After hosting several visitors at the farm, both Ugandans and non-Ugandans, Andrew Ndawula Kalema wrote in a recent article (Daily Monitor, May 7, 2014) that the unemployment crisis has little to do with lack of jobs. He provided great insights and gave great advice to youth to consider farming as a career. However, I was discontented with the title of the article. “No job? Then start farming”. It seemed to suggest that farming is not a job.
If it is not a job, then what is it? I believe that farming is a noble job; one that feeds billions of people around the world. Without farms, people do not eat. Working on a farm is a good job like any other, it is hard work but very satisfying. Farming fits the various definitions of a job. So, we can conclude that farming is a job and a great career choice.
If farming was portrayed as such, I believe the youth would exploit its enormous opportunities. Many do not see it as glamorous and thus find it unappealing. They are busy competing for jobs as doctors, lawyers, accountants, among others.
But agriculture is a very exciting sector to be involved in. Ages ago, it was just physical work that determined a successful farmer. But, to be a successful farmer today, you need a diversity of skills in human resource, marketing, accounting, even computer skills. You need to have an eye on margins and costs, know how to recruit and retain labour, and how to sell at a profit.
Jobs for the future
We do not have many successful farmers under 35. The youth that have ventured into agriculture have done so after other options of employment have failed. For others, the interest in making a living from farming may have come out of a sense of obligation.
Youth make up about a fifth of the total population in many developing countries. Uganda has the youngest population in the world with a very high fertility rate of nearly seven children per woman.
The annual population growth is at 3.2 percent. By 2025, it will be at 58 million with more than half comprised of young people. There will not be enough jobs for everyone. Where will the youth get jobs if farming is not taken seriously as a job?
Instead of wasting time in search of jobs in government and other institutions, the youth should consider farming, even if it means volunteering at someone’s farm in order to get the necessary experience. I know a number of people who started off working as labourers on other people’s farms. Today, they are running profitable farm enterprises.
As a farmer entrepreneur myself, I feel a sense of accomplishment in what I do. It started as a passion, and then into a business and a job that pays well. It is not different from my previous jobs. I still use my skills and much more, a combination which includes marketing and sales, people skills, planning and budgeting, and accounting.
The author is owner JB Farm and CEO, Uganda Chamber of Commerce for Small and Medium Enterprises.
SUGGESTIONS ON WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
The youth need to be exposed to the various opportunities in agriculture. With the challenges of climate change, food and water security, there has never been a greater need for innovative and sustainable farming.
But the industry is facing a severe shortage of new recruits.
Image and perception
More can be done in schools to promote farming as a career choice, and to make better links between subjects such as agriculture, geography or chemistry and their practical applications in farming.
Farming is profitable
We have to portray farming as profitable. The financial rewards have increased, and this should be used to fuel optimism about farming.
However, it is important to encourage youth to have good business acumen.
Highlight stories of young successful farmers who have lucrative enterprises. This would arouse interest in agriculture.
Young farmers need more inspiring tales focusing on the satisfaction and financial rewards.
Stories that communicate these aspects of farming can also attract those who can make a positive social and environmental impact.
Education and training
The education system needs to expose youth to key skills. Most agricultural courses offer theory and principles and less practicability.
Establishing career progression routes would also make farming attractive. Talent and skill must be rewarded if the industry is to get people with ambition and entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the biggest entry barriers is the cost. There is need for support from government and other key stakeholders such as financial institutions.
Agricultural loans that incorporate elements like “farming grace periods” can tremendously increase interest.