Friday, 16 January 2015

Youth in Agriculture: for business, not for food

With the rising youth unemployment in Africa, young Ghanaians could find opportunities in the agricultural sector as entrepreneurs; but they lack the means and the space to do so. The perception of agriculture as a mere farming for food needs to change to viewing agriculture as viable businesses within its value chains. This was the outcome of a one day participatory youth workshop held at the AgriHub Ghana Knowledge Space, on the last weekend hosted by Syecomp Ghana Ltd., and organized by the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN), Ghana and the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) Ghana chapters.
Through a Sir Peter Elworthy research grant from Oxfords’ Rhodes scholarships, Ms. Grace Mwaura collaborated with youth organizations and the AgriHub to organize the research workshop aiming at understanding the role of young Ghanaians in country-level agricultural development programmes. Participants were selected from a diverse group of young people drawn from different career backgrounds representing unemployed graduates, youth activists, IT experts, extension officers, teachers, and youth programme coordinators among others.
This research builds on the increasing interest among the international development community to understand the contexts of youth in agriculture, in a continent where half of its population is below 25 years and a majority are unemployed. The research shall provide empirical evidence on feasible pathways of engaging young Ghanaians in agribusiness. It further contributes to the AgriHub’s core mandate of providing evidence-based advice to youth in agriculture programmes in the West Africa region.
Agribusiness remains the main entry point for young people into Ghana’s agriculture sector. It could significantly reduce youth unemployment which is approximated at 40%, especially in rural areas. The major challenge to establishing an agribusiness enterprise in Ghana, however, remains the lack of skills, access to capital, land, inputs, and other productive resources, and the unfavourable policy environment. Even with a very good agribusiness idea, most young people struggle with where to access the knowledge and skills on agriculture value chains, access financing, access markets, and manage risks of the agricultural sector like changing weather patterns, price fluctuations, post-harvest losses among others.
This notwithstanding, Ghana’s youth are far from changing their perceptions on agriculture as a meaningful work opportunity relative to white collar employment. Most of them still view agriculture, not as a lucrative business venture, but as a mean occupation for the uneducated, rural poor people. Few take the initiative to acquire knowledge on the sector, understand the government investments in the sector (especially those targeting youth), or even learn from those few who are already involved in the sector. Some would rather remain jobless than soil their hands with farm labour that is not rewarding. To change these perceptions, rebranding of agriculture needs to occur from a very early age of someone’s life. The 4-H programme in Ghana is assisting in changing young learners perceptions of agriculture by targeting school going children between the ages of 6-25 years. The programme helped schools establish school gardens that are used as learning tools, produce food for the school, and eventually become learning grounds for the parents and the wider community. The project has been ongoing in the Eastern region for the past three years.
AgriHub Ghana Knowledge Space serves multiple purposes of changing the attitudes of young people towards agriculture, equipping them with skills, exposing them to innovations in the agricultural sector, and connecting them with sources of productive resources for instance financing, land, and other productive resources. The space shall also provide a platform for dialogue on the agricultural sector policies and collaborate with policy makers in ensuring the voices of young people are heard.
Farmer groups were lauded as having potential to enable young people access capital from financial institutions, acquire land as an enterprise, and bargain for better prices on the input and output markets. But few youth are willing to join existing farmer groups given their lack of farmland, and knowledge on how these cooperatives operate. There is however, untapped potential in assisting young farmers form their own cooperatives that address their key obstacles in agribusiness including access to finance, markets, skills training, and land.
It is more evident than ever that the impacts of climate change have accelerated, and these will continue affecting development sectors, agriculture being the worst affected. How then do prospective young farmers respond to the impacts of a changing climate on agriculture? Participants discussed the feasibility of green jobs in the agricultural sector and viable climate smart agribusinesses they could engage in, and the kind of support mechanisms that shall be required to realize this. To enable young people become climate smart entrepreneurs, investments shall be required in equipping them with  new skills set, ensuring an enabling policy environment at a national and local level, and providing start up capitals for their green enterprises. A few examples of climate-smart farming already exists in Ghana, but very little has been documented.
The AgriHub opened its doors to the young people willing to undertake research in the agriculture sector, particularly in documenting the green jobs available in the country. Prospective young farmers were invited to become incubatees while partners are being sought to provide training and materials to the AgriHub to advance its mandate of agricultural information brokering and agribusiness development. Other platforms where young people could build their capacity and build networks to support their agri-enterprising ideas included the Global Youth Innovation Network, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, and the Honey Project.

First published by Agricing Ghana

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