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Youth Involvement in Agriculture – a panacea for economic crisis in Uganda

The current economic situation is worrying as majority of Ugandans are struggling to make ends meet due to the soaring cost of food and other commodity prices. Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) announced recently that inflation had hit a 20-year high of 28.3 per cent in September 2011 from 21.4 per cent while food inflation rose to 50.4 per cent. Many economists have argued that one of the key ways out of this inflation is to boost the agriculture sector.

Many opinion tend to agree with this argument; the importance of agriculture sector to Uganda’s development agenda is unquestionable. The sector is currently a source of livelihood to majority of Ugandans and employs an estimated 80 per cent of the population.

Despite its importance to the economy, the sector faces a myriad of challenges. Uganda’s agriculture remains largely traditional; it is concentrated in the hands of small holder subsistence farmers; the level of investment is insufficient to make meaningful contribution in the livelihood of farmers and more importantly, it is unattractive to the youth. This is because of the low position agriculture occupies in society. For example, agriculture-related activities are sometimes used by some schools to punish indisciplined children.

Secondly, the nature of Ugandan education system trains youth for white collar jobs which does not reflect the economic and social context for which they are being trained. Consequently, a large number of young people are roaming the streets endlessly searching for non-existent jobs.

Sadly, Uganda has now become a “boda boda economy”. The youth find riding boda bodas more lucrative than engaging in agriculture. While conducting a field visit to Mukono District on agri-food systems governance study, for example, we found out that youth in Nagojje Sub-county are no longer interested in agriculture. They sell off their land cheaply to buy boda bodas to make quick money. This thirst for making quick money leaves agriculture to the elderly who continue using archaic traditional methods, leading to low productivity and food insecurity.

According to a recent World Bank report, Uganda has the youngest population with more than half of the population under the age of 18 as well as the highest youth unemployment rate of 83 per cent in the world. This means in order to have meaningful development, there is need to have youth-oriented agriculture development. The youth need to become priority for targeted agricultural development policies. In the 2011/12 budget, Shs44.5 billion was allocated to youth entrepreneurship fund to create jobs for the youth, enterprise and skills development. This money will be channelled through Enterprise Uganda & DFCU bank. The question here is, how will youth from rural areas and far away districts like Ibanda access DFCU bank which is based in Kampala? In my opinion, government should channel this money through local governments by encouraging youths across the country to invest in agriculture.

It is critical for the government to improve traditional methods of production to attract youth to agriculture and immediately mechanise agriculture using appropriate technology like tractors. The 2011/12 national budget waived import duty on hand hoes from 10 per cent to 0 per cent. Unfortunately, we cannot talk about modernisation of agriculture while living in the past. The government should consider new agriculture technologies and revive cooperatives at the local level to protect farmers from exploitation by middlemen.

It is essential that the government reforms the education curriculum to become broad-based and geared towards integrating agriculture in education curriculum and changing the mindset of our youth to motivate and encourage them to explore untapped opportunities in the agriculture sector.

This is important because youth can play a significant role in acting as catalysts for change to agricultural development given their propensity and willingness to adapt to new ideas, concepts and energy to carry them through. This is critical in changing the way agriculture is practiced and perceived in this country, especially by the youth.

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