How do we get the youth more involved in the sweetpotato value-chain?

It is now clear that most young people do not aspire pursue agriculture as a career or income generating activity. This is difficult to change unless the sector is seen to be profitable. It is even more difficult when using sweetpotato as an entry point. Sweetpotato is a crop that is largely viewed as a subsistence staple with little market value. Most young people who have invested in agriculture prefer high-value fast-moving horticulture crops such as onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. However, it is possible to change this perception if the following is done:     

    1. Rebranding agriculture and creating awareness on opportunities provided by sweetpotato

Unless agriculture is economically revolutionized youth participation will remain low. There is need to change the focus of agriculture in Africa from subsistence to commercial. Approaching agriculture as a business will not only solve the youth unemployment issue but also lead to increased production contributing to improved food security. Other contributing factors include: reduced laboriousness, reduced input cost, increased output per unit of agricultural production, clear marketing windows and value adding strategies especially for short maturing crops such as sweetpotato.

Root, tuber and banana crops offer an alternative entry for young people into commercial agriculture away from the conventional cereals and legumes. Many opportunities exist along the sweetpotato value-chain from clean seed production to processing. Young people wishing to go into sweetpotato production can be involved in any of the following:

  1. Seed system:  tissue culture, vine multiplication, quality assurance as a service and marketing (promotion, aggregation from small multipliers, packaging, transport etc). 
  2. Marketing of fresh roots: Most sweetpotato producers are resource poor and less educated.  This limits their ability to take roots to big markets and use proper post-harvest management techniques. The youth can help in aggregation of produce and coordination of farmer groups.
  3. Post-harvest handling and processing: Post-harvest handling and processing requires good initial investment and technical knowledge.  Training the youth on different post-harvest processing technologies and providing them with necessary financial support may lead to increased role of sweetpotato in the food system and in income generation.

Expanding value-addition and utilization opportunities for sweetpotato can create avenues for youth involvement.  Support services for sweetpotato production and processing should be made attractive to the youth. For instance, in Osun state, Nigeria, the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES) members went into orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) vine and root production because of the inclusion of OFSP in the school feeding program of the state which opened the market for both root and vine production.        

      2. Building robust markets for sweetpotato roots

Markets play an important role in commercial viability of any commodity. Sweetpotato production is hampered by poor market structure for roots. This is worsened by the short shelf-life of the commodity and poor farm to market linkages. The latter give rise to middlemen who take advantage of farmers. Organizing farmers into groups or cooperatives that enable collective marketing can address this. Through groups, farmers can directly take their produce to desired markets. The short shelf life of sweetpotato roots can be addressed by establishing storage facilities e.g. at district levels,and expanding processing options. “Youth friendly” sweetpotato processed products can enhance the “pull strategy” which would lead to more sales of such products, as well as increasing demand to produce roots and vines subsequently.

Since many young people are well versed with the use of technology especially ICT and social media, these can be utilized to increase awareness on the innovations and the benefits of farming as business and especially on sweetpotato. In Rwanda, a lot has been achieved towards developing business models along the crop value chain through several projects. Marketing strategies for vines and roots are put in place including use of radio spots, road signposts, road side markets, social networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp

      3. Capacity building on agribusiness skills

Mentorship and training programs to impart agronomic, processing and business skills can also lead to an increase in the number of young people involved in sweetpotato production. Equipping the youth with such skills will put them in a good position to take up sweetpotato production as a business. Agronomic skills can range from the basics such as pest and disease management, planting and scheduling of production to the advanced skills of producing roots of desired sizes. Puree technology and incorporation in baking is an important skill that can foster value-addition. Young people also need to learn how to calculate cost-benefit analysis, identify markets and negotiate prices.

Part 4 : Continuation of proposed strategies to get more youth involved in the sweetpotato value chain and the conclusion from this discussion

About Rosemary Kihiu

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