This article was first published in The Citizen on Wed 8 August, 2018, page 4 (print).
Though during the school holidays I assisted on the farm, in a rural area, I did not have a connection to agriculture when I arrived in Tanzania’s largest commercial city Dar es Salaam and headed off for “The Hill” to study law. This all changed in my early 30s when, working as a practising advocate (as I still do), I visited my client’s cashew nut farm and processing plant in the southern region of Mtwara.
I was enthralled by the lines of the paired cashew nut trees with large, attractive bright green leaves and the enticing red fruits. My client described his journey into farming as the result of dabbling in several careers, igniting my passion to learn about the lives of farming men and women who grow food.
I gained more on-the-ground insights into farmers’ experiences when I provided “pro bono publico” (English: for the public good) legal help for company formation, contracts, corporate governance, risk management, and dispute resolution to a cashew nut farmers’ association in the region. I learned that the majority of the farmers were in their mid-50s and were getting longer in the tooth. And I wondered: Why has the interest of Tanzanian youth in agriculture as a career declined amidst rising youth unemployment? How can the government keep the youth in the farms? Working and interacting with farmers allowed me to explore these questions—the focus of this article on this very opportune day, when we celebrate the annual Farmers’ Day.
According to a World Bank report titled ‘Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness’ report launched in June 2013, farmers and agribusinesses in Africa could create a market worth US$1 trillion by 2030. Now this accentuates the opportunity for the youth to transform their fortunes.
Paradoxically, in Tanzania, as elsewhere in Africa, the youth think divergently that agriculture is anything but profitable, yet it is them who are poised to benefit the most from a prosperous Tanzania. To many a youth, Dar es Salaam holds more promise than living and working on the farms. The youth withdrawal from agriculture, though profoundly fallacious, is to a certain degree understandable: raising capital to start a successful and flourishing agribusiness in today’s financial landscape is difficult notwithstanding the existence of the Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank (to appreciate the severity of this problem, see: Kolumbia, Louis. “Agricultural bank chief comes under fire.” The Citizen. June 4. 2018).
All the same, knowledge and capacity in ICT deployment is being leveraged to establish flourishing agribusinesses in Tanzania. For example, the “Kilimo Bora” mobile app, built for the modern farmer, provides information on livestock and crop farming.
Specifically, this app allows farmers to access information on how to select suitable crops, fertilizers and pesticides that are required and even the irrigation scheme to use. Additionally, the app offers tips on manure farming and animal husbandry. As a consequence, the misconceptions and negative agricultural stereotypes are changing, and Tanzanian youth are learning that they can engage meaningfully in the agricultural sector; they can succeed in it; and they can earn a living from it. While this example inspires and encourages youth to see the economic appeal of agriculture, there is more that the government of Tanzania can do to attract the youth to agriculture.
In order to help the youth build successful, agriculture-based businesses and create a prosperous future for their communities, the government needs to undertake some interventions. First, there is a need to raise awareness about youth-led start-up farming. This is crucial because the current trend is subjugated to start-ups in the service sector. The youth need knowledge on agricultural entrepreneurship, and the necessities of agricultural start-ups.
Second, strengthening and improving comprehensive and coherent policy support for farmers, including licensure and registration issues. This is in accordance with the government’s blueprint for pro-business regulation, which aims to improve Tanzania’s rank of ease of doing business.
Third, agriculture-focused incubators established by the government in every region of Tanzania are greatly useful in iron-sharpening youth ideas, in inculcating managerial and entrepreneurial skills amongst the youth, and in developing motivation, perception, and business plans that enable the youth to access the capital they need to launch successful agribusinesses.
Fourth, ICT literacy is critical for Tanzanian youth as it helps them to use farming management systems and agricultural software developed by the start-ups. Tapping into ICT will build resilience, productivity, and effectiveness of agricultural/livelihoods projects. There is therefore opportunity for establishing innovation centres across the country to train youth and help them increase productivity and incomes.
Fifth, at the central government level, budgetary support for agriculture, to the tune of at least 10 percent of gross domestic product, as required by the 2003 Maputo Declaration, is of great importance. The government also needs to reach out to the private sector and civil society to forge partnerships that can benefit engage youth in farming.
Sixth, local government support for agricultural start-ups is very important. Without this support—be it at the village, district or regional level—farmland conservation and access issues will not be tackled appropriately. Agriculture is a shared jurisdiction between the central government and the local governments. Thus, various Tanzanian laws, including the Land Act, 1999 and the Village Land Act, 1999 impact land use, agriculture, and the food system. Also, various local government legislation and policies affect agriculture.
Last but not least, organizing and bringing together youth farmers from different regions of Tanzania to connect with their peers at an annual workshop, say in Dodoma, and regional forums. This would enable them to reflect on their experiences and challenges, whilst growing their networks.
If the present constraints and limitations to youth involvement in agriculture are not addressed, Tanzania might be faced with an ageing farming population fairly soon. Nevertheless, targeted interventions, including those I have described above, should thrust the youth at the forefront of agricultural revitalization to promote increased incomes, employment, and food security. The time to intervene is now.