Miss Uganda 2015 contestants listen to a facilitator (right) during their boot camp in Namulonge. One of the ways to turn agriculture attractive to the youth is make it cool. FILE PHOTO

By Stephen Kafeero
Abdul (not real name), has been an accountant for six years. For the last three months, the 31-year-old has been pondering how to invest his Shs10m savings. He wants to own a “big” farm. Yet, when it came to making the decision, a farm was not priority.
Instead, he walked into an architect’s office for a plan of three rental houses. “Once these houses are complete, I will not have to worry about paying school fees for my children,” the father of two says.

Whether he considered the option of agriculture, Abdul laughed it off as “too risky” and “expensive”.
He argues that it is hard to have a secure future in agriculture. “You need an unlimited source of revenue which I don’t have now.” His plan is to do farming when he retires. That could be in 30 or more years.
Way in or way out?
Stories like Abdul’s will inform participants at a high- level Policy and Legislative Forum on Youth in Agriculture. Discussions will focus on the theme “Engaging young people in agricultural value chains: opportunities, success stories and key policy recommendations”.
The forum, part of the sixth Annual National Youth Festival events, will centre on the pitfalls keeping young Ugandans from going into agriculture.
The common belief is that most young educated Ugandans think school is a way out of farming, not a way into it.
So, the forum will, according to Bunnya Wakibu, the Team Leader at Open Space Centre, provide an interface between youth engaged in agriculture, the private sector and policy makers “to reflect on critical policy interventions needed to attract and sustain young people in the agricultural value chains”.

Budget allocations
Experts have consistently argued that agriculture will not be attractive to the youth unless it helps them to earn good money to support a respectable standard of living.
Youth have to be offered education in agriculture, a voice at policy level and in the media, and engaged with innovations. Then, agriculture can attract youth again.
The argument for Uganda and across Africa is that public investments and enabling policies is what is needed to combat the unemployment which directly threatens stability and rural economic transformation.
Government has prioritised efforts to undertake investments that will make agriculture attractive and profitable.
To this effect, government has made significant budgetary allocations to creating jobs for youth with programmes such as Operation Wealth Creation, Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, Youth Venture Capital Fund and Youth Livelihood Programme. These prioritise agriculture as well.

Complete the chain
There have been other attempts such as getting role models to engage in farming. One of these was to include agricultural activities in the annual Miss Uganda pageant.
Despite these incentives, not as many youth are embracing agriculture.
Ms Elon Natumanya, the coordinator Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs (UPFYA), says government programmes need to have a specific component for youth to complete the value chain.
“This can be done by helping them get markets, making connections with the private sector and getting concessions with investors,” she says.
UPFYA has made a proposal to have 40 per cent ring fenced for the youth in all government projects.

Negative perceptions
Some of the commonly cited problems that stop young people from participating in agriculture include limited access or lack of land, shortage of extension services, inadequate access to financial services, scarcity of quality farm inputs, expensive machinery, limited access and or lack of markets and limited involvement in policy formulations.
Most rural youth are also moving away from agriculture due to negative perceptions of the industry as a source for employment and livelihood.
It is common for young people to sell inherited ancestral land, to buy motor cycles for boda boda or to start a trading business.
Other limiting factors include lack of positive youthful role models, awareness of opportunities and access to new knowledge on agricultural value chains.

Equip with skills
Many youth see agriculture as requiring too much effort, fraught with too many risks and not guaranteeing a “cool” modern lifestyle.
In addition to this, youth voices, interests and aspirations continue to “be missing and not well represented in development and implementation of relevant policies that affect the agricultural value chain. There is also a lack of technical knowledge and an absence of inspirational pathways for employment security,” Mr Wakibu says.
Young farmers have to be equipped with financial, business and agricultural skills that benefit themselves, their families and communities.

Fulfill dreams
Dr Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda’s former agriculture minister and current president of Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa(AGRA), perhaps said it best in an opinion published by Daily Monitor last year. “Young people will not work in agriculture simply because their parents are aging; they only will go into agriculture if our countries invest in the tools and knowledge that allow agriculture to fulfill their dreams of a more prosperous future.”