Preparing Youth for High-Tech Agriculture

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Regency B (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Margaret Karembu , International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, AfriCenter, Nairobi, Kenya

A typical characteristic of African agriculture is the predominance of small scale farmers (>60%), mostly women who are semi-skilled and with little access to technology, inputs, credit and markets. Migration of young people from rural to urban areas has left food production in the hands of their elderly parents, most of whom incapable of adjusting to modern high-tech farming systems. But the big question is: How can the youth be attracted and retained in the agricultural sector given their view of farming as painful and low-end labour market? This paper argues for a fundamental change in the mindsets of African youths to view themselves as key players in the food production chain. This can be possible if farming becomes pleasurable and profitable with supportive infrastructure to make it exciting, worthwhile and recognized as an important cornerstone of modern society.  Access to efficient agri-biotechnologies, high-quality seeds and inputs, links to markets integrated with the fast-growing techno-entrepreneurship (ICT) and social mobilization will be essential. A good starting point would be to facilitate youth with a first degree in agriculture or biological sciences to establish low-cost tissue-culture business facilities at community level to avail clean planting materials of Africa’s major staple crops such as banana, cassava and sweetpotato. African governments should also start considering young people’s views and perceptions in policy-making and in reviewing agricultural and biosciences education curricular. As well, radical measures such as use of celebrities to spearhead food security campaigns could ignite passion for agriculture among youths like it is doing in other social spheres. Platforms should be explored to promote successful youthful role models in agriculture through popular social media for example, Facebook, Twitter etc. where young farmer entrepreneurs could share their experiences. With better opportunities for access to technologies, entrepreneurial skills and social marketing, young people could funnel their youthful idealism, energy and determination into a positive force for change within the agricultural sector. This would ultimately result in sustainable production of the food required to feed the growing population of today and the future.