Monday, October 31, 2011

The youth and agriculture

Map of ACP Countries
Recent efforts by the international development community have focused on getting the youth involved in nation building worldwide. It is therefore not surprising that the governments of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (the ACP countries) are drawing up programmes and calling on the youth to get involved in agriculture. In line with this, the Agriculture, Rural Development and Youth in the Information Society ( ARDYIS) has set up an initiative which aims at raising youth awareness and improving their capacity on agricultural and rural development issues in ACP countries using ICTs. 

Ghana, a member of the ACP countries, has been making great efforts at getting the youth involved in agriculture. It is worth noting that in our National Youth Policy which was launched in August 2010 provisions were made for the youth in this regard. Section 6.1.7 which touched on Youth in Modern Agriculture, the policy stated that in line with agriculture, the goal of the policy will be to promote youth participation in agriculture, through the following policy objectives: 
  • promotion of the participation of the youth in modern agriculture as a viable career opportunity for the youth and as an economic and business option. 
  • the provision of resources for the participation of the youth in modern agriculture.
Well thought and laid out! However this goal can not be realised if the challenges facing Ghanaian youth are not addressed as far as agriculture is concerned.

Lack of resources
Generally, the youth constitute that section of the population which is handicapped as far as assets are concerned. High youth unemployment rates have virtually left most youth with no jobs and no capital. A reasonable percentage of the youth in Ghana are still dependent in one way or the other on their parents, friends and other relatives. 

Lack of access to land
Time and time again, this problem has been hammered on in several literature. Cultural settings of land and property inheritance in many of these ACP countries sideline the youth, especially women. A quick chat with random youth while taking a walk in any Ghanaian town will reveal a ratio of land ownership favouring the aged and rich, much to the disadvantage of the youth. The youth are the same group who mostly do not have the means to acquire sizeable portions of land for farming.

Low returns
Majority of farmers in Ghana are smallholder farmers who do not make a lot of money from their business. This problem of low returns has driven away most youth from farming. The youth in most farming families therefore take up other opportunities to supplement family income. Farm sizes are shrinking because labour size is reducing and farmers also do not have the means to cultivate even the small land portions they have. As mentioned in an earlier post, Jayne et al. (2002) conclude that it will be increasingly difficult for farming alone to sustain the livelihoods of land-constrained households without substantial shifts in labour from agriculture to non-farm sectors.

High cost of farming
The cost of farm inputs and seedlings continues to be a burden on farmers and a hindrance to would-be ones. The cost of acquiring an arable land, whether on lease or outright conveyance is enough a stumbling block to the youth. Recently the government realised this in the cocoa industry and has put in place plans to distribute free cocoa seedlings within the next five years, as a measure to reduce the burden of farmers and would-be ones.

Perception of farming
Low returns of the small holder farmers, and other factors have gradually created a wrong perception that farming is a poor man's job in Ghana. Oh, so you are a farmer? This perception is changing especially among the educated youth. However, it will continue to be a reason for which there is youth migration form the farming communities to urban centers.

Educational system
For sometime the focus of the educational system been biased in favour of professions like medicine and accounting. The cut off grade for admitting students to study agriculture in senior high schools in Ghana has even been dropped further because people do not patronize it. In recent times there is much emphasis as well on the need for ICT. However, if the same emphasis can be placed on agriculture we can go a long way.

The youth need support. As our chief technical advisor to Ghana’s minister of food and agriculture, Samuel Kojo Dapaah, rightly put it, “Whether in developed or developing countries, agriculture needs support. Period.
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