Monday July 21 2014

Investment in agriculture can solve unemployment problem

By Davis Akampurira

Current debate in the agricultural sector is the ongoing proposal to restructure the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) programme. This has seen President Museveni post military officers to monitor and coordinate the implementation of Naads activities, including distributing planting and breeding materials.

The President has consistently preached about socio-economic transformation through agriculture using a four-acre model: high value cash crops and food crops on selected plots/acres, and backyard activities such as poultry, bee keeping, dairy, piggery, or fishing for those who live around swampy areas.

Agriculture remains the economic mainstay of more than 80 per cent of the population who mostly live in rural communities. Uganda’s agriculture is still of primitive subsistence nature with the elderly left to produce most of the foodstuff we consume, as the young and energetic people move to pursue white collar careers. There must be a radical paradigm shift where we view agriculture as a business and a means to sustainable development.

A 2008 World Bank report points out the enormous potential of agriculture in offering employment. Nationally, the agricultural sector is being prioritised, as the National Development Plan 2010-2015 identifies it as one of the core growth sectors. Despite the recognition of employment creation within the sector, youth participation in agriculture is declining. 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.

For the youth to be gainfully employed in the sector, they should be targeted depending on their aspirations and resource accessibility. The bulk of the youthful population – majority of whom are jobless and poor – should be motivated to take the lead in agriculture. The good news is that we are witnessing another kind of revolution where the corporates are abandoning the comfort of their air-conditioned offices for the villages to engage in farming.

There is a young man I visited recently at his home in Mutundwe, a Kampala suburb, and I was startled by what I saw: He earns Shs3 million a week from supply of hybrid tomatoes, fruits, cabbages, cucumber, green pepper, egg plants, etc., which he grows in greenhouses on three acres of his compound. This young man invested Shs20 million in greenhouses and water supply system.

The above case demonstrates the abundant potential of agriculture to provide both income and food security. If 60 per cent of the 400,000 youth who graduate annually from universities and other institutions took on agriculture, unemployment would be history!

What needs to be done is for the government to work in partnership with the private sector to support the youth in farming enterprises. This can be done by providing avenues and opportunities for steady or assured markets, access to credit, value addition chains, agricultural insurance, warehouse receipting, etc. The government should also expedite infrastructural developments, mainly the roads to facilitate speedy transportation of agricultural products to markets.

The recent restructuring of the Naads programme should focus more on the youth component in commercial agriculture. Initially, Naads was designed to provide support to youth and women in the quest for socio-economic transformation by transforming rural subsistence farmers to modern farmers. This, unfortunately, hasn’t been the case as the programme has been riddled with corruption and mismanagement, leading to the disfranchisement of the intended beneficiaries - women and youth.

Mr Akampurira is secretary, External Affairs at National Youth Council.