Youth unemployment remains one of the biggest hurdles faced by developing African countries, especially those of the Sub-Sahara. So it was encouraging to hear, at the 7th Africa Agriculture Science Week in Kigali, that the African Development Bank will invest in young people interested in agriculture.
A large section of the population in developing countries is made up of young people. In Rwanda, figures show that they constitute 39% of the total population. Finding decent and productive employment is a major challenge. Lack of formal education is one of the main reasons most youth remain unemployed, although school enrolments continue to increase in many countries, including in Rwanda.
In Rwanda, agriculture is one of the four largest sectors that contribute to the national GDP (up to 33%). The sector holds huge employment potential, and yet young people’s engagement and contribution in agriculture value-chains remains terribly insignificant.
With the population of this country set to increase in the coming years, inevitably, food production will have to increase to sustain it. Agriculture will have to play a vital role in ensuring food security, reducing hunger and poverty, and at the same time be sustainable.
One thing is for sure, the amount of land will not increase, which means, we need to make do with what we have. More needs to be done to produce more using the limited land that we have, and this should be provide a business opportunity for the youth, as this area remains generally untapped.
There is a need to transform the agriculture sector into an agro-industry to feed this growing population and this must be done with the help of the young people.
The lack of youth participation in agriculture sector in Rwanda is due to the fact that many see it as highly unattractive, and as only for the uneducated. However, the lack of start-up capital is also a major constraint where those willing to venture into agriculture have limited or no access to finance. This is problematic, because, despite all the efforts that have been put in place to cushion this sector against a myriad of shortcomings, financial institutions remain reluctant to invest, saying it is a “risky sector’ because it depends so much on the weather.
Also, there are few job opportunities in agriculture. Educated youth who have pursued agricultural sciences are presently finding themselves in a situation where there are no jobs available in this sector and so must search for work in other sectors. This discourages others from studying agriculture.
However, all is not lost as there is still a chance to salvage the situation. Training and mentoring in partnership with the private sector can help young people develop the skills they need to be successful in agriculture and agri-business.
Among the most sustainable solutions to this problem of youth unemployment is a greater youth involvement in rural development. Thus, motivating the youth to view agriculture as a career opportunity will require a multi-level intervention. Firstly, those within the school system in secondary and university need to be targeted and facilitated through agribusiness incubation centers.
Secondly, those outside the school system must be sensitized to the opportunities agriculture presents and given agricultural training and seed capital incubation facilities program. How should this be done? We can teach them by delivering appropriate information inside and outside of the formal school system.
One way to support this education model is to encourage partnerships between all institutions involved in the agriculture sector in Rwanda with the education sector. For instance, this can be done through employing agriculture students in universities in extension activities in agriculture, so that they can gain knowledge within those activities and contribute to the welfare of the rural community. This will increase youth employment opportunities while reducing the problems associated with an aging farm population.
Young people are critical to the future of agriculture and to Africa, but it is going require a concerted effort across many fronts – including investment – to encourage them to take up a career in the agricultural sector and help them to maximize their full potential and realize their dreams. If we can’t keep youth interested in agriculture, then who will grow our food ten, twenty years from now?