The challenge of low interest of young people to get involved in the agricultural sector is fast becoming a continental wide concern. This concern is even flagrant in Uganda where a staggering 78% of the population is below 30 years of age. When there is plentiful disinterest by a major demographic category on a sector which is the backbone of any economy, then there is an obvious reason to worry about the future of such a country.
To allay this fear, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung through its flagship think-tank on youth issues undertook a comprehensive analysis of the agricultural sector and provided some concrete propositions on how the youth can be engaged in the agricultural sector. The Young Leaders Think-Tank for Policy Alternatives collaborates with young leaders and innovators in Uganda to generate new policy ideas on issues that affect the young people in Uganda.
The paper highlights significant challenges and opportunities within the sector whilst presenting a special case why conversations about the sector should once again take a center-stage on policy discussion tables in Uganda. One school of thought is that agriculture is a quintessential engine for growth in early stages of development because it has significant multiplier effects in other sectors through backward and forward linkages. For example, when agricultural production expands, it demands intermediate goods like fertilizers, machinery, and transport services.
This demand then stimulates production in other sectors to supply these intermediate goods. Similarly, forward production linkages account for the increased supply of inputs to upstream industries. For example, when agricultural production expands, it can supply more goods to the food-processing sector, which stimulates manufacturing production.
The paper highlighted that about 70% of Uganda’s arable land is under-utilized by the Ugandan small holder farmers, most of whom practice subsistence agriculture. The under-utilization of land in Uganda is exacerbated by the fact the many tenants own gigantic plots of land and yet with little capacity to put them under optimum production. As a recommendation, the Think-Tank advised that government should levy taxes on underutilized productive agricultural lands to encouraged land-owners take deliberate initiatives to invest more in the sector.
Government investment in the agricultural sector emerged as a vivid discussion subject in the paper. The sector has been allocated a slowly increasing total budget amount over the year, even though there have been occasional instances of a slightly declining total budget allocation. This demonstrates the gap between government focus on agriculture in policies and statements and the realization of such a focus in monetary terms, the report notes. Moreover, in the past three financial years, the government budget allocation to agriculture has never reached 7%, a slap in the face to the 2003 Maputo Declaration which advocates for at least a 10% budget threshold to the sector.
One of the landmark achievements of the current government has been infrastructural development, especially expanding road networks across the country. The paper highlights this achievement and noted that it has led to a significant reduction in marketing costs. However, a fundamental revolution within the sector can only occur if the conditions of rural community roads which play crucial farmer-market connection roles are significantly improved.
Accesses to credit facilities still remain a gigantic challenge to farmers because of the high risks involved which increases the risk averseness by the financiers. The risks are further exacerbated by the fact that Uganda’s agriculture is rain-fed and rudimentary in nature. The paper recommends that agricultural loans should be developed towards repayment capacity building rather than default management. Access to agricultural credit will go a long way in empowering farmers to increase production capacity. More so, the credit facilities can always be in-cooperated with agricultural advisory services to enable farmers put invest more productively.
More so, an agricultural credit system that embraces a public-private partnership arrangement in the areas of loans and insurance will also go a long way to reduce risk and attract more youth to participate in the sector. A subsidy policy that puts in consideration the needs of both small and medium holder famers should also be pursued to boost production and marketing opportunities.
To incentivize more youth to get involved in the agricultural sector, there is need to enhance their capacity with the skills and knowledge in modern agronomic practices. While this is been partially address in the secondary school curriculum, it tends to be more theoretical than practical with less regard of the reality of rural farming situation in Uganda. Similarly, more youth continue to abandon the sector as they climb more academic ladders. For instance, while the attainment of primary education reduces the probability of agricultural uptake by 3.2%; attaining a UACE certificate translates to up to 20% reduction. A strategy that for instance incentivizes the middle class young population already employed in other sectors of the economy to get involved in agricultural would go a long way to increase food security whilst creating economic benefits for the youth along the chain.
Uganda’s agricultural potential will continue to be thwarted if participation remains crippled at the low ends of the value-chain facilitated by large raw material exportation. The report advocates for a demand led approach with a focus on adding value to agricultural outputs and therefore creating a more sophisticated range of secondary agricultural products on the national and international markets.
The land tenure system in Uganda also continues to impede many youth from engaging in agriculture. With only 50% of Ugandans having access to land (UBOS 2015), a structural bottleneck is created which limits participation in the sector. The land question is even made more difficult by the considerably low number of land owners. Disrupting this current structure of land tenure will go a long way in incentivising the youth who are the most victims. More specifically, efforts which empower women to own, not just access land as a means of production is crucial for agricultural sector development. The paper also advocates for the strengthening of the cooperative movement which will strengthen small farmers’ networks and create a platform for increased production and marketing.
While launching the report in August 2016, His Excellency, the Vice President of Uganda Edward Sekandi highlighted the youth negative mindset against agricultural sector has a major riddle. As a result, most youth engage in the as a last resort. “When doing research on agriculture, we should try to portray agriculture as a more viable economic activity by presenting success stories from successful young agricultural entrepreneurs” he remarked. The launch was also attended by high level government officials from the responsible line ministries. In attendance were the: Minister for Cooperatives, Director of the Youth Livelihoods Programme, Youth Commissioner in the Ministry of Gender and the Permanent Secretary of the Agricultural Ministry.
The writer is a member of the think-tank and a Programme Officer at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.