Agricultural experts have called for new measures to engage the Rwandan youth in agriculture transformation to help meet national food demand considering that young people in the country have historically shunned the sector.
According to Dr Charles Bucagu, the Deputy Director General in charge of Agricultural Research and Technology Transfer at Rwanda Agriculture Board, such a mindset has resulted in the sector being dominated by mostly elderly smallholder farmers – with an average age of 55.
Bucagu was speaking to Business Times on the sidelines of last week’s agricultural forum on the need to engage the youth in improved seed production.
He said that Rwanda’s vision for agricultural transformation and development toward food security and attainment of per capita income of $1240 by year 2020 requires working with the youth as “the most energetic segment of the labour force”.
“Government and other partners should continually motivate and keep the youth in the driving seat in agriculture transformation. It is important to help the youth throughout the value chain. The youth also need to work with financial institutions to give tcreate more opportunities,” he noted.
Quoting a United Nations Environmental Programme 2015 survey, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world, with 226 million people aged 15 to 24 years old in need of sustainable employment.
“Each year, young people graduate from school seeking to enter the continent’s workforce, often with no success. The continent is facing a double employment crisis due to lack of jobs for the youth and an increase in the number of young people in need of work. Agriculture is the largest sector of employment where such youth have to exploit job opportunities and ensure food security,” he said.
Currently, agriculture contributes one third of the Rwanda’s total GDP while nearly 80 per cent of the population relies on the sector as the main economic activity.
“Considering that the agriculture sector meets 90 per cent of the national food needs and generates more than 70 per cent of the country’s export revenues, the youth should optimally be engaged and motivated in the whole value chain,” said Bucagu.
Figures show that youth in Rwanda constitute about 4.1 million, about 35 per cent of the total population. In urban settings, the youth are estimated at 25 per cent compared to 75 per cent in rural areas where agriculture is mostly undertaken.
“Rwandan government is making tremendous progress by establishing a youth-led umbrella for youthful organisations and individuals engaged in agribusiness,” he noted.
Census of youth in agribusiness in the offing
Jean Baptiste Hategekimana, the chairperson of Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF), told Business Times that in the coming months they will launch a census of all the youths in agribusiness across the country so as to establish support platforms in each sector.
“We want the youth to be organised under platforms to ease their access to capacity building training and financing opportunities,” he said.
He said the forum has 4,300 youths in agribusiness.
“Today 1720 (60 per cent) of the 4,300 youths registered in the forum grow fruits and vegetables, 1247 (29 per cent) are in agro-services such as seeds multiplication, extension services, agro-shops and others. 1075 young entrepreneurs in agri-business are in livestock keeping, 215 (5 per cent) are engaged in agro-processing while only 1 per cent (43 youths) are engaged in ICT for agricultural development,” Hategekimana said.
Youth in agri-business speak out
Mubarak Habimana, a youth in agri-business who is involved with seed multiplication and sweet potato farming on a two-hectare piece of land, told Business Times that he is already reaping fruits from agribusiness.
“I also sell the crop leaves in DR Congo as vegetables. Sweet potatoes are harvested after only four months. I get around Rwf200, 000 from selling leaves of sweet potatoes grown on two acres of land and after two months leaves bud again,” he said.
He says he currently sells 64 tonnes of multiplied stems as seeds on two hectares, with one kilogramme costing Rwf125, amounting to about Rwf125, 000 a tonne.
“I am also thinking of getting into processing... We have to serve as models for other youth by proving that agriculture sector has a lot of untapped business opportunities,” he added.