Wednesday February 12 2014

Is migration of youth bad for agriculture?

By Michael J. Ssali

Questions are often raised about the increasing migration of youths to urban centres to engage in non-agricultural employment. It is argued that when they migrate in their thousands, they deprive the sector of much needed labour.
Migration is in most cases driven by prospects of better economic gains. For a long time, farming has provided employment to a large percentage of the population and the economy is described as agriculture based. But should farming be an end in itself?

If we speak of value addition to farm products, we are talking about production of tomato sauce, maize flour, leather jackets and handbags, butter, tinned meat, and sausages, among others, which are produced in industries.
Factories and industries are key drivers in urbanisation and they are also an important part of economic development.
They need secretaries, accountants, mechanics, electricians, lawyers, cooks, drivers, all drawn from a population that is traditionally agricultural. Ideally, when cotton leaves the farm, there should be value added to it right here in Uganda.

The paradox
Factory products are sold in shops and it is shops and industries that build up towns where we must have restaurants, sports clubs, discotheques, theatres, boda-boda riders, etc.
Urbanisation comes with social evils as prostitution, drug abuse, and other forms of crime which require a bigger police force, security organs as well as a judicial system--all composed of people that would be farmers in rural areas.

Urban centres provide market for raw food products like fruits and vegetables. Eventually, we will see a Uganda where only about 10 per cent of the population will be in direct agricultural employment instead of the current 80 per cent. By then, heavy machines like tractors and computerised combine harvesters will do most of the farm work on large fields previously worked on by smallholder farmers.

The big paradox is that the more people we have in agriculture, the less agricultural production we have. Only about 5 per cent of the population in countries like US or UK is engaged in farming yet their total agricultural production is by far superior to ours.