Given the growing youth populations in sub-Saharan Africa and the state of economic livelihoods in the region, the agriculture sector offers a great potential for alleviating unemployment and underemployment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Solomon Isingoma, a 28-year-old from Hoima district, in western Uganda is a successful youth vine multiplier. Born in a middle-class family, all his siblings got a chance to study, and are employed in various companies in the city of Kampala in Uganda. Isingoma, on the other hand, opted to take up farming.
When asked why he chose to go into Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) farming, “I was listening to Liberty FM radio and one farmer was explaining about OFSP and I picked interest. I enquired where I could get the vines and I managed to get some which were OFSP but many were other varieties. ”
July 2016 was the first time Isingoma harvested his half-acre sweetpotato crop. He was excited about it, although 80% of the variety he had planted was Naspot 1 (a white fleshed variety); and 20% OFSP. As a result, he could not sell much of the vines. But he never gave up. As evidence, he now prides in 2 acres of a good mix of OFSP varieties that include Naspot 8, Naspot 12, Naspot 13, Ejumula, Kabode and VITA.
“Whenever somebody talks bad about OFSP, I take that as an opportunity to visit their home. I practically demonstrate how to cook it and I also leave them with vines and they end up becoming advocates of OFSP,” said Isingoma.
Through a phone call, pre-basic vines are delivered from Biocrops Limited in Kampala to his farm (about 300Km).
Not long after he started OFSP farming, Isingoma was identified by a harvest plus project that supports OFSP in Uganda. Through this support, he received a net tunnel and irrigation pump to further improve his farming practices.
Isingoma practices conventional high-density planting, to benefit from both roots and vines. He, however, notes that over-harvesting vines decreases the quality of roots. Because of the limited vine market, he harvests just 50% of the potential amount he could harvest from his farm. In a year, he sells about 1000 bags. NGOs provide the biggest market for his vines (about 70%) and the rest is sold or given out for free to smallholder farmers.
However, the young man has also faced some challenges. “Farmers in this area are used to the white or yellow-fleshed varieties. Distance is also a big issue as some farmers are far away from me, and finally varieties such Ejumula cannot be planted beyond one season”, said Isingoma. Despite these challenges, he has hope that the situation will improve and therefore he continues to actively participate in events where he can promote OFSP. He attends exhibitions on any available opportunity where he displays OFSP at every stage of the value chain—vines, roots, processed products etc.
As part of his promotion strategy, he also delivers vines to farmers in his area at no extra cost. His tactic is to sell vines in small quantities of different OFSP varieties to the farmers. That way, they can see what performs best for them. “Most the farmers have increased their production area after buying vines from me”. He also adds that Naspot 8 and Napsot 12 are the best bet varieties.
To date, more than 100 people have got vines through him. One of them is Akiki- a 40-year-old lady in his village. Her first Ejumula garden is promising. When asked about him she narrates in her local Runyoro language “Eminyeto yobwire buno etusobeire. Tibakwenda kulima. Benda kuvuga bodaboda nokukorera Kampala. Beitu Isingoma, tari kabandi, Akorera hamu naitwe” directly translated as- “The youth of this generation do not want to do farming. They only want to ride boda boadas or look for work in Kampala. But Isingoma is different. He works with us here”
Insigoma made over USD 4000 last year. With this money, he has installed an irrigation system and has bought more land on which he has expanded his business. He is confident that he will get more youth to venture into farming though he notes it has been a challenge. He consistently uses Facebook and WhatsApp to reach out to the youth encouraging them to venture into OFSP value addition and he also uses it as an opportunity to market his OFSP value-added products such as crisps.
Making agriculture attractive and an easy sell to youth should continue to be among the top priorities for African countries and stakeholders in the agriculture value chain. The time to encourage many more young people to pursue agriculture as a career is now.