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Tackling youth unemployment

It is importance to identify and provide solutions to obstacles to youth participation in agriculture

| MUSA MAYANJA LWANGA | According to projections from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), the Ugandan population is expected to increase to over 55 million in the next ten years, with the youth (persons aged 18- 30 years) accounting for a significant proportion (24.3 percent) while 48 percent will be children below 18 years.

Planning for and creating employment for this largely young and youthful population is a developmental challenge that should be placed high on the development agenda. The majority of the youth (70 percent) reside in rural areas where decent employment and entrepreneurial opportunities remain limited.

While many have attempted to migrate in search of better opportunities in urban areas, a significant proportion of these have ended up facing urban poverty due to lack of employment. The service and industry sectors, despite growing at rates considerably faster than agriculture, have not generated enough jobs to free the youth from rural life and agriculture.

Indeed, youth unemployment in Uganda is on the rise from 12.7 percent in 2012/13 to 13.3 in 2016/17 (according to the UNHS report of 2017), despite a decline in the overall national unemployment rate from 11.1 percent to 9.2 percent. The failure of services and industry to generate enough jobs, implies that agriculture will continue playing a significant role of employing Uganda’s youth; at least in the short and medium term. Despite this reality, gainful participation of the youth in agriculture is constrained by a number of challenges.

Constraints to Youth Participation in Agriculture

Access to land: While access to land is fundamental to engaging in agriculture production, it can often be difficult for young people to attain. The youth are less likely to own land compared to the prime age cohort and when they do, they are likely to own comparably smaller parcels, limiting their ability to enjoy economies of scale. A 2013 study by Ahaibwe, Mbowa and Lwanga found that that in Uganda, 42 percent of the youth managed a plot of land compared to 77 percent of the prime age group and 79 percent for the elderly. Limited access to land is partly due the land tenure laws and customs which make the transfer of land to the youth difficult leaving the majority to use land without exclusive ownership rights. This not only limits investment on the land but also the ability to use land as collateral to access to credit.

Access to financial services: Results from the FinScope 2018 survey show that 23 percent of the youth are financially excluded; with 83 percent of the excluded residing in rural areas. The majority of the youth engaged in agriculture lack funds to invest, to improve productivity, and connect to markets. The majority rely on their own limited savings and other informal sources to invest in their farms, which contributes to lower productivity. Limited access to financial services such as credit and savings reduces their ability to invest, save and respond to shocks. This limited access to the financial services is due to a number of factors including the high cost of delivering financial services in rural areas, lack of collateral/assets like land and low levels of financial literacy amongst youth.

Government efforts like the Youth Livelihood Programme, National Youth Venture Fund, Northern Uganda Social Action Fund Youth Opportunities Program have been instrumental in helping a cross section of the youth in areas of enterprise development, job creation, and business skills training. However, these initiatives have not fully addressed the access barriers that the youth especially in rural areas face.

The private sector on other hand, has taken numerous approaches to solving this challenge, key among which is the adoption of technology. The rapid growth of digital and mobile telephone infrastructure and the advent of agency/branchless banking (which offers the ability to transact outside of a traditional bank branch) offers an opportunity to expand access of the formal financial services to a wider proportion of the rural population.

Education and Skills: despite government’s efforts to boost education through UPE, USE and other programmes, the largest proportion of the labourforce in Uganda lacks adequate and appropriate education and skills. Over 18 percent of the population aged 9 years and above has never been to school and only 12 percent have attended secondary school (see figure 1 below). For the youth, 7.3 percent of them have never been to school while 18.5 percent are illiterate (lacking the ability for to read with understanding and to write a simple sentence meaningfully in any language).

Distribution of Population aged 6 years and above by Highest grade/class of formal education

Source: UBOS, 2016

Inadequate education leads to low labour productivity and reduces one’s ability to acquire skills and adaption of modern agricultural technologies and methods.  Indeed, the youth in Uganda continue to trail when it comes to the application of modern farming practices. Statistics show that only 31 percent of youth-headed households compared to 38 percent of the prime age group use improved seeds. Similar patterns are observed for other inputs.

Access to markets: Poor access to markets or lack thereof is a major obstacle to youths’ engagement in viable and sustainable agricultural ventures. In Uganda this situation is amplified by inadequate infrastructure, high transport costs and limited market information.

As such the majority of the youth are engaged in subsistence agriculture. In fact, the proportion of the youth in subsistence agriculture is on the rise from 31.9 percent in 2012/13 to 35.3 percent in 2016/17.  Furthermore, even those that are able to access markets find themselves faced with challenges including price fluctuations, post-harvest handling and storage as well as limited marketing skills.

What can be done

It is apparent that agriculture will for a while, continue to play a major role in employment of the youth in Uganda. It is, therefore, of high importance to identify and provide solutions to the obstacles that impede the youth from participating gainfully in agriculture. This requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders including government, development partners and the private sector. Below are some recommendations.

  • There is need to review land laws and to fix Uganda’s land tenure systems to make it easier to transfer land as well as guarantee security of ownership.
  • Financial products tailored to the youth and rural setting should be promoted.
  • There is need to promote youth mentoring programmes and saving clubs as well as availing start-up funding opportunities.
  • Education should include agricultural training and it should be adapted to ensure that the skills meet the needs of rural labour markets.
  • Technologies like mobile phone platforms that can deliver information to the youth at low cost are essential for encouraging the youth to take up agriculture.
  • improving and widening Uganda’s extension system is key to transferring knowledge and technologies to these young farmers.

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Musa Mayanja Lwanga is Head of Research and Market Development, Uganda Bankers’ Association

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