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Young man displaying promoting OFSP for health and wealth on the flap of his motorbike in Kibaha, Tanzania. Photo Credit: Ndomba M/SRI Kibaha

Topic 16 on the Seed Systems and Crop Management CoP

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

Part 2 of 4 articles

Lead discussant: Aime Ndayisenga CIP Rwanda

Compiled by Kwame Ogero

Who are the ‘youth’?

When talking about youth involvement in agriculture it is important to be aware of the different categories of young people and their varying interests. Age is the most often used categorizing factor i.e. 18 – 35 years. In countries with a high school dropout rate a youth is defined as being in the bracket of 12 – 35 years. Be it 18 – 35 or 12 – 35; many other age sub-categories should not escape unmentioned i.e. do the youth live at home as a ‘child’ in the household or do they live in the compound with their small start-up family or are they seeking their own independence on inherited land/ own purchased? And can we draw a clear age line within these sub-categories?  Supporting a youth who just drunk porridge from her mother’s kitchen and will be waiting for dinner in a few hours from the same kitchen is not the same thing as supporting another who is 17 years old with a 2-year-old child a pregnant wife expecting the second.

Young people in rural areas and urban areas may have differing interests which are also influenced by the level of education. For instance, a young university graduate living in a city may be more interested in an office job but might consider agriculture as a side business therefore likely to invest in commercial agriculture. A good example is the growing number of young people investing in green house farming in urban areas in Kenya. Their motivation is purely profits and they are willing to invest in technologies such as drip irrigation, quality seed and green houses. This has been made possible by the fact that these young people have some disposable income they can channel into agriculture. The case might be different for a young person in the rural area who has lived most of his life in the village watching the challenges faced by subsistence farmers and who also has limited access to capital. To him escaping from the village to get a job in the city is a very attractive option.

Based on the differences mentioned and putting sweetpotato seed systems in context, it is important to ask ourselves whether we want to create jobs for the well-educated youths coming out of universities – for example running tissue culture (TC) laboratories – or whether we want to create jobs for the mass of less well-educated youth – for example – transporting planting material on the back of motor bikes. Educated youth may be more interested in TC, processing etc. but not in farming activities, which clearly indicates that strong correlation between education and youth involvement in the food value chain. It is worth noting that the main driver for the educated youth to prefer selected options such as tissue culture, marketing and processing etc. is the close resemblance with white collar opportunities.    

Understanding the differences between various youth categories will make it easier to decide where to allocate limited resources when wishing to better engage youth in agriculture. There is need to expand our thinking beyond the realm of seeing youth as entrepreneurs or underutilized inputs into the production function. The metric of success for youth in agriculture should go beyond the economic: viable youth managed agribusinesses or youth employed in agriculture. Positive outcomes for young people involved in agriculture may not only be measured by market or business indicators. We should also look to measure and understand how to best support skill building, leadership, connectedness, and character development for youth in grants / activities aimed at youth.  

Part  3 of the series covers ‘How to get youth more involved in the sweetpotato value chain’

About Rosemary Kihiu

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