On the 4th of November, I, among other youths from the East African Community (EAC) gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to deliberate on our involvement in agriculture. The outcomes of this pre-symposium were designed to feed into the International Symposium and Exhibition on Agricultural Development in the EAC partner states. All the EAC member states will have attained 50 years of independence by the end of the year. It was thus pivotal that progress made in agriculture in the past be evaluated and forge plans for the future. In doing this, our role in agriculture could not be overlooked. We shared our experiences in production, value addition, agribusiness, inputs supply and innovations in agriculture. It was evident that youths involved in agriculture were making considerable strides despite the numerous challenges we faced. Some of the major challenges discussed included access to credit, competition from larger companies for start-ups, market access and bureaucracies in licensing and obtaining information.
Nonetheless, the pre-symposium begged the question, why should more youth be involved in agriculture and secondly, why were they shying away from the trade? Several attempts were made to answer these questions.
It was noted that the East African region boasts of the youngest population in the world. More than 60% of the population consists of persons between 0-24 years. Uganda leads the pack with this age group consisting of 73 % of its population. It is this bulging youth population that necessitates changes in the way development is approached. This change is further made crucial by projections showing population growth in the next 30 years in all EAC member states will occur in the urban areas. Hence, the need to increase food supply to these areas is inevitable. Given that all the member states hope to achieve middle income status by the year 2040, it is reasonable to assume that the demand for animal protein will increase as the middle class increases.
In order to feed the growing population in the cities, there is need to focus on the rural youth. The rural youth have the golden opportunity of supplying urban areas with food given the availability of large tracts of arable land in the rural areas as opposed to the cities. However, much of this land is owned by the older population. The average age of arable land tenure in the member states is between 50 and 60 years. Kenya leads the pack with the average farmer being 57 years old. It is these dynamics that need due consideration in planning food and nutrition security programmes.
It was also duly noted that development in the region highly favoured urban development as opposed to rural development. This was seen as the major driver of rural-urban migration. A dwindling able-bodied population in the rural areas poses a great barrier to production of food. Furthermore, there is only a 20% chance of the youth gaining meaningful employment in the cities. It is thus crucial that the youth be more involved in agriculture not only for their welfare but for the food security of EAC inhabitants, especially in the city. However, in order to achieve this, there is need to focus on rural development. Improving the state of the roads and networks in the rural areas would greatly improve food distribution channels and mechanisms. Furthermore, efforts in infrastructure developments such as rural electrification would attract agro-based industries to the rural areas as the proximity to raw materials would greatly reduce costs of production. Such improvements would inevitably reduce rural-urban migration and furthermore, attract and retain the youth in agriculture.
All in all, on the podium, the pre-symposium concluded that it is no longer important that the youth be involved in Food and Nutrition security programmes. It is imperative. However, off the podium, there was general scepticism among the youth participants as to whether this would be realized in the near future.
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