Farms without farmers?

Written by Caroline Mwongera, Postdoctoral Scientist in the Soils Research Area, CIAT.

Originally posted here

The next generation of smallholder farms in Africa may have no one left to run them.

A visit by a team from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in the Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya and Adjumani districts of Northern Uganda – a region that was embroiled in more than 20 years of civil war waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army – presents an alarming scenario for the years ahead.  Here we meet more than 158 farmers and are struck by the sentiments of the older farmers.

In the Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya and Adjumani districts of
Northern Uganda the average age of farmers is 45.
Credit: Stephanie Malyon / CIAT

Young people are turning away from agriculture to drive
motorcycle taxis. Credit: Stephanie Malyon / CIAT 
“The youth are not interested in farming. They prefer migrating to urban centers to look for off-farm work and engage in petty trade, mainly operating boda-boda,” said one man, who has been farming all his life. Boda-boda is a term that is commonly used in East Africa to refer to motorcycle taxis.

Separate interviews with a team of 24 local agricultural experts reveal that the average age of farmers is 45 and young people between 18 and 30 are disconnected from the farm and realities of agricultural production. For this particular region, it has negative impacts on post-conflict recovery, given the role of youth in rural community continuity and agriculture.

Another visit to Bagamoyo, Kilolo, Kilosa and Mbarali districts within the region known as the South Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), confirms this story line. We speak to a group of 40 youths, who tell us that lack of social infrastructure and amenities lures them away from the villages.

Saidi, a 25-year-old man, explains the pull of urban life.

“Look at the life we are living here. We have been left behind by our peers in the cities. Life there is so much more glamorous and advanced. I would rather be struggling in the city with good paved roads, piped water and electricity.”

Africa already faces daunting challenges in achieving food security, and these are expected to increase with the rapid surge in population. But food security cannot be achieved unless the problem of a young population less interested in agriculture is addressed by policy-makers.

Can the entrepreneurial spirit of young people be
 harnessed to encourage them to turn to agriculture?
Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT
This worrying trend is being seen across the continent. The latest Montpellier panel briefing paper Small and Growing: Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture reports on the disengagement of young people from agriculture, a sector that is often seen as outdated, unprofitable and plain hard work.

Africa’s transformation can be realised by harnessing and enabling the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of smallholder farmers, young people and women in the rural economy, according to Agriculture for Impact.

The CIAT project Increasing food security and farming system resilience in East Africa through wide-scale adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices, funded by IFAD, is promoting awareness and use of appropriate climate smart technologies in the above regions. Through demonstration trials, the project trains smallholder farmers, young people and women in particular in using site-specific climate smart technologies that will improve their farm productivity and income, with enhanced resilience to climate change, and reduction of greenhouse gases.

Young people taking up climate smart agriculture farming will no longer be able to complain of feeling left behind.

The UN has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect the resource that feeds and waters us. Find out how CIATs global soils research team of soil scientists, ecologists and anthropologists are working with partners to protect and restore this vital resource.