The government’s dream of attracting the youth into agriculture and keeping them there can happen if school farms are aggressively re-introduced into senior high schools and run as businesses by students, agribusiness experts at MBC Africa, an agric-focused civil society organisation, have said.
“If we have school farms spanning the whole spectrum, including poultry, aquaculture, horticulture and others in secondary schools, and agriculture students use that to practice and then they are introduced to the business side of it, a lot will change,” Fred Asem, Country Director of MBC Africa, told the B&FT in an interview.
Speaking ahead of the 2018 edition of MBC’s ‘Growing Business Together’ (GBT) programme – a start-up accelerator designed for SMEs – Mr. Asem noted that agriculture is not taught in school as a full business course wherein targets are given to the students.
“Formerly, we had school farms – but we used to see those farms as punishment. Let us catch them young, whip-up the interest right from there and introduce policies that will keep them interested – and gradually we will get them into agriculture forever,” he said.
To him, students must be taught the basics of managing the farms as businesses. “To continue incentivising them, government can offer a huge discount to students in universities who pursue agriculture as a future business venture.
“If this module, right to university, is pursued and you complete, government can make land available to these graduates with the inputs provided. These moves will whip-up so much interest and our youth will see agriculture as their future business rather than everyone looking to work in banking or telecoms, or services in general,” he said.
School farms used to be a main feature in senior high schools but have, over time, lost their significance as most secondary schools have completely abandoned the idea.
Private senior high schools have no school farms, while the few public senior high schools in the country have reduced school farms to a couple of practical lessons for students studying agriculture.
Mr. Asem added that a quiz, in the form of the national Math and Science Quiz focused on agriculture, can be introduced to whip-up the youths’ interest in agriculture.
Tenemba Anna Samaké, CEO of MBC Africa, noted that one of the reasons young people do not want to go into agriculture or agribusiness is that they think it is not a sustainable sector.
“To them, it is not a sector where they can make money. All the countries that lead the world and continue to do so are built on agriculture. All we have to do in Africa is grow our agricultural sector because we have to feed ourselves,” she said.
According to the United Nations, Africa has the youngest population in the world – and by 2045 the current youth population is expected to double.
But the big problem is the continent’s youth unemployment. Data from the World Bank show that the youth account for 60 percent of the continent’s unemployed. In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 30 percent. It is even worse in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Africa and several other countries.
“The youth do not see agriculture as a potential business, and this is what we have to change. Agriculture is a business, and this is what we have been trying to show in the last five years through our fellowship programmes,” she said.
The fellowship programme, she added, is a seven-month programme that includes one month of foundation learning wherein fellows are taught the basics of agribusiness, including emphasis on the entire value chain where they can build big businesses.
“After the foundation learning, we place them in agribusinesses and sometimes on farms. So, they have direct contact with these businesses. If we truly want to attract young people into the agriculture sector, they have to be shown that agribusiness is not just production but includes all the enablers – including agritech, which is a huge opportunity for any young person who wants to be in technology and support agriculture,” she said.
Source: B&FT Online