Repo­si­tion­ing agri­cul­ture to end youth mi­gra­tion in Africa

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.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - MO­JISOLA KA­RIGIDI

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, self­pro­pelled 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.

In Nige­ria, up to 48 per cent of in­ter­nal mi­grants come from ru­ral ar­eas and are mostly youths.

Some African youth try­ing to cross the Mediter­ranean Sea into Europe

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