Attracting and retaining young people in farming

August 14, 2017
How to make farming attractive to young people is fast becoming a major talking point in development circles. In a context where farming populations are ageing and young people, especially young graduates, seem repelled by the drudgery and low technology associated with African farming, there is a sense that work must be done to make farming appear cool.

This point was made by the African Center for Economic Transformation President, Dr KY Amoako, when he previewed an ACET flagship report on agriculture, soon to be launched, to African governors of the World Bank and IMF during last week’s African Caucus meeting in Gaborone, Botswana.

The caucus is made up of ministers of finance and central bank governors, who are also governors of the World Bank and IMF from all 54 African countries. The annual meeting is a forum for African governors to agree on common positions to promote Africa’s interests, ahead of the annual IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington.

Amoako’s remarks on agricultural transformation as a driver of overall economic transformation went down well with the African governors, as will be reviewed separately.

According to the overview of the ACET report, titled ‘Agriculture Powering Africa’s Economic Transformation’, the agenda to attract educated young people into farming “has to focus on the challenges that discourage them from farming.” These challenges are the same as those of farming generally, including access to land, inputs, finance and markets, “but the barriers are even higher for youth, who lack the necessary resources and social connections,” the report says.

“But the effort to engage youth in agriculture is worthwhile, to take advantage of their generally higher education levels, more commercial orientation and strong drive, which makes them more trainable as modern farmers.

‘Making farming cool’ is often understood to revolve around the use of ICTs, especially mobile phone applications, to bring African agriculture into the 21st century. For example, by giving farmers (and hopefully young graduate farmers) access to critical information on climate conditions, markets and pricing.

It is thought that presenting farming in this way can entice young graduates to see farming as a business and help reverse the exodus of young people from the agricultural sector.

‘Making Farming Cool’ is also the name of a communications project on which ACET is collaborating with the Washington-based think-tank, Initiative for Global Development.

This new catchphrase was also aired in Gaborone by South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Finance Sfiso Buthelezi, who brought an opening session on agricultural policy foundations to a close with the words: “We need to make farming very, very cool for young people.”

But making farming cool is “not just about slogans and exhortations”, ACET’s Chief Economist Yaw Ansu told governors attending the African Caucus meeting. “Farming must pay,” he said, adding that demonstration projects are necessary to provide models and show the possibilities from farming.

Indeed, the forthcoming ACET report proposes a new model for establishing agricultural industrial parks that would target educated youth.

Dr Ansu, the principal author of the report, was speaking during a panel discussion on agricultural value chains. The panel was made up of high-level agricultural experts including the Minister of Finance of Burkina Faso, Rosine Coulibay, the new President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Gilbert Houngbo and the Africa Director of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Dr Ousmane Badiane.

Another highlight of the panel discussion came when Cameroonian coffee farmer, Matti Foncha, a retired scientist, joined the podium, apologised for being older even than the ageing African farming population of 40-60 year olds and proceeded to describe his innovative Cameroon Boyo coffee value chain project in a powerpoint presentation filled with neat infographics and juicy statistics.

The buzz in Foncha’s message came from the idea that African farmers don’t have to remain forever on the last node of the value chain. Instead they can share risks and profits with those higher up the value chain.

This model seems appealing in the face of transport bottlenecks, post-harvest losses and various forms of market challenges facing African farmers, and could motivate farmers to produce more food for Africa’s cities and raw materials for her factories.

And a number of development objectives could be achieved if this very cool way of doing farming business could be matched with ACET’s agricultural transformation model and brought to the attention and imagination of young school leavers and graduates from a variety of disciplines. For one thing, it might stimulate a range of other cool agribusiness ideas and open up a raft of new opportunities. Sound like a win-win-win?

ACET’s Director of Communications & External Relations and a specialist in economic development.

Post at Farmers Review Africa

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