Although Uganda has enjoyed relatively high economic growth rates over the past decade, formal job creation has been lower than the rate at which the labour force is growing.
Challenges still remain on bridging the gap between economic growth and jobs creation and in turn address the growing unemployment especially among the youth
With a high population growth rate of 3.2 per cent per annum, Uganda is going through a young population bulge with close to 78 per cent of its population below 30.
Levels of unemployment
The youth (18-30 years) represent approximately 21 per cent (close to 7 million) of the population and they comprise about 64 percent of the unemployed. In 2011/2012, youth unemployment rate stood at 5.1 per cent, above the unemployment rate of 1.9 per cent amongst those aged 31-64 years and was even higher among the youth in greater Kampala areas at 15 percent.
Levels of underemployment, vulnerable employment are even higher than the above levels of unemployment since only a few youth can afford to remain unemployed – they often engage in part time work even for a few hours just to make ends meet.
It is thus not surprising that there are high levels of working poor, that is, those who are employed but they live below the poverty line. Creating decent employment opportunities for this rapidly increasing youthful labour force has reached a level of priority for Uganda’s development agenda.
It is also evident from the Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) data that the youth are more at a disadvantage in securing gainful employment today compared to six years ago.
While many still view formal job creation in the formal wage sector as the solution to youth unemployment, prospects of finding this kind of employment is limited as the number of people entering the labour force far outweighs the number of jobs available in the formal wage sector.
That creation of non-agricultural jobs may not happen in the short run; as such agriculture is likely to continue being a source of employment and livelihood in the medium- to long-term especially for countries that heavily depend on agriculture.
A 2008 World Bank points out the enormous potential of agriculture in offering employment. Nationally, the agricultural sector is being prioritised, indeed the National Development Plan (NDP) 2010-2015 identifies it as one of the core growth sectors.
Despite the recognition of employment creation within the sector, youth participation in agriculture especially as farmers is declining not only in Uganda but in other African countries alike.
Apparently, the agriculture sector is not looked at as a viable sector of employment and remains highly unattractive to the youth due to the risks, intensive nature and low profitability.
Most of the youth engaged in agriculture are vulnerably employed as own account workers and contributing family workers with little or no income accruing to them. While the exodus of the youth from the sector might seem to be higher, most youth continue to derive their livelihood from agriculture.
Some would argue that this movement is a sign of structural transformation of the economy; but the pattern has not brought with it the required job growth needed to absorb the increasing young labour force and as such high levels of underemployment are being experienced in the services and industrial sectors.
Despite its low growth rates and declining share in terms of contribution to GDP, agriculture remains the mainstay for both skilled and unskilled labour, at least in the short- and medium-term and could be a viable solution to tackling Uganda’s rising youth unemployment as the industrial sector picks pace.
Thus attracting and maintaining the youth in agriculture does not only mean improvements in the on-going unemployment levels but will enhance exploiting their capabilities for national development in terms of increased agricultural outputs and productivity.
Achieving this would require critical understanding of the challenges faced by the youth at the production node of the vale chain and the prospects of youth engagement in agriculture.
We believe that for the youth to be gainfully employed in the agriculture sector, they should be targeted depending on their aspirations and resource accessibility.
A large number of young people are likely to remain on the family land holdings. Such a category have access to land, but need skills and capital to invest in high-valued agricultural enterprises like coffee.
There is a group of young people who need assistance to leave their childhood farms, and set-up new and relatively larger farms.
Identifying new holdings for occupation in localities where the young people are presently leaving can be an option in regions like mid-Northern Uganda, with vast unoccupied fertile land.
But the operationalisation of this option requires careful consultations with all stakeholders; having effective support services and adequate investment in infrastructure.
The remaining category would engage in off-farm agricultural activities, and job outturns from primary marketing of agricultural products, and formal or informal wage employment on large commercial farms or on small farms during labour peak seasons ; in processing and services sectors; resulting from expanded agricultural activities in the rural areas and growth in the rural private sector.