More than 80 per cent of Uganda’s labour force is in agriculture while 78 per cent of the population is below 30 years. But youth engagement in agriculture is reducing even amidst high unemployment.
The media is awash with seemingly unproductive youth activities, including protests using coloured pigs and forming associations of unemployed youths. But there is not enough news on youth engagement in agriculture.
The failure to involve young people in agriculture yet it is the backbone of the economy, as well as the other sectors are insufficiently creating new jobs, threatens to increase unemployment and could undermine government efforts to drive economic growth through agriculture.
Today, modern technologies such as biotechnology, are used in different parts of the world to improve quality and quantity of agricultural products. Young scientists can embrace these modern technologies and use them to empower themselves and the country’s capacity. This is so as to support agriculture enhancement and address some of the major perennial agricultural problems.
It is true that traditional approaches to dealing with some of these predicaments are no longer sufficient.
Uganda’s scientists have discovered that biotechnology holds solution for some of these problems and indeed major breakthroughs have been reported in addressing diseases of cassava, bananas (matooke), and sweet potatoes, among others.
Such breakthroughs should be sustained and aanced by engaging young Ugandans to learn and apply modern science. There is need to develop a critical mass of researchers, who can identify and develop solutions to address localised agriculture challenges.
There should be deliberate efforts to attract youths to view agriculture as more than a hoe and gumboots activity but a science that can adopt precise technology to pinpoint aspects that require improvement. For instance, researchers at the National Agriculture Research Laboratories in Kawanda have used modern biotechnology to create varieties of bananas that have more iron and Vitamin A content.
Recently, the passing out of more than 170 young aspiring scientists who took part in the Second National Biotechnology Essay Writing contest was a major step-up in putting young people at the helm of applying modern science to counter challenges in Uganda.
The contest was organised by the Uganda Biosciences Information Centre, an information hub for National Agricultural Research Organisation. The top six contestants will now embark on a two-week internship training in best practices for laboratory and field research.
They will interface with scientists and work on research aimed at increasing crop productivity using biotechnology. Six trainees did their training in May 2014 and have since returned to their respective institutions to conduct peer training.
Based on the biotech essay contest participation and follow-up school visits, it is evident that students are interested in modern biosciences for agriculture (some participants were not even agriculture majors) and teachers are equally enthusiastic to impart relevant knowledge. But the two parties need an enabling and empowering environment to support teaching with provision of teaching aids and opportunities for training of students. This investment in Uganda’s next generation of scientists will build the human resource, limit brain drain of experts, and fast-track development of solutions to domestic agriculture problems.
Youth can act as a catalyst for change given their willingness to adopt new ideas and energy to carry them out. But the underlying goal should be moving from subsistence to commercial farming. Therefore, intervention measures require a multidisciplinary approach.
Youth need to be aware of how farmsfarmers operate today. Farmers have to be educated, business–savvy entrepreneurs. The positive aspects should be emphasised. The benefits of engaging in agriculture like owning the business and choosing when to work. It is essential to reform the education curriculum. This will change the mindset of the youth and motivate them to explore untapped opportunities in agriculture.
Access to credit or capital is often tied to availability of collateral, which is usually land which the young people do not have. It is important that appropriate packages are put in place by financial institutions.
It is critical for the government to improve traditional methods of production to attract youth to agriculture by mechanising agriculture.
Government needs to support young professionals or graduates from the school of agriculture to initiate their own farms. We need to have more young people , educated, employed but doing farming.
In most farmer organisations, the youth are integrated with the old yet they have varied interests. Special interest groups should be considered to create harmony and mutualism.
Agri-business incubators should be created to absorb the youth. These aspects are crucial: Value Chain development and fostering entreprenuership and farming as a business.
The writer is media and public relations officer, Uganda Biosciences Information Centre.
Additional Reporting by Denis Kabiito and Caritas Kasanaensis
SOURCE: Daily Monitor