Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Repositioning agriculture to end youth migration in Africa 18 Sep 2018

An analysis by the Pew Research Centre of the latest United Nations (UN) data on the number of people living outside their country of birth shows that sub-Saharan African (SSA) nations accounted for eight of the ten fastest growing international migrant populations in 2010. These nations include South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Eritrea, Namibia, Rwanda, Botswana and Burundi. 

The UN has shown that the rate at which migrants from SSA moved to international destinations grew from 25 per cent in the 2000s to 31 per cent between 2010 and 2017.

People move out of their home countries for different reasons. Some move because of the large differences in income levels between their countries of birth and their desired destinations. Some other people migrate in search of new skills and education. A lot of people migrate from their places of birth as a result of environmental disruptions, conflicts, climate change, and non-inclusive national growth, among other factors.

All the people migrating to new locations within the continent or outside it are looking to improve their lives one way or another. Poverty and the lack of opportunities in most rural areas in different parts of Africa are strong drivers of emigration.

But whether their destination is a neighbouring SSA country or the United States or Europe, governments of countries across Africa have a responsibility to provide better economic conditions for their citizens, especially the rural poor. This will reduce the high incidence of migration due to poor living conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunities.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Malawi has the highest share (about 74 per cent) of rural households who migrate internationally. And over 50 per cent of households with at least one internal (within the country) migrant are found in rural areas. Uganda has the highest share of internal migrants from the rural areas. In Nigeria, up to 48 per cent of internal migrants come from rural areas and are mostly youths.

I may not be able to mention all that governments need to do to address the migratory flow. But governments must invest heavily and restructure sectors of the economy that have a high potential to improve the standard of living of their citizens, especially those in underserved and rural communities.

One sector that requires such large amount of investment and restructuring and which holds a great promise to transform the lives of the people is the agriculture sector. Agriculture can employ a high percentage of young people who constitute the majority of those leaving their home countries in search of a better life elsewhere.

For us to retain our young people, who would help grow African economies, governments must develop rural agriculture and make it attractive, given that agriculture is one of the continent's growth sectors. Developing agriculture to make it attractive to young people goes beyond giving loans, seedlings and fertilizer. Governments must do more.

Young people want to be employed in sectors where they can have regular incomes to lead comfortable and befitting lives with very little or no risks. In order to get our young population into this sector, governments must restructure agriculture to respond to their needs.

To do this, federal and state governments need to collaborate to make large expanses of farmlands available for young people to work on. Such farms will have effective irrigation systems and machineries required for modern farming. Federal and state governments should work together to provide the required farm inputs and implements, including seeds, fertilizer and technical support. Then young people can be employed to work on these farms and provide both the skilled and unskilled labour needed for farm operations.

Governments can also take charge of the marketing and distribution of harvested crops, poultry, fishery and livestock products, still making use of young people to achieve these objectives. The cost of government investment can then be deducted from total income and the profit provided as wages or salaries to the employed individuals. This plan does not have to hinder private individuals who are already in the sector or interested in working outside government plan.

An approach like this is needed because young people are mostly unable to singlehandedly bear the risks associated with farming. They also cannot afford the investment, facilities and infrastructures needed for successful large-scale farming without external support.

Another very important step is to make the youth employees reside comfortably on farm sites. It is very important to encourage these young farmers and their immediate families to live happily in rural areas where most farms are located.

When I visited the United States a few years back, I saw that in Wisconsin, the state where I spent some weeks, farmers and their households as well as those working with them lived comfortably on their farms. They had well-tarred roads, electricity, internet, excellent communication networks, potable water and other basic needs. Their lives were not so different from those living elsewhere. I remember imagining how wonderful and productive it would be if farmers back home could live in such good conditions on their farms with their families.

In other words, federal, state and local governments must equip farm settlements with modern facilities and access to quality health care. This will definitely attract young people and help them settle well in rural farming communities. We must not forget that nowadays, internet connectivity has become very essential, especially for youths who want to be able to connect with their friends, relatives and other associates.

In addition to repositioning the agriculture sector to make it more attractive to young people and employing the youth on large-scale farm projects, these young people should be given all the privileges that any government worker is entitled to. For example, pension contributions should be part of their benefits for proper retirement plans. A hazard allowance should also be added to the mix of benefits for young farmers.

Moreover, privately-owned industrial farms should be mandated to do same. This will boost the morale of young people who are in desperate search for white-collar jobs and give them a sense of fulfilment.

Furthermore, with the support of private and non-governmental organisations, governments could make greater use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to educate and train young people in rural areas that are not privileged to obtain higher education or required skills. That way, we might be able to carry everyone along irrespective of their backgrounds.

There is also a need to change the perception of agriculture in the media as part of the process of repositioning the sector. The media rarely portrays farming as a young person's engagement. In Nigeria, farmers are still viewed as old, hungry people putting on dirty and torn clothes, digging the ground to make ridges. Farmers are also seen as people living in huts and on very meagre incomes. This perspective of farming must be changed through the media, including social media.

Young people should be made to have a different idea of what a modern-day farmer looks like. We want to see neatly dressed and healthy-looking farmers with happy and healthy children. We want to see young people driving two-wheel tractors, operating harvesters and pickers, self-propelled row crop sprayers and other modern farm machineries. We also want to see and read about more young people doing well in the field of agriculture.

Without a doubt, proper restructuring of the agriculture sector is paramount in achieving improved productivity, from which farmers can earn higher income and more young people can be gainfully employed. The government should also evolve a partnership with the private sector to employ both skilled and unskilled labour, develop rural agricultural communities, and make farming more appealing to the youth across the education spectrum. This can potentially end the desperation that leads a lot of young people to leave their countries of birth to seek greener pastures abroad.