Last week, the World Bank Group in Uganda released the 14th Edition of the Uganda Economic Update whose focus was on Strengthening Social Protection to Reduce Vulnerability and Promote Inclusive Growth.
It clearly states that although the agriculture sector accounted for only 1.2 per cent of the growth rate of 6.5 per cent in financial year 2018/19, the sector’s importance for livelihoods, poverty reduction and the broader economy is much greater. Agriculture-based products accounted for about 45 per cent of exports in the financial year 2018/2019. The sector also employs about 64 per cent of Ugandans (and 72 per cent of young Ugandans).
While various opportunities exist in all sectors of national and Africa’s economy, agriculture remains the largest employer of Africa’s population (more than 70 per cent) and growing, more than 80 per cent of the continent’s population is dependent on the agriculture sector for livelihood.
It is, therefore, imperative to transform the sector and empower the local population to support themselves economically and later transition to other sector such as service and manufacturing.
Because it is estimated that Africa’s population will more than double from the current approximately 1.3 billion by 2050, the young population with youth between 15 and 35 years constituting more than 60 per cent of the population and representing 19 per cent of the world’s population will not only need food, but employment too.
Agriculture will, therefore, remain an important sector to provide this food and also remain the highest employment potential through which business can be established by young people to provide goods and services.
As a result of the wave of urbanisation and geographical borders, consumer preference is predicted to change to more value-added and packaged food, revolutionalising agriculture through engineering, manufacturing and ICTs across the agricultural value chain to make it ‘cool’ and more attractive to the youth is imperative.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that by last year, the youth unemployment rate in Africa was as high as 31 per cent. This has resulted in social unrest, increased crime, migration crisis hence causing Africa to lag behind in the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) and Agenda 2063 of the Africa we want.
While youth unemployment affects both young men and women, disparities exist in the causes and impact of unemployment with young women generally having lower levels of education and skills and, therefore, accessing lower quality and lower paying jobs. Also the biological and social constructs related to child bearing, the discriminatory practices, stereotypes around some jobs and mobility constraints influence female access to employment.
On the other hand, specific barriers for young men include the pressure on them as sole income earners, the perception that unemployed young men are involved in illegal activities, barriers linked to armed recruitment in post-conflict settings as well as accessing financial services, are some of the realties to be addressed to eliminate gender disparities in youth employment to effectively harness the youth dividend as a driver to future development.
Engaging young people in Uganda to shape how they envisage the future of agriculture becomes priority because they are the direct beneficiaries and the immediate agriculture leaders.
Even if youth participation in agriculture is low because of the perceptions that it is dirty and tiring, for many, the technical skills are still lacking too as they view agriculture as merely smallholder cultivation and rearing of animals.
Many do not see opportunities in commercialisation. Young Ugandans need more resourced spaces where they can share ideas and access mentorship on intensive commercial agriculture. They also need access to relevant and timely information to enable informed decision making.
There is an urgent need to tap into ‘their spaces’ and emerging channels to support uptake of agriculture technologies.