Youthful populations offer a great opportunity for many countries as the entrepreneurial and innovative energy of young people can help revitalise and enhance local economies. This is particularly true in the agricultural sector, where new technologies and innovative farming practices have the potential to enhance the sector’s productivity and effectiveness.
However, young people do not automatically gravitate to farming. They consider it a dirty business of field work and manual labour. Often unaware of what the whole agriculture value chain entails, and the vast opportunities available beyond the field. Technology has the ability to capture youths’ interest in agriculture, change their perception, and turn their eyes to agriculture as a potential career choice.
For the past two years Saumu Mohamed, Business for Development’s Business Analyst, has been implementing a first mile digital platform for the Kwale Agribusiness Program in Kwale, Kenya. Initially in 2019 piloting FarmForce transitioning in 2020/21 to SourceTrace as the selected digital platform.
For the second pilot, Business for Development wanted to work with young people (age 18-25) in the role of Field Agents – the role interfacing between the farmer and the overall operation. Saumu explains “the youth are vibrant, energetic and creative. We took their fresh perspectives and combined it with our knowledge to the pilot to develop a system that would work for Kwale.”
As Field Agents, these young people monitored farm activities and input data into the digital platform. Once the data was synchronized, our Agronomists were able to monitor yields achieved by farmers, review harvests, improve procurement, and analyse pests and diseases in a timely manner – all contributing to better farmer outcomes
As a result of participating in the pilot, two of the Field Agents have changed their career paths and are looking to work in agriculture. Rama, one of the Field Agents advises “… agriculture is the major way of eradicating poverty in rural areas. Business for Development as an organisation has made me look at agriculture from a different dimension. Agriculture has a great impact in improving the living standard of the individuals who are languishing in poverty. As a Field Agent l would like to urge the people living in Kwale, Kenya and the entire community at large to see agriculture as the oxygen and backbone of our economy.”
Before joining Business for Development, Saumu a similar perspective of agriculture as the young Field Agents starting out. She advises “personally I was interested in agriculture in high school. The only reason I did not do agriculture in university is because I did not have a mentor to provide me direction.” Now Saumu is the mentor and role model for these Field Agents, especially for the women. “I showed them women can work in agriculture, and especially in technology.” Saumu quotes Pepe Minambo, an African writer when mentoring the team to “be inspired before you expire. Which means have some get-up and go and understand what agriculture is, don’t wait until you come of age before you understand how important agriculture is.”
The program not only changed the perspectives of the Field Agents, but also the farmers they were working with. Saumu explains “the young people selected were working in their home areas. This impacted farmers’ own attitude towards the program. They appreciated that their own young people were working towards improving the agricultural practices for their people. This led to more farmers wanting to join the Kwale Agribusiness Program.” Farmers also experienced improved yields. Armed with the data collected by the field agents, our agronomists could respond to situations quickly, whereas before they had to wait for the handwritten reports which could take one to two weeks. Agriculture technologies can play an important role in modernising farming practices, incorporating elements of precision agriculture, and introducing new, innovative techniques to speed up and increase production. With increased yields, the program and technology has improved the lives of many people in the community.
Young people seek rewarding and exciting careers. In the absence of a clear understanding of how agriculture can provide such a career path, more and more youth are turning to other options. Saumu notes “currently, the age of farmers is very old, and their energy is diminishing. The sector needs a vibrant and energetic group of people who have interest in agriculture, and that will be the youth. The youth just have to know which area they will fit best in the value chain. We need to educate young people that agriculture is not all about farming fields.”
We must look for new approaches to create and manage agriculture programs that meet the needs of young people. Agricultural technology offers one way young people can pursue a rewarding career in the sector. However, we need people like Saumu to provide the inspiration and mentorship to guide young people to open their eyes to all possibilities in life. Agriculture will never expire as an industry as there will always be a need for food to survive, but it certainly needs to inspire. With the help of people like Saumu working in the development sector, we can provide inspiring incentives to young people to follow an exciting career in agriculture.
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