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Digital technology uses machinery and scientific knowledge to reduce intensive labor while increasing agricultural production. The technology has significantly contributed to the sector monitoring crop growth using sensors, disease diagnoses with web-based applications, and mobile phones and radios as learning tools for instructions and information (Manalo IV et al., 2019). As agriculture is critical in poverty reduction employing lots of people in the sector, unemployment is still one of the challenges facing many farmers, particularly youth, accounting for around 200 million aged 15-24 years who seem to be jobless in the area (Luc Christiaen and Senkaren Brooks, 2018).
Why is agriculture not attractive to youth?
With the adoption of Agenda 2063 by the African Union (AU) in 2013, the intention of increased productivity through modernized agriculture could have brought positive contributions to new jobs and influenced more youth to engage in agriculture (Smidt & Jokonya, 2022). Some factors such as school transition, limited access to resources, low returns, poor infrastructure, technical knowledge, seasonal variations, poor support, digital divide, and lack of incentives impede youth from engaging in agriculture. These factors are clarified as follows;
School transition: Agriculture being the source of income employing more than 65% (Olivia et al., 2017) of people in the sector, it has not been positively accepted and appreciated by the youth. This is because farming was perceived as punishment in schools when students show bad attitudes remaining in the mind of most youth that farming is terrible. So they grow up knowing that it is something not appealing to them. Luckily, Minister for Agriculture in Tanzania recently advised the Minister for Education to stop taking students for farming-related accomplishments at schools to avoid believing farming is dangerous. Moreover, the general curricula have not indicated how agriculture can help youth as a career but for parents, old, poor, and rural people. Agriculture is taken as a final option when all other options have failed.
Access to land: Most government and political leaders keep insisting that youth should not depend on government employment but look for self-reliance. On the other hand, no initiatives to support engaging in the sector due; to limited access to land as most youth depend on small pieces given by parents. And for married women whose husbands own land yet can’t utilize it fully because they have no control over it. This is one of the hindrances to youth participation in agricultural investment.
Low returns: Most traditional crops take longer to mature and have lower productivity, discouraging youth as they always prefer faster returns within a short time. To overcome this is by growing improved seed varieties that most cannot afford due to low financial capacity and technical know-how.
Seasonality variability: Longer harvest seasons associated with rain seasons and type of crop varieties would lead to periods with no money circulation. Since youth prefer faster money, they end up with small businesses such as motorbiking as they get cash nearly throughout the week despite being little and risky business.
Unreliable markets: Concentrating on a few staple crops is influenced by poor marketing strategies. Farmers could diversify their farming practices only when there is access to reliable markets rather than investing in the little they have and then getting losses on the farms.
Poor Infrastructure: Low investment in the roads, mechanizations, storage facilities, and processing plants is a source of failure in the agricultural value chains. Insufficient innovations result in local and traditional methods not being effective in the whole process of production.
Limited access to technology: Under-utilization of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)in the agricultural value chain is another setback in youth engagement in the sector. For instance, despite recent advancements in the internet, not everyone can afford the cost. The best way could be government support in collaboration with other service providers to supply the service at an affordable cost. Additionally, ensure service availability and accessibility by a majority while creating awareness among youth on positive utilization of online platforms as some would spend time doing unnecessary watching.
Financial challenges: Similarly, youth have limited access to financial services that could facilitate purchasing agricultural input or attending training out of their localities. A few who dedicate little effort to farming still face other barriers such as poor knowledge and lack of incentives to boost the practices in possible modalities.
What are possibilities?
As the world population keeps growing, it comes with embarrassing situations such as food insecurity, price rise, hunger, poverty, and related issues. With advanced technology, digital agriculture remains the best solution to curb this crisis. Some options that can accelerate the transformation of agricultural activities into a sustainable business and encourage more youth to participate include the following rapid urbanization, changes in consumers behaviors, increased access to international markets, advanced technology with modernized equipment, innovations at country levels, availability of information on the media platforms, improved training from different stakeholders and related supports. Additionally, with the technology adoption, farmers are informed of mechanized operations, access to information related to crop varieties, quality seeds, reliable and affordable equipment, and low-cost inputs.
Internet applications and mobile phones simplified communications while creating opportunities for numerous solutions against agricultural challenges. For instance, farmers particularly youth have been able to share agricultural products over the internet through social platforms and digital channels and access markets for the same. For example, Chhota Internet influences content delivery and dissemination by providing internet connectivity in rural India. It supports the digital revolution and enables free internet access to farmers for possible dissemination of information.
Through digital technology, the market barriers are addressed. Digital technology influences access to extension and advisory services, reducing transport costs and loss while creating value addition potential. However, a digital divide is still a roadblock among many farmers due to limited knowledge, infrastructure, and access to digital technologies. Some projects in Egypt and Niger through International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD supported farmers to improve production through drip irrigation technology with groundwater bringing youth into the systems.
What should be done?
Governance and institutional support are required to support youth with knowledge in groups, associations, individuals, or at the family level and provide them with loans that could aid in purchasing inputs, irrigation equipment, and access to digital platforms for more skills.
Political wiliness must consider youth and other marginalized groups with agricultural innovations that is inclusive, supportive, and manageable but also positively adopt the technology revolution through digital development, giving access to everyone despite location and financial status. Moreover, policies should enable access to financial support through loans with low interests considering that most youths are fresh from school. Also, the government could support youth by either creating market opportunities for them or buying their products and also rebrand the sector while showing its potential.
Capacity building: Apart from creating awareness among youth about the agricultural value and supporting them financially and technically, there is a need to specialize in at least one stage of the value chain than trying everything in the sector. Being proficient in processing with clear and correct branding would add value to the markets.
Enhancing access to digital technology: This has to do with the availability of information online and accessibility to a wider outreach. For instance, if free farming platforms are available, people would use them, and through their digital devices youth could publish different initiatives and challenges while others could learn.
Considering youth perspectives and ideas is crucial for adoption and engagement in agriculture. Policymakers must formulate user-friend and inclusive policies that will materialize and be successfully implemented on the ground while unlocking farming practices in a unique style than what previous generations did. Additionally, agriculture must appeal to the younger generation and influence youth to see its potential from low to higher educational levels.
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