Agriculture has an image problem. Simply put, to the majority of Malawi’s youth, agriculture isn’t seen as being ‘cool’ or attractive. Most youths think of it only as back-breaking labour which has no economic pay-off—and little room for career advancement.
With an ageing population of Malawian farmers, it is clear that agriculture needs to attract more young and energetic people.
A report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) says the exodus of rural youth to urban areas—where they come looking for greener pastures, means fewer small-scale farmers left in rural areas. It also means few small-scale farmers for tomorrow, potentially drastically changing the profile of agriculture.
In Malawi’s case, land is often readily available at no cost in rural areas. I have never understood the logic behind giving farm input subsidies to a 70-year-old granny who can barely walk or worse still, someone who has very little, if any, land to farm. The intention is good, but the targeting is wrong.
Government needs to attract the youth to agriculture by incentivising it in such a way that the youth should start to look at agriculture the same way they look at engineering or medicine.
I look at the unemployed youths as both a threat and an opportunity. The agricultural sector offers huge potential for job creation. Realising this can change the image of agriculture among young people. Put some swag in agriculture. This will inadvertently reduce the youth unemployment rate which is too high as the youth are busy looking for employment and not creating employment.
Increased access to education and new forms of agriculture-based enterprise mean that young people can be a vital force for innovation in farming, increasing incomes and well-being for both farmers and local communities. Young people can transform the agriculture sector by applying new technologies and new thinking.
Agriculture means more than subsistence farming—today, young people can explore career options in permaculture design, communication technologies, marketing, food preparation, environmental sciences and more.
Farmers, businesspersons, policy-makers and educators need to promote agriculture as an intellectually stimulating and economically sustainable career—and make jobs in the agriculture and food system “cool” for young people. A resurgence of interest among young farmers is already happening and it’s vital to support this growth by putting the swag in agriculture. n