Uganda has the youngest population in the world with 77% of its population under the age of 30 years. This population is expected to grow and it is important that employment and entrepreneurial opportunities are created for them. Uganda’s agricultural sector has the potential to serve as the source of livelihood opportunities for these youth. There is no doubt that given the right resources and comparative advantage to scale-up production and shift from primary production to higher-value finished goods, food security problems will be addressed coupled with the creation of market and employment opportunities across different agricultural value chains.
A lot of research has tried to identify the numerous impediments of the youth engaging in agriculture pointing squarely to six principal challenges. These include youth’s insufficient access to knowledge, information and education; youth limited access to land; inadequate access to financial services and resources; difficulty in accessing green jobs; limited access to markets and youth limited involvement in policy dialogue. To address these challenges, the government, non-government organizations, community-based organizations, the private sector and development partners have all endeavoured to create initiatives focused on the involvement of the youth in the different aspects of the agricultural chains.
The ENABLE (Empowering Novel Agribusiness Led Employment) Youth Program Uganda is one of those initiatives focused on supporting the youth in agribusiness in the catchments areas around the irrigation schemes of Mobuku, Doho, Tochi, Wadelai and Ngenge. The program identifies the youth between the ages of 18-35 years with innovative agribusiness enterprises to become the beneficiaries of a fund created by the Nordic Development Fund and the African Development Bank. Under the Enable Youth Uganda Program, these youth are selected based on the merits of their businesses cases and are subjected to training and mind-shifting program from which they acquire the crucial business management skills that can ensure the survival of their businesses. This training is imparted through bootcamp and validation sessions with the aim of not only introducing the youth to agricultural business management concepts but also assisting them to integrate these concepts into their existing agricultural enterprises.
The design and methodology of the Enable Youth Program Uganda is intended to address the challenges of the youth participation in agriculture with a specific focus on encouraging and promoting a shift from primary production to higher-value finished goods. The program through the training imparts knowledge and information to the youth to enhance their productivity for the development of their agriculture-related entrepreneurial ventures. Furthermore, it is fortunate that in the selected program areas, the youth have access to land because most of the land is communally owned and it’s on this land where they set up their agribusiness projects.
After going through all the training and validations, the youth pitch their improved agribusiness projects to an investment committee which approves the best and sustainable business cases that can access funds to the tune of $8000 intended to scale up their projects through the purchase of equipment and injection of working capital for their enterprises. These funds are disbursed to the approved youth as a 2-year loan facility with a 5% p.a. interest rate charge and a 6 months grace period. The intended result of the program is to create employment opportunities for other youth, therefore, increasing access to green jobs which can provide more sustainable livelihoods in the long run, and can be more labour intensive and ultimately involve more value-added.
All through the duration of the program, the youth have access to pre- and post-disbursement business development services provided by experts with aim of improving the performance of the selected agribusiness enterprises, enabling them to access markets and compete favourably in the current economic environment. These business development services are comprised of all financial and non-financial support that the youth receive to innovate, produce and market their products, increase their access to markets, increase their revenue, increase their profitability and productivity, forecast, manage and militate against risks and add value or diversify their production. The combination of the business development services and the access to training and market information facilitates the youth in the program to access markets, with their niche markets offering particularly significant opportunities.
The Enable Youth is a concept of the African Development Bank concept aimed at promoting youth employment in Africa through their increased participation in agriculture. In Uganda, it’s currently being implemented as a pilot program testing out different methodologies intended to inform the future designs of youth engagement in agriculture programs. Through the Enable Youth Uganda program, the youth have the opportunity to have their voices heard and for policymakers to engage the youth in the policymaking process.
Addressing these six principal challenges is critical to increasing youth’s involvement in the agricultural sector, and ultimately addressing the significant untapped potential of this massive and growing demographic. In Uganda, facilitating youth involvement in agriculture has the potential to drive wide-spread rural poverty reduction and the creation of employment opportunities among the youth. The lessons learned from the implementation of the Enable Youth Program Uganda reveal: it is essential for the youth to have access to the right information; integrated training approaches are required for the youth to respond to the needs of a modern agricultural sector; modern information and information technologies offer great potential for the youth in the agricultural sector; youth-specific programs can be an effective avenue in providing the youth with an extra push for their involvement in the agricultural sector; and a coherent and integrated response is required from policymakers and development partners alike to ensure that the core challenges of effective youth involvement in agriculture and agribusiness are addressed. With the rising national and global populations and decreasing agricultural productivity gains, the youth have a pivotal role to play in ensuring a food secure future for themselves and for their future generations. This can only be achieved through a coordinated response to increasing the youth’s involvement in the agricultural sector.