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Five ways of engaging the youth in agriculture

BY Yared Mammo
Young peoples’ affinity with ICTs and their ability to innovate is the key to moving mAgriculture forward and attracting the youth to the agricultural sector in ACP countries.

mAgriculture, the use of mobile platforms and applications by agricultural smallholders, has been welcomed in developing countries since its introduction more than a decade ago. As the coverage of mobile networks increases in ACP countries, the discussion on introducing mobile applications in the agricultural sector has moved from ‘whether’ to ‘how’.

Mobile finance and value-added information services are an obvious and promising example of the many new mAgriculture initiatives. Indeed, mobile money has great transformative potential and could change entire economies in the ACP region if introduced broadly across sectors such as agriculture, commerce and health care.

The youth will play a major role in the further growth of mAgriculture as young people have a natural affinity with ICTs. Indeed, to a certain extent mAgriculture is banking on the youth to move it forward. But keeping young people, the next generation of farmers, involved in agriculture is an intricate problem and involves more than merely replacing old farmers with new. It is about rejuvenating smallholder agriculture as a whole, and accepting the youth as today’s partners and tomorrow’s development architects. Providing training and farm inputs is not enough to attract these young people to a career in agriculture. Rather, they should be supported with easy access to information and markets through the use of mobile technology.

Mobilizing the youth     

 
Many young farmers in developing countries are aware that agriculture can be a worthwhile business that could earn them a good livelihood. Still, many of them are leaving their families’ farms for an uncertain future in the city. ICTs are a way of changing this trend, according to Youth, ICTs and Agriculture, a report published in November 2013 by the non-profit foundation IICD (see box).

Efforts to improve ‘access to market information, production techniques, new technologies and financing opportunities’ are a start, but they should be complemented by seizing ‘the youth’s affinity for using ICTs, their capacity to innovate and their propensity for taking higher entrepreneurial risks’.
Another way of changing this trend it to change the perception of agriculture. In Ethiopia, for example, it has been more than half a century since agriculture was introduced as a topic of study at the university level. Yet students are still reluctant to join the agricultural sector.

Five areas of change    

Universities, governments and international partners must give smallholder farmers more recognition and support them by giving them better access to market information, developing tailored mobile applications and training farmers in their use. The youth will only be attracted to agriculture once smallholders tangibly improve their livelihoods and if policy makers, planners and professionals are the drivers of change. There are five main areas of focus.

  • First, the focus must shift away from the affordability and accessibility of mobile phones, networks and applications. The agricultural sector’s biggest problem is not a lack of resources. What it lacks, and what farmers need, are better ways of accessing markets to sell produce. And there are too few applications around that target farmers’ specific needs.
  • Second, a substantial part of the national budgets in African countries is spent on developing agricultural sectors, mostly by supplying farmers with improved seeds, fertilizers and information on how to use them. However, budgets are rarely allocated to the development of mobile applications that promote inclusive agricultural value chains.
  • Realistic budgets targeted at developing and rolling out mobile applications would transform smallholder agriculture by empowering farmers with knowledge related to their produce and putting them in better bargaining positions.
  • Third, even if smallholder farmers are given better seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs, and even if they are given access to information on how to improve productivity, they can still only improve their livelihoods and contribute to global food security if they are able to sell their produce. Providing market information to farmers and securing their access to national and international markets should be a top priority in any mAgriculture government policy.
  • Fourth, farmers across the world have one thing in common: their information needs fluctuate according to the agricultural calendar, and according to global developments in agriculture. Understanding that these kinds of factors determine smallholders’ needs for knowledge and information is half the battle in developing mobile applications for agricultural information services. So to understand exactly how mAgriculture can work most effectively in given circumstances it is important to carefully analyse the information needs of all those in the agricultural value chain.
  • Take India, for example. For the past 30 years, the focus there has been on increasing farm productivity. Today, India’s agriculture has entered a post-green revolution stage and farmers’ demands for agricultural information have been changing and diversifying. Their main concern has shifted from higher farm production to higher and better returns on their investments. As a result, their interest has moved from technical information to market prices and information that could add value to their produce.
  • And fifth, resources need to be pooled so people can experiment with new support structures and different forms of partnership, such as public–private, public–private–NGO and private–private at the local, national, regional and international levels. For example, value-added applications can be developed by private individuals, students, university researchers, NGO staff and software solution firms.
  • These developers need to team up with traditional government services, such as extension services, marketing boards and the telecom companies, all of which have the capacity to scale-up the use of mobile applications, in particular in remote rural areas. These kinds of partnerships will ensure that we get the best of both worlds.

ICTs and young farmers in western Kenya   

Youth, ICTs and Agriculture based its findings on research in western Kenya. It examined how the use of ICTs in farming there affected the interest of youth in agriculture. The farmers interviewed were between 24 and 38 years old, 80% male and 20% female. Of these, 65% had completed secondary education and 15% had completed a degree at a college or university.

As many as 90% of those interviewed used ICTs on their farms. The ICT tools used most often were Excel and Word; the internet (computer and mobile); FrontlineSMS; video, radio and TV; and online newspapers, magazines and brochures.

One of the report’s most interesting discoveries was a difference in attitude towards ICTs and agriculture among single farmers and farmers who are married and have children. Single farmers initially view ICTs as a gateway to better jobs and employment outside farming, according to the report. Young farmers with families, on the other hand, immediately focus on using ICTs to improve productivity and profitability.

The report’s complete findings and recommendations can be found on  http://goo.gl/6bvWZy .

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of  ICT UPDATE BY CTA

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Increased agricultural investments in Africa, an absolute necessity

 

Ten years ago, African leaders peered into the future and decided to plan ahead. They agreed to invest at least 10% of their national budgets into Agriculture in what is called the Maputo Declaration. Unfortunately, so far, only a handful of countries have lived up to that promise.

These include Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali and Burkina-Faso. Others, in contrast, are yet to fulfill this agreement. Nigeria, for example, has reduced its allocation annually, with a mere 1.47% allocated to agriculture in the year 2014. The question, therefore, is what needs to be done?

Poverty, hunger, food insecurity and wastage are sadly characteristics that African countries – like Nigeria my country – all have in common. This is indeed sad because Africa is blessed with all we require to feed ourselves and the rest of the world. Aside this is the increasing youth unemployment that is becoming an increasing burden to our economies. All these are issues we all know and have many times discussed. But of course we cannot keep dwelling on problems.

Less talk, more action

So let’s talk about solutions. In my opinion, the examples of successful African countries need to be studied carefully and, if possible, copied. The viable policies, implementation plans, programs and projects underpinning these successes should be replicated especially among countries in the same region with similar socioeconomic conditions. There is also a need to move from paying lip service to actions that show a true sense of commitment to agricultural investment. As a young person I must mention the need for viable empowerment programmes for the youth in agriculture.

Solutions driven policies

Governments need to pay attention to the next generation of farmers who are highly energetic and also interestingly trying to find a path in the sector. This will also help dispel some of the negative impressions around agriculture. Our leaders need to develop solution driven policies that will create an enabling environment for these young people looking to create a future through farming.

They also need to develop partnerships and collaborations with the private sector for the capacity-building of youth and women in agriculture, develop the value chain, improve access to market locally, regionally and globally. Governments also need to be proactive in providing infrastructure that make rural economies beneficial for agri-producers and other rural dwellers. Of course a better ICT-driven extension service that will let all players in the sector have prompt access to needed information is also of high importance.

In investing in agriculture, African countries have a lot to benefit. Poverty alleviation, massive employment generation, women empowerment, foreign exchange and trade, quality nutrition for citizens and of course the ability to not only feed themselves but others. Doing agriculture by increasing investment in the sector should not be an option; it is indeed a necessity that must be paid attention to more than ever before. Our leaders need to move on from just admitting agriculture is important but also take all required action to increase investment and transform the sector. They just have to DO AGRIC.

This blog post by the author was first published on the ONE Campaign website

ONE is campaigning for African leaders to keep their promises to invest in Agriculture. Join the campaign and sign our DO Agric petition now.

Agric Engineer uses ICT to provide support services to farmers

Yet again, BusinessDay Nigeria, sheds some light into my activities as a youth in Agriculture in the Wednesday 24th April 2014 edition of the newspaper. Spare a  few minutes and read below this piece by Yinka Alawode of Businessday

A young Chief Executive of Agropreneur Nigeria runs his family piggery farm and combines it with his knowledge of Agriculture and ICT to provide business support services to farmers.

Olawale Ojo has a degree in Agricultural Engineering from the Federal University of Technology Akure and a Diploma in Integrated Farming Systems from the Songhai Centre for Production, Training, and Research, Port Novo, Benin Republic.

His inspiration came after his course at the Songhai Centre, which served as an eye opener to him as he worked with other youths planning to launch agribusinesses.

He started Agropreneur Nigeria April 2012. The business provides business support services to farmers, especially young agriculturists. The firm also does advocacy and capacity building for young people. “We believe the future of the agricultural sector is in the hands of the youths when they take it as a business. So, we work on changing the mindset of young people and in turn provide information and business support to help them grow,” says Ojo.

To achieve this, Agropreneur Nigeria profiles successful young farmers called agropreneurs on the internet and share their stories so that others can learn. “That also serves as an incentive to these hardworking young people. We have also worked on agricultural research and share the information via social media to enable a proper understanding of what is happening in the sector,” Ojo says.

He explains that this business is targeted at the youths and it focuses on making agriculture attractive while at the same time introducing modern technology like ICT for agriculture and social media as a tool for knowledge and information sharing in agribusiness.

Agropreneur plans to have a considerable expanse of land separate from the family farm he runs, where youths can be trained in farming and can establish their own businesses. “We also want to engage rural areas by creating access to market for them and providing qualitative extension service for them, especially with the internet. I must say that a lot of youths are beginning to see that the agriculture sector is a gold mine,” according to Ojo.

 

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9 ways to engage youth in agriculture

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In Africa over 200 million people are aged between 15 and 24, the youngest population in the world. This age group according to the African Economic Outlooks is expected to double in number by 2045. Low profitability, poor security of land tenure, and high risks are just some of the reasons Africa’s youth are leaving rural areas to seek jobs in cities, a migration that could see Africa with a shortage of farmers in the future. Given that agriculture is one of the continent’s biggest economic sectors, generating broad economic development and providing much of the population with food, this poses a serious threat to the future of farming and to meeting the demands of a rapidly growing urban population. Growing youth unemployment, aging farmers and declining crop yields under traditional farming systems mean engaging youth in agriculture should be a priority.

Recent articles highlight this key challenge and suggest solutions for making agriculture more attractive to younger generations.

1)      Link social media to agriculture

The rise of social media and its attraction among young people with access to the appropriate technologies could be a route into agriculture if the two could be linked in some way. Mobile phone use in Africa is growing rapidly and people are now much more connected to sources of information and each other. Utilising these channels to promote agriculture and educate young people could go a long way in engaging new groups of people into the sector.

2)      Improve agriculture’s image

Farming is rarely portrayed in the media as a young person’s game and can be seen as outdated, unprofitable and hard work. Greater awareness of the benefits of agriculture as a career needs to be built amongst young people, in particular opportunities for greater market engagement, innovation and farming as a business. The media, ICT and social media can all be used to help better agriculture’s image across a broad audience and allow for sharing of information and experiences between young people and young farmers.

3)      Strengthen higher education in agriculture

Relatively few students choose to study agriculture, perhaps in part because the quality of agricultural training is mixed. Taught materials need to be linked to advances in technology, facilitate innovation and have greater relevance to a diverse and evolving agricultural sector, with a focus on agribusiness and entrepreneurship. Beyond technical skills, building capacity for management, decision-making, communication and leadership should also be central to higher education. Reforms to agricultural tertiary education should be designed for young people and as such the process requires their direct engagement.

4)      Greater use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

Not only can ICT be used to educate and train those unable to attend higher education institutions but it can be used as a tool to help young people spread knowledge, build networks, and find employment. Catering to a technologically savvy generation will require technological solutions. Such technologies can also reduce the costs of business transactions, increasing agriculture’s profitability.

5)      Empower young people to speak up

If we are to enable youth to transform agriculture then the barriers to their engagement, such as access to land and finance, need to be addressed. National policies on farming and food security need to identify and address issues facing young people. As such youth need to become part of policy discussions at the local and national levels, whether as part of local development meetings, advisory groups or on boards or committees.

The Young Professionals for Agricultural  Development (YPARD) aims to provide a platform for young people to discuss opportunities in agricultural development, share experiences and advocate for greater youth engagement and representation.

6)      Facilitate access to land and credit

Land is often scarce and difficult to access for young people, and without collateral getting credit to buy land is nigh on impossible. Innovative financing for agriculture and small businesses is needed. For example soft loans provided to youth who come up with innovative proposals in agriculture or microfranchising.

7)      Put agriculture on the school curricula

Primary and high school education could include modules on farming, from growing to marketing crops. This could help young people see agriculture as a potential career. Farm Africa run a project aiming to help school children discover more about agriculture as a profession.

8)      Greater public investment in agriculture

Young people may see agriculture as a sector much neglected by the government, giving farming the image of being old fashioned. Investment in agriculture is more effective at reducing poverty than investment in any other sector but public expenditure on agriculture remains low. Regional and continent-wide programmes such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) may go some way in transforming the prominence and reputation of agriculture in Africa but national efforts and public investments are also needed.

9)      Make agriculture more profitable

This is an easy statement to make but a difficult one to realise. Low yields and market failures in Africa reduce the potential of agriculture to be profitable and to provide people with a chance of escaping poverty and improving their quality of life. Making agriculture profitable requires that the costs of farming and doing business are reduced while at the same time productivity increases. Although large-scale commercial farming springs to mind, this is not necessarily the case, and small farms can be highly productive with low labour costs.

Of course all of these solutions come with their own hurdles: access to education and technologies, rural development, land rights etc. But as one article states “Africa has the highest number of youth in the whole world, and some of the most fertile soils – the two combined could be a force to promote agricultural development!“ Foregoing engaging youth in agriculture and the potential for transformation this could bring because of the complexities of modernising agriculture would be a huge opportunity lost.

Can you add to this list? If you know of any ways or projects to help youth engage in agriculture, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

First published here

Youth entrepreneur using ICT to grow agribusinesses

Business

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has grown many businesses in several sectors, and young entrepreneurs are now using ICT to tap into the gold-mine inherent in agribusinesses. Olawale Ojo, chief executive, Agropreneur Nigeria, provides business support services for farmers and young agriculturists. Apart from advocacy and capacity building for aspiring agro-entrepreneurs, the business provides information and business support to help them grow.

“We do research and share the information via social media to enable a proper understanding of what is happening in the sector. We also profile successful young agropreneurs and share their story so that others can learn, and this serves as an incentive to these hardworking young people. I started the business April 30, last year,” according to Ojo.

Background

Ojo has a degree in Agricultural Engineering from the Federal University of Technology Akure and a diploma in Integrated Farming Systems from the Songhai Centre for Production, Training, and Research, Porto Novo, Benin Republic.

Inspiration

He says: “My inspiration came after my course at the Songhai Centre. It served as an eye opener for me as I worked with other youths from different parts of Africa exploring the agricultural value chain. So, using my knowledge of ICT, I provide capacity building services using social media as a tool for knowledge and information sharing to help young entrepreneurs boost their agribusinesses. Though the main target are youths, we also work with older farmers and investors in agribusiness generally.”

Challenges

The business no doubt has its own fair share of challenges. “Building a team and a structure for my business was a bit of a challenge. Financing was also challenging. I got help from older ones in the field and mentors I have met along the way such as the CEO of Centre for Urban Agricultural Development, the lady Olatoye, who was really helpful in my starting up. I also learned a lot from materials I read from research organisations.”

Future prospects

I have joined my parents in running a family farm. But I want Agropreneur Nigeria to have its own farm, a very big one, where we can give youths practical training in agricultural production/agribusiness so they can start their own businesses. We also want to do market facilitation for farmers in rural areas as well as provide qualitative extension services for them. Fortunately, more and more youths are willingly setting up agrobusinesses in Nigeria and in other countries. They are beginning to see that the agricultural sector is a gold-mine that needs tapping. And it is now time to act and start employing innovative ways to key into the sector, despite the challenges we have.”

This article about me was published the Business Day Newspaper Edition of July 22 2013

MERGING MY PASSIONS: ICT AND AGRICULTURE

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I grew up loving computers and computer hard wares. At about age 12, I watched my father and uncle fix other people’s computers. Back then we had Pentium 1, 2 and later 3.  We sold hardware parts, such as cases, memory cards, and mother boards. As a matter of fact at age 15, I could single handedly clone a computer system and load it up with the necessary operating system and application software that were available. Thus I could say I grew up loving ICT and computer hardware.

            Little wonder then that I dreamed of studying Electrical and Electronics engineering just to have a broader scope of what I already knew. In 2006, I started out doing a pre-degree program in electrical and electronic engineering so as to enable me pursue a degree. However after a year I was admitted in the university but instead of the desired course I got Agricultural Engineering. And so my journey into the world of agriculture began.

            You would agree with me that Agricultural Engineering was not what I wanted. I remember thinking back then about what the prospects of the course I about to study were. But I accepted it, why? If you live in a country like Nigeria where millions are trying to get into the university all at the same time then you would not joke with that single slot you have gotten.

            It took me till my third year in the university to start realizing the future advantage of the field I had been pushed to as it were. I saw that my field was not just about tractors but a lot more. I could choose to specialize in Food Processing, Irrigation and Drainage, Agric Mechanization and even Soil and Water Conservation.

            I began to see the practicality of my field and relate them to the needs of my environment. I also saw that my country was way behind in the use of agricultural practices and technologies that would benefit them. At this point my passion for agriculture grew.

            The height of my passion came during a six month training I took on the Integrated Farming System where I got hands-on practical knowledge and was involved in Agricultural Research. That was an eye opener. I learnt in Six months things I have not learnt in four years of my stay in the university.(Read more about this on http://ypard.net/testimonials/my-songhai-experience).

            The world of agriculture is verse and wide. It is large enough to take as many people as possible. It is a field that adds value to human lives as it directly or indirectly touches as lives as it meets a primary need of man which is food. Today I have fashioned out a way to merge my passion and that is why I strive hard to acquire skills in Agricultural Research Software and Web 2.0 tools and platforms so that I can have a feeling and be involved in both the ICT world which was my first passion and now agriculture my second to have a perfect combination that would create positive change and sustainable development to my immediate environment and the world as a whole.

ICTs and Youth in Agriculture Innovative Systems

Youth have got a key role.

The FARA Social Reporters Blog

Agricultural development depends on innovation. Innovation is a major source of improved productivity, competitiveness, and economic growth throughout advanced and emerging economies, and plays an important role in creating jobs, generating income, alleviating poverty, and driving social development. If farmers, agribusinesses, and even nations are to cope, compete, and thrive in the midst of changes in agriculture and economy, they must innovate continuously.

– The World Bank on Agriculture Innovation Systems (AIS)

Agriculture Innovation Systems (AIS) aim to improve farmers’ productivity.  Besides classical approaches like training and regular/systematic visits, there are several others like Farmers Field Schools (FFS), market access or market oriented approaches…

These new approaches also use several tools. Studies have proven that, using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as rural development tools can lead to good results: How can we uses mobile phones, internet, community radio and others in AIS? Here are my experiences in Cameroon.

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