African countries are looking for ways to engage the youth to participate in farming by using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as they bid to boost job opportunities and strengthening efforts against hunger.
From August 20 to 21, 2018, Rwanda will host a conference themed “Youth Employment in Agriculture as a Solid Solution to ending Hunger and Poverty in Africa.”
It is organised by FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources in Rwanda, as well as African Union as co-organizers.
Over 60 per cent of Africa’s estimated 1.2 billion people are below the age of 25 years and challenged with unemployment. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has expressed concern over the continent’s growing uncertainty on youth jobs for the youth, especially those who rural areas.
With about one in every four people in Africa is hungry, according to FAO.
For Africa to harness the dividends of its youthful population, more than 10 million new jobs in rural areas will have to be created every year, FAO says.
In Rwanda, the agriculture sector largely consists of an ageing population whose average age is 55 years. As a result, innovation, creativity and technology adaptation as well as skills transfer has been slow, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).
FAO states that there is a largely untapped reservoir of employment opportunities in agriculture. Yet, the drudgery and poor remuneration associated with low-productivity family farming turn young people away from agriculture and make them more prone to migrate from rural areas.
The conference in Kigali aims to foster an exchange among stakeholders on knowledge and best practices regarding the interfaces between agriculture, youth employment, entrepreneurship, ICT innovations, leading to prioritising interventions going forward.
In an interview with The New Times, Gualbert Gbehounou, the FAO Representative to Rwanda said if Africans want, as a continent, to achieve prosperity, they have to offer job opportunities to these youth, and that studies have shown that the agriculture sector offers more opportunities to reducing poverty and making Africa prosperous.
“We have developed a mind set which considers farmers as second-class citizens; now, we want to demonstrate that agribusiness can be as modern as any other business. You can make money out of agriculture, and this the main concern of this upcoming conference.” he said.
He said that youth can make use of ICTs to improve farm yield through improved resource use efficiency.
“For example, with ICT you can control, from your living room, the irrigation system on your farm. With the help of Information and Communication Technologies, you can create a platform to reach the market, to sell better whatever you have to sell. These are the things we do not fully realise are so useful and help agribusiness,” he said.
Talking about priority areas, which the youth should focus on to tap into agriculture opportunities, Gbehounou, he highlighted engaging in agro-processing to produce commodities with long shelf-life.
Africa spends about $35 billion on importation of food, according to African Development Board (AfDB), and such expenses are projected to rise to about $110 billion by 2025 given the growing food demand driven by the continent’s population growth.
“We are importing foods such as meat, fish, rice, even maize, and that costs our countries a lot. It means that we are not producing enough for ourselves, while we have the potential not only to produce for our own population, but to export.
“It only means that we are not fully taking advantages of the agricultural potential of our individual countries,” he said underscoring that agribusiness can help people make money by bridging such food production gaps.
Assoumpta Uwamariya, 27, told The New Times that she makes about 600 litres of wine from beetroots, pineapple and banana per week in Rubavu District.
Now, she grows vegetables including beetroot, and banana on about 10 hectares.
She is one of young university graduates who, after spending years being unemployed, have realised the business potential that agriculture offers for youth employment.
“I spent time being unemployed, until I realised that agribusiness is profitable business. I used to think that agriculture cannot give me good income, and that it was a job that one cannot be proud of,” she said revealing that she earns about Rwf800,000 monthly from her agribusiness after covering all expenses including remuneration payment to her eight permanent workers.