Wednesday June 18 2014

Time to revive young farmers’ clubs

By Andrew Ndawula Kalema

Young people can come up with the craziest ideas. Take, for instance, this student doing kyeyo at my farm, who suggested we graft a mango scion on an orange root stock, and see what happens. While his more enlightened friends laughed off the naïve suggestion, I did not. It reminded me of the crazy experiments I carried out when I was his age.

Once I tried crossing a rabbit with a dog. The experiment ended in a disaster; a loss of my precious rabbit. A cousin managed to cross an eggplant with a garden egg to get what he called birintula.

Space to experiment
Every young farmer goes through that stage of experimenting with different ideas to discover what works and what does not. It is a crucial stage in the long and winding journey to becoming a successful farmer. These experiments have inspired many innovations.

Unfortunately for young farmers in Uganda, opportunities to experiment are very few. Back in the day, there were Young Farmers Clubs.
Introduced by the colonial government, these clubs offered an opportunity to discover the wonderful world of farming.

For those who did not study agriculture, it was through these clubs that we were introduced to the principles of agriculture that still guide us today.

You can easily tell a farmer who once belonged to a Young Farmers Club. They are more innovative.

A crisis on our hands
Young Farmers Clubs brought together young people with a passion for farming to develop it into a career or hobby. Under the guidance of the agriculture teacher and local extension service providers, members engaged in different activities, acquiring skills that would later be handy in their lives.

Using school land, they produced a variety of crops and reared animals, which they sold off to raise money for club activities. These included visiting model farmers and agriculture shows for inspiration and new ideas.

Schools today are obsessed with academic performance, with no time and resources for extra-curricular activities such as farming. As a result of this obsession, at the expense of non-examinable extra-curricular activities, the country is facing a crisis of high unemployment among the youth.
Food security is also threatened by acute labour shortages in the agriculture sector, which is the economic mainstay. What an irony!
Can Young Farmers Clubs still make a positive contribution to developing Uganda’s agriculture sector?

For the answer, we need to look at the countries where Young Farmers Clubs started, and they still play a crucial role. Let us start with our former colonisers, the British, who introduced the movement in Uganda.
In UK, they are among the largest youth organisations dedicated to those who are passionate about agriculture and rural life. Led by young people for young people, they provide their members, aged 10 to 26, with a unique opportunity to develop skills, work with their local communities, travel abroad, participate in various farm-oriented competitions and enjoy a dynamic social life.

There are 644 Young Farmers’ Clubs in England and Wales. You do not need to be involved in farming to be a Young Farmer--just someone who appreciates the countryside and enjoys rural life.

Crucial opportunities
Scottish Association of Young Farmers brings together young people in rural Scotland who are interested in agriculture, offering them opportunities for personal development.

To accommodate members who are interested in farming, but do not work, live or come from a farming background, it changed its motto from “Better Farmers, Better Countrymen, Better Citizens” to “Not just for those who wear wellies” (boots).

The movement keeps a busy calendar of activities ranging from livestock judging and art and craft competitions to sports events, drama, farm/producer visits and dances.
Besides making them better farmers, the clubs provide crucial social networking opportunities.

Events at all levels—national, regional, district and club—offer opportunities to create new friendships that, in many cases, last a lifetime.
Through their clubs, the young farmers participate in developing their communities, from donating their labour to revamping community gardens, donating blood or raising funds for various noble causes.

My suggestion
Back home in Uganda, there is an ongoing debate on where to put the money, which government has been giving to Naads to lift farmers out of poverty. Several suggestions have been made, including giving the task of lifting farmers out of poverty to UPDF veterans.
In my opinion, the money should be allocated to two ministries of education and agriculture, to jointly revive the Young Farmers Clubs.
Doing so will help solve two problems; unemployment among the youth and labour shortages in the agriculture sector.
Reviving the Young Farmers Clubs movement will see more youth engage in farming while at the same time boosting agriculture production in the country.

The author is a farming journalist and a consultant.