Africa has the youngest population in the world; over 200 million people are between ages 15 and 24 and the African Economic Outlooks expects this number to double by 2045. It is easy to see why youth have become such an important part of Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW), which is taking place right now in Accra, Ghana. This year’s theme is ‘Africa Feeding Africa Through Agricultural Science and Innovation’.
For Africa to be able to feed itself, agriculture needs to become a more attractive option for youth. Otherwise, the current trend of young people migrating out of rural agricultural areas and into cities in search of bigger, better jobs will leave Africa with a shortage of farmers. As Maureen Agena proposes, “agriculture must be made ‘sexy’ and profitable to the youth.”
But just how can this be accomplished? Some clues might be drawn from examining one channel that has enjoyed widespread popularity amongst youth attending this week’s event. At AASW, there is a team of over 165 social reporters, the majority of whom are young Africans, actively working to take the messages and discussions occurring at AASW and transmit them to millions of people around the world. Halfway through the conference, the buzz and excitement is clear. By the end of day 2, over 2,800 tweets had been sent out by 275 people, reaching almost 800,000 people. 87 blog posts had been published on the AASW blog, generating over 300 comments.
Social media is sexy. It has the power to reach millions. It’s measurable. And it has gained a quick following among youth with access to the appropriate technologies.
Young people are attracted to the instantaneous nature of communications and fast changing technologies—keeping pace with these exciting innovations is our addiction. Information is at our fingertips and we have the ability now to share it beyond those sitting next to us and out into the world at large. So why don’t we figure out a way to link this with agriculture?
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!
Actively engaging youth in social media might be a good entry point for finding the best way to engage in agriculture. We tend to see eye-to-eye on certain matters like the lure and attraction of technology.
Let’s see what the AASW social media reporters have to say…
In Margaret Bulamu’s blog post, I am young: agriculture is not for me, she highlights three of the main challenges facing youth, particularly young women, in agriculture: limited access to land, credit and information – and arguably the desire to join the face paced, more advanced lifestyles that cities offer. Moses Owinywrites that in Uganda, “agriculture has become an especially unattractive sector, due to a combination of youth attitudes and perceptions, lack of investment from the government and inability to incentivize the involvement of a younger generation.”
Others such as Rivaldo Kpadonou propose strengthening higher education in agriculture; “African universities continue to produce several thousands of young graduates every year in law, economics or political science. Only a few dozen, poorly equipped students graduate from agricultural and health and nutritional schools.”
Technological innovation provides cost effective options of extending information and education to those who are not attending school. Owiny proposes the use of information and communication technology (ICT)-based agricultural training in these instances—especially among women with fewer opportunities to attain higher education. Technology can also be a driver for change in agriculture—offering young people a range of opportunities: socialization and network-building, employment and research, among others.
Aside from these suggestions, perhaps youth need to do a better job of getting a seat at the table, “If youth want a seat at the table, they need to start making room for themselves” writes Grace Wanene.
But the question is, do they really want a seat at the table? Bulamu points out:
Young, ambitious people have never looked at agriculture as a source of income and livelihoods. It is hard to involve them in activities related to agriculture because they think it is meant for the old and does not make a good living. Even if they did want to enter into the profession, they would not have access to the land they need. These young people are instead dreaming of going to cities and towns and landing a big job, leaving the elderly to tend to crops. Yet 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!
So “under what condition will they [youth] live in a rural community?” Robin Bourgeois of GFAR asks his children. Bourgeois tells social reporter Bunmi Ajilore that:
Youths want access to power, telephones, digital television and other information and communication technologies that are sadly missing or not really functional in many rural communities especially in Africa. Besides, youths do not want to practice agriculture the way of their fathers but in a modern way, with an appropriate image that speak to their aspiration as natives of the digital age – where the media have a great influence on perceptions and aspirations.
The synergies between young social reporters at AASW and among young farmers may be stronger than we think. Let’s put our heads together and find an attractive way to engage youth in agriculture, information dissemination, and technological innovation.