Agriculture in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) faces many challenges. Most of these developing economies are heavily reliant on this sector for food security and economic growth. Agriculture accounts for over 50 percent GDP in some countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. This coupled with the high percentage of population (up to 60 percent in Africa) living off the land, means that the need to secure the continued interest of youth in agriculture is imperative.
However, global attention is now turning to agricultural and rural development as a result of the 2007-2008 food price crisis. Despite this, it is still not perceived as an attractive industry for the younger population.
The majority of farmers today are older. Studies by the Caribbean Farmers’ Network (CaFAN) found that the average age of farmers in the Caribbean is 45 years with the majority being over 60 years of age. With a lack of youth to replace them the future of agriculture is uncertain. Youth unemployment is a critical problem. In several countries the number of young people out of work exceeds 50 percent.
It is therefore evident that a well supported agricultural industry could present the ideal solution. This is on the condition that the sector is transformed in the eyes of the younger generation. It has to become attractive, viable and offer real opportunities.
The key is to uncover new ways of empowering young people, showing them the opportunities that exist and the important role they can play in its development. One means of achieving this is through the use of ICTs. These technologies are filtering down through every socio-economic segment, even in remote rural areas. In 2010 CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation) held a competition inviting youth from around Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to share their ideas and experiences on the use of ICTs in the field. Their stories below clearly demonstrate the substantial entrepreneurial and innovative activities taking place in rural areas. Through the creative use of new technologies in agriculture, youth are reaping the rewards for their farms, their businesses and their communities.
"Using ICTs to access and Share Agricultural Information")
It has never been easier to access and share information thanks to the ubiquitous presence of mobile phones. Chris Mwangi, a 23 year old IT specialist from Kenya,highlights an example of this. He describes a young man who has taken the revenue generated in his rural mobile phone kiosk to diversify into farming. He receives vital information on current agronomic practices through the ‘Organic Farmer’ e-bulletin which he accesses on his GPRS enabled phone.
Maureen Agena, a young development professional from Uganda, explains how a 25 year old smallscale fruit farmer in Maruzi County has used mobile phones to secure success for his business. He accesses weekly market price updates providing him with essential information on the best time to sell his produce. Social media has also provided him with an opportunity to enter new markets. In early 2010 he took part in a Web 2.0 training and subsequently joined Facebook and Twitter. He plans to use these tools to access a wider market for his fruit business.
Harnessing ICTs for Greater Business Success
Examples from Zimbabwe, Jamaica and Zambia demonstrate that the inventive use of ICTs can extend beyond simply accessing and sharing agricultural information. Several experiences from around the regions show the application of new technologies to provide access to markets and offer security systems.
“It is 7AM. A 28 year old Zimbabwean farmer starts to prepare for the day. This season she will produce 500 tonnes of high quality potatoes. Taking out her phone she sends an SMS with a notification of her produce levels. A short time later she receives confirmation of an order to supply one tonne of potatoes per week for twelve weeks. This was made possible thanks to a new service introduced by a local software company in partnership with mobile phone service providers […]”. This novel application of ICTs to link farmers with markets was outlined by Gerald Mangena, a 24 year old accountant from Zimbabwe.
The widespread use of ICTs is introducing a new level of interest and excitement when it comes to sharing information and doing business. It is this that can capture the imagination of the youth and help transform agriculture and rural development into attractive and lucrative sectors for them.
By Thérèse Burke & Ken Lohento
The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is an international nonprofit organisation established under a joint agreement between the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries and the European Union. CTA’s mission is to advance food security, increase prosperity and encourage sound natural resource management by facilitating access to information and knowledge, policy dialogue and capacity strengthening of agricultural and rural institutions and communities in ACP countries. CTA offers access to a wide range of products and services in numerous areas including youth in agriculture.
Raising youth awareness and building their skills in agriculture and rural development through ICTs, is the focus of the ARDYIS project established by CTA and its partners. The project contributes to the sensitisation of youth on the questions related to agriculture and rural development in ACP countries and to the promotion of opportunities for them. (http://ardyis.cta.int/). For more information on CTA visit www.cta.int.
About the Writers
Published in Baobad magazine, Issue 61, March 2011