The people who grow the food we eat are growing old. Worse, these farmers who are above 54 years old on average, find it difficult to adopt modern technologies that could improve agricultural productivity.
Unless some drastic measures are taken, our food security cannot be guaranteed. While young people have the potential to take over from the ageing population, many are discouraged because the agriculture sector is still largely perceived as one for those who have limited career opportunities in life; the poor and uneducated.
Worse, the few who attempt to venture into the sector, find it extremely difficult to access land and finance to start a viable business. There is a need to tackle the negative perception of agriculture as too risky, by addressing what makes it so, including reducing reliance on rain by investing in irrigation, reducing the current post harvest losses as well as improving market access for farmers.
At the moment, the financial sector is still reluctant to commit significant funding to agriculture and conditions are too stringent because it is perceived as too risky.
Measures are needed to de-risk the sector for the youth, including providing insurance products to minimise the burden on young entrepreneurs involved in agribusiness.
Removing barriers to start-up capital will allow young people to innovate and expand current agri-businesses. There is a need to promote financial products targeting the youth, mentorship programmes as well encouraging the youth to group themselves into informal savings clubs to invest in agriculture.
It is important to focus on empowering youth because they can easily adopt new technologies that are currently rapidly changing food production and processing because this will not only improve food security in a sustainable manner but also reduce youth unemployment.
In addition, the current pressure on arable land, makes it difficult to start a farm. Many of our youth do not own land or have the means to acquire it. Soft loans to assist youth in acquiring land are needed, while leasing arrangements through which youth gain access – though not ownership – to land may be effective.
There is a need for incentives to encourage more youth to be involved in a number of agricultural activities, including production, post-harvest handling, distribution and marketing of agricultural products.
Ensuring that youth have access to the right information is crucial; integrated training approaches are required so that youth may respond to the needs of a more modern agricultural sector; modern information and communications technologies offer great potential.
Youth specific projects and programmes can be effective in providing youth with the extra push needed to enter the agricultural sector.
In view of the ongoing ageing farming population, ensuring that the youth are active players in the agricultural sector is the only way to guarantee food security for themselves, and for future generations.