There is urgent need to engage more youth in farming and agro-processing as one of the ways to help address national challenges such as the growing food import bill and malnutrition.
According to the Minister for Youth, Rosemary Mbabazi, the youth should be engaged optimally in the productive sectors of the economy, especially agriculture production and value addition, to help reduce food imports.
Addressing a workshop of young agro-processors on Friday, the minister said the country’s food import bill is between $200 million and $300 million per year, adding that involving more youth in farming and agro-processing could support Rwanda’s efforts to achieve food security.
The two-day workshop was under the theme, ‘Youth skills: Sharing on agribusiness value chain development and management’ and was organised by Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Mbabazi said that although there are still challenges of packaging, efforts are being geared up by government to produce packaging materials locally under the Made-in-Rwanda initiative.
“We are aware that packaging and product certification are still challenges that need urgent solution, but you also need to be innovative and find solutions for some of these challenges,” she told the 55 young agro-processors.
She urged the young entrepreneurs to think outside the box and bring innovation and creativity in their projects so that they are able to solve problems in their communities and the country, generally.
“There are still problems of malnutrition in some parts of the country; we also need to increase export volumes and value if the country is to reduce its import bills.
“These challenges are enough inspiration for you to work for success of your projects and toward contributing to the country’s efforts to be self-reliant,” she said.
However, she encouraged them to embrace the savings culture to secure their future and become self-reliant.
Government targets to ensure availability of 2,500 kilocalories per person per day by 2022 and attainment of per capita income of $1,240 over the same period, according to available figures.
Agriculture employs over 72 per cent of the Rwandan population and is the backbone of the country’s economy. The government promotes commercial farming to improve production and farmers’ income. The sector contributes 46 per cent of youth jobs compared to 39.8 per cent in services and 14.3 per cent in the industrial sector. The average age of people engaged in agricultural activities is 55 years.
Otto Vianney Muhinda, the FAO assistant country representative, said the organisation supports different projects that are aimed at agriculture transformation and promoting agro-processing.
He added that the UN agency, for instance, provides a package of Rwf5 million to young graduates to invest in poultry in the districts of Gisagara, Ruhango, Gakenke and Bugesera.
The money caters for setting up of sheds, buying feeds, disease control, and eggs supply chain. It’s projects like these, he added, that will help attract more youth in agribusiness.
FAO also supports fish farming projects, especially those engaged in breeding and selling of fish fingerings. He urged the youth in agriculture to embrace ICT tools and modern farming methods to drive the sector’s growth.
He said by embracing modern farming methods, like use of greenhouses, it would help them increase output and profits. The organisation is currently working with 25 youth enterprises engaged in agro-processing among other activities.
Youth speak out
The head of agro-processing cluster at Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum said they face challenges, including lack of skills and access to finance, as well as space from where to operate and quality issues.
“These challenges trigger collapse of about 80 per cent of youth agribusinesses within the first three years,” he said.
The official called for more incubation programmes and centres, saying young graduate entrepreneurs need a lot of guidance during the initial stages of their enterprises.