ICT the untapped potential to draw the youth back into agriculture
By Matilda Nakawungu
A lot in agriculture has changed over the years and with these changes has come a radical decline in youth engagement in this sector. Rural life is often not attractive or easy for young people in developing countries and agriculture holds little appeal to most. Given Uganda’s ever increasing population and the constantly growing unemployment levels among the youth, there is a pressing need to turn agriculture into a more appealing venture.
The big question is, how do we get the youth to see a career in agriculture not as a thing for the ‘old folk’ or a last resort for survival, but as a promising and rewarding career choice?
In recent decades, technology has had a growing impact on development. In a country where the largest economic sector and the base for development is agriculture, there is need to realize the necessity of agricultural mechanization and technology transfer in improving food security, and increasing production for domestic and export markets. But while youth have shown an increasing lack of interest in agriculture; Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have taken a strong hold in this demographic. Can this interest in technological developments be taken advantage of to reverse the youth interest trend?
Analysts have shown that by 2025, half of Africa’s 1 billion population will have internet access with about 360 million smartphones on the continent. From these statistics, they estimate that internet technology could increase annual agricultural productivity in Africa by $3 billion a year. In Uganda, at least one out of every five youth own or have access to a mobile phone. And as more and more youth are becoming tech savvy, innovations are on the rise with apps developed every other day to ease the life of the modern farmer in Africa. One gateway could be to tap into the youth’s ICT enthusiasm and make use of the existing technology infrastructure. Take a moment and envision how extensively information could be transmitted across farming communities if agricultural advisory information was disseminated through phone applications or even simple SMS messages.
For instance, Ugandan farmers have had first-hand experience of the impact of climate change with erratic weather patterns threatening their crop production and seasonality continuing to permeate rural livelihoods. However, there are a vast number of mobile phone applications that can provide a farmer with relatively dependable information – say weather forecasts- that can guide their farming. Other applications such as the FarmerConnect deliver personalized agricultural extension services and text or audio information in local languages to farmers who otherwise have no access to traditional sources of agricultural information. Also, on the market are those that have been designed specifically for youth. One such app is the Farming Instructor that provides online and offline agricultural information. This application in particular was created to inspire youth to have passion to engage in agriculture as a means of self-employment. Another advantage with such an application is that it allows for peer learning by providing a platform for users to share experiences, tips and advice. These and many more ICT tools available at our finger tips could make a significant difference in the lives of smallholder farmers at a very low cost.
For a country where 58% of its population is not working for reasons other than pursuing studies, it is clear that we need to make better use of the productive resources available to create more employment. It’s good to remember that agriculture is not only about getting down to the hoe and earth business, but that there are countless opportunities along the production chain.
If organized youth groups were supported to access mobile phone applications that provide market information, they could join the value chain in their home villages by identifying available markets, purchasing the produce at farm-gate price from the smallholder farmers and selling it to the available markets at a profit. This way both the youth and the farmer benefit from this innovation.
Aside from mobile phone technology, another innovation that can greatly support agriculture across the country is the creation of a publicly accessible agricultural zoning database. The accessibility of clear information on agricultural zoning could guide the youth and other farmers in making informed decisions on what to grow and where. This could also remedy the frustrations of farmers who through government programs receive farm inputs (seeds/seedlings) that do not grow well in their areas, or those that the farmers have no knowledge or interest in growing.
The youth are the thread that holds together the fabric of the economy. The future of agriculture rests on them and as such, it is imperative to draw them back into the sector. The time is ripe for ICT to take a front seat in agriculture.