By Susan Asiimwe
While much scrutiny has often been placed on Sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture as an ‘industry for the aged’, more than 60% of young people in our country work in agriculture and its sub-sectors. This gives the sector huge potential to create jobs for this population segment, and makes the role of youth in agriculture significant in national growth and development.
The case for boosting youth participation in agriculture cannot be overemphasized. The unemployment rate for youth is three times higher than adults in all regions of the world, according to a 2021 report. In Sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of youth are unemployed or working in vulnerable positions. Considering that Rwandan youth make up about 40% of our total population, this can be beneficial for the agriculture sector.
Often, rural youth do not see agriculture as a viable career option, having grown up witnessing their family members putting in hard physical toil and struggling against unfavorable markets and environments for very little profit. The constraints youth face in the sector–the seasonal nature of income, lack of markets, and lack of access to financing facilities/planting resources–reinforce these perceptions. Addressing these common fears can help drive more youth into agriculture.
Create value-chain linkages
Approaches that leverage technology, education, access to financial and information resources, and the creation of entrepreneur networks can make agribusiness profitable for youth, and make the sector more attractive. Access to finance and farming inputs, training, and markets can unlock opportunities, sustain job creation for young Rwandans, and empower smallholder farmers to earn a living income for themselves and their families.
If supported to innovate and overcome barriers, young people have the potential to reduce hunger and unemployment and secure a sustainable, promising future for farming communities. What can we do to motivate young people toward agriculture?
We can start by creating sustainable market linkages between young rural farmers and markets. Increasing the capacity of youth entrepreneurs to leverage emerging agribusiness models and value-addition opportunities can help them to excel in agriculture.
For example, for years now, the organization I work for, One Acre Fund-Tubura, has supported Rwanda’s vision through programs that support farmers in their journey to prosperity. Tubura has regularly partnered with the Government of Rwanda and private partners to invest in commercial agriculture, enabling smallholders to access markets for their produce. Among other interventions, we are building sustainable value chains, like cold storage facilities, drying and processing hubs, and supporting exporters and processors to develop their infrastructural and professional capacities. Through this work, we’ve seen farmers experience a 23% increase in maize profits, for instance.
Mitigate farming risks
But farming is also an uncertain endeavor. Even more so today because of the climate crisis. With continuously changing climatic conditions, it is not always possible to predict the weather to grow crops accordingly. Farming insurance is an emerging tool in risk management in this regard. Insurance assures farmers that they can plant again in the next season if crops fail in the current one.
By extending this safety net to young smallholders, we can help reduce their vulnerability to financial instability if yields perform below expectations. Developing financial tools for financial access must go hand in hand with protecting youth investments in agriculture and its value chains.