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Why agriculture is good for the youth

By Warren Nyamugasira

In the recently launched Second National Development Plan (NDPII) spanning financial years 2015/16-2019/20, agriculture tops the list of five investment priorities selected because of their potential for the greatest multiplier effect in the economy.

The NDPII is themed: ‘Strengthening Uganda’s Competitiveness for Sustainable Wealth Creation, Employment and Inclusive Growth’.

The other priorities in the plan are tourism; minerals, oil and gas; infrastructure development and human capital development.

In particular agriculture is prioritised because it remains a major sector in the Ugandan economy with good prospects for increasing production and productivity, particularly when considered along its value chain such as agro-processing and marketing. In this regard, it is also a launchpad for industrialisation for the eventual transformation of the Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country in the next 30 years.

Consequently, agriculture is slated to generate over one million jobs over the five years.

Indeed this is significant if agricultural production and productivity are not paid lip service as has been the case in the past when both agricultural and rural development have been a major missed opportunity in enhancing their role to support growth opportunities, reduce poverty and gender inequality (for example, see the report of the Joint Evaluation of Budget Support to Uganda, April 2015).

However, with the current focus put on improving the road network countrywide and not just in the south and western parts of the country, intensification of rural electrification and improvements in other supportive infrastructure, the prospects have never been better.

The stage has been set to put agricultural productivity at the top of the policy agenda and to revive agriculture in real terms. Key to this revival is the role of the youth in agriculture.

I am involved in a learning research whose goal is to deepen the evidence base on youth employment and entrepreneurship to inform efforts to expand youth livelihoods and economic opportunities in Uganda.

Specifically, it is investigating the principal push and pull factors driving youth engagement in and out of farming, rural/urban migration and employment patterns and more specifically their attitudes towards the agricultural sector.

Preliminary findings indicate that youth in middle north of Uganda do not have a negative perception about working in agriculture for their livelihoods.

They know that it is often their only economic opportunity and they are interested in making it their major livelihood activity. They think that agriculture can provide and already provides enough income for sustaining them and their families.

While a number come from families which are traditionally involved in farming, they prefer to do agriculture a bit differently from the parent associations, prioritising those aspects that earn them quick money such as procuring and selling agro-inputs; using improved tools such as rippers to open up land, spraying and weeding for cash and transportation. Most work on family land while others rent or buy their own.

Their source of capital is the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), as opposed to formal financial institutions which lack appropriate financial products and are too bureaucratic.

Reflecting more deeply on these preliminary findings it becomes clear that the theory of change in conceptualising most youth livelihood programmes by the elite policy maker is far removed from the realities of these young people.

While the policy makers’ starting point, that agriculture is the backbone of Uganda’s economy and is still dominated by smallholder farmers, is sound, they quickly jump to pumping resources into the processing of agricultural commodities without catering for the intermediate stage to link the youth smallholder farmer to the processed agricultural commodities.

Furthermore, I am also convinced that another and perhaps the greatest weakness in youth livelihoods programming is the ‘land cruiser culture’ of the designers and implementers, exemplified by the burden they place on the resources when they impose a layer of overt or covert overheads to support their (the designers and implementers) own lifestyles.

As far as the youth are concerned, the land cruiser in which the designers and implementers often arrive in the village is the epitome of luxury; equivalent to owning an aeroplane.

Therefore, while agriculture is good for the youth and youth are vital in the revival of its fortunes, the problem lies with the designers and implementers of youth livelihoods programmes.

I owe a visit to Pius Bigirimana (permanent secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development) to peer into his thinking behind the copyrighted Youth Livelihood Model which the Government has adopted and invested sh38.8b for its anti-poverty campaign.

Should it have identified and eliminated the said impediments in the design of youth livelihood programmes, then he deserves accolades beyond the Government’s no-objection to him copyrighting the model.

The writer Warren Nyamugasira is an economist.

Reblogged from  the New Vision Uganda