Young people in Agriculture: Aspirations and Value Chains

By Alice Marks

Visiting the agricultural development projects supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Mozambique, I was amazed by the number of young faces I saw in the villages. However, the resounding sentiment is that young people do not want to be farmers.  This is causing deep concern amongst many over how to keep the growing youth of Mozambique in agriculture. With the 11th highest birth rate in the world, and a growth rate of 2.45% a year, the population of Mozambique is growing, fast. More food will soon be needed to sustain the expanding population.

Young farmers

Young farmers in Mozambique

The aspirations of young Mozambicans are changing.  They don’t want to endure the same backbreaking agricultural work of their parents and prefer instead to seek office work in the cities. Mozambique now has an urbanisation rate of 3.05% per year, but whilst rural to urban migration of young people raises concerns, it may also provide opportunities. There are many prospects for young Mozambicans in the expanding agricultural sector to earn a better living and contribute to the countries food security.

But how can the agricultural sector engage with Mozambique’s growing youth?

Aspirations

To better understand how to engage youth in agriculture, it helps to appreciate the aspirations of young people from their perspective.  Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) are trying to do just that. An AKF program manager told me about their work with young Mozambicans “When we ask what type of job they want, young people all say the same thing: They all want to be police officers. No one ever says ‘farmer’”.

According to forthcoming research from AKF, young people want jobs that offer them a reliable income. They expect leisure time and aspire to have jobs out of the discomfort of the hot African sun. The income of a self-employed farmer is less reliable than a regular salary and people fear being at the mercy of the unpredictable and changing climate. While some farmers associations offer better access to loans which can reduce agriculture’s inherent risks, many people are still fearful of debt.

Training as Empowerment

According to AGRA, education and training along the value chain may help to engage the youth. Agriculture can be a dynamic sector, but potential young entrepreneurs need the intellectual and practical tools to establish their businesses along the agricultural value chain.  For example, if a young person has access to credit and a basic knowledge of engineering they could build and run a simple piece of machinery, like the husking machine invented by Senegalese entrepreneur Sanoussi Diakite, described in The Montpellier Panel’s 2014 report Small and Growing. Engaging with the agricultural value chain and adding value at different stages can allow diversification from the traditional agricultural model.

Young men employed by Nzara Yapera seed company

Young men employed by Nzara Yapera seed company

I visited the AGRA-supported Sementes Nzara Yapera seed company in Catandica. Co-owners Elizabeth and Peter benefitted from training from AGRA through their Program for Africa’s Seed System. Elizabeth proudly told me how she employs, trains and retains young staff. She believes strongly in education and training because she used to be a teacher before moving into agriculture in 1999. She told me “because we give them training, we maintain our workers. Some of them have worked for me for six years now.”

Investment and Support

A study by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) indicates that agriculture appeals most when investment creates a sector viewed as having the scope to modernise. The perception of agriculture as the “employer of the last resort” diminishes when investment in education is implemented alongside improved infrastructure, links to markets and a supportive policy environment. Inspiring role models can help spark interest and provide examples for young people. Prosperity, according to IDS, requires clear pathways through education into useful and secure employment.

I left Mozambique with the sentiment that people do have hope for the future of agriculture. Developments in educational and agricultural training institutions, combined with increased investment in infrastructure would improve the prospects for a future where Mozambique’s agricultural sector can feed and employ its growing population. Giving young people the tools, business training and technological skills to be employed or self-employed in the agricultural sector would make agriculture more attractive to the younger, more innovative minds of Mozambique.

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