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Tuesday, 29 January 2013 11:29

Engaging youth in agriculture

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Interview with Sithembile Ndema Mwamakamba, from Zimbabwe, who works at the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) where she coordinates the Youth in Agriculture project. She also manages the Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project designed to strengthen the capacity of women farmers to influence agricultural policy development in Southern Africa.

"With a greater focus on value chains in recent years, there are now far more opportunities for young people to find rewarding careers in the food and farming sector. However, governments need to formulate policies that capitalise on the energy and entrepreneurship of the youth to successfully attract them to the sector."

In September 2012, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) convened a regional policy dialogue about the engagement of youth in agriculture value chains. What guidelines came out from the meeting?

The meeting recommended that governments implement existing agricultural policies and ensure better coordination among institutions in the roll out of programmes, as well as provide incentives targeted to youths such as loan facilities, access to land, markets and training. Other recommendations were to encourage use of ICT in agriculture and promote new technologies and encourage youth leadership and volunteering in agriculture to enable them to develop their skills and trigger their interest. It was also recommended to introduce mentorship and pre-job training programmes and to include the youth in policy decisions.

Have concrete measures been taken to involve young people in decision making?

A number of high level youth conferences and policy dialogues have been held. In 2011, the 17th African Union Summit was on the theme "Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development". Prior to the summit, young people discussed key issues they wanted addressed by the heads of state. FANRPAN has also been instrumental in engaging young people in its food security policy dialogue. In 2011, FANRPAN convened its Annual Food Security Policy Dialogue under the theme "Advocating for the Active Engagement of the Youth in the Agricultural Value Chain" and, in 2012, our dialogue focused on moving from policies to practice in that engagement. In these platforms young people shared their aspirations and what they want to see change in order for them to be active participants with policy makers, farmers, researchers and civil society representatives.

Agriculture is often seen as employment only for the very poor and illiterate. What does FANRPAN propose to overcome that prejudice?

Many young people have little or no skills and are excluded from productive economic and social life. It is estimated that about 133 million young people (more than 50% of the youth population) in Africa are illiterate. FANRPAN has launched a programme to engage youths in the agriculture sector through capacity building and networking, action research to generate evidence and inform policy processes, and policy advocacy in food security, agriculture and natural resources. Key activities include: building and/or strengthening the knowledge and capacity of youths to contribute to agricultural policy development, training them in the value chain approach and its application for the development of selected agricultural products and creating awareness among stakeholders of the potential contribution of youth to agriculture, economy and poverty reduction.

Could you give an example of a concrete result from that programme?

At FANRPAN, young people are recognised as a major stakeholder group and we use policy dialogues to enhance the voices of the youths, by equipping them with skills for effective engagement.

Are governments conscious of the importance of engaging young people in agribusiness?

Governments are very aware of the importance of engaging young people in agriculture, especially given the high incidence of youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa, estimated to be over 20%. In 2006, African heads of state signed the African Youth Charter, which recognises the right of young people to be free from hunger and calls on governments to take measures to enhance the attractiveness of rural areas to young people; train them to take up agricultural, mineral, commercial and industrial production using contemporary systems and promote the benefits of new ICTs to gain access to markets. Through the Charter, governments also agreed to provide land as grants and access to credit and facilitate the participation of young people in the design and implementation of national development policies and poverty reduction strategies.

Could you mention a successful case of engagement of young people in the agricultural sector?

Calvin Kamchacha, 28 years old, is the founder and executive director of Farmers Forum For Trade & Social Justice (FAFOTRAJ), an NGO in Ghana and Malawi working to develop market-linked trading systems, policies and structures that promote fair trade and create sustainable wealth and decent self-employment opportunities for women and young farmers. He also leads an agribusiness development programme which aims to strengthen the capacity of youths and women farmers in the value chain by training them in entrepreneurship and facilitating their linkage to input suppliers, financial institutions, regulators and other key service providers in the agribusiness sector.

Article originally published in the Spore Magazine (No 161): Engaging youth in agriculture

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 12:16


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ICT and Youth in Agriculture in Africa (Report)