By Vision Reporter
Skills in agriculture entrepreneurship are critical for youth employment, and for the transformation of the agriculture sector which for the foreseeable future, will remain the backbone of Uganda’s economy, experts have advised.
Agriculture is the single largest source of income for Uganda contributing 24% of the national GDP, employing over 60% of the population and contributing 52% of the total export earnings.
The sector thus provides an indispensable contribution to food security and poverty reduction.
With technological advancements like greenhouse farming, indoor vertical farming, use of improved seeds, agrochemicals and agricultural machinery, among others, the sector has a lot of potentials to create new job prospects for young people.
However, many youths are unable to derive the full benefit of this wealth that could provide employment and money because of the lack of agripreneur skills.
Agripreneurship or agricultural entrepreneurship simply refers to entrepreneurship in agriculture.
“I tried growing cassava but I couldn’t get the market and ended up making losses. I changed to watermelon the same thing happened to me. It was not an easy experience since I lost a lot of money,” says Christopher Tusiime, a youth from Kyenjojo district.
Tusiime says he decided to grow watermelon after seeing trucks ferrying them to Fort Portal town.
Little did he know that he needed to figure out where he was going to sell his products, identify who will buy them and how he was going to do it.
“I learned the hard way. I did not have the skills of agripreneurship, which would have helped me create a backup plan, or have a solid marketing plan before even planting my watermelon,” Tusiime says.
According to the former Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (2016 to 2021), Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja, a low skill set has led to very slow progression in the employment of youth in other stages of the agricultural value chain especially at post-harvest handling, processing and agri-business.
“A lot of emphasis on agricultural education and learning has been put on farming, but less on other aspects of the agriculture value chain, like post-harvest loss reduction, processing, market and agri-business,” Ssempijja says.
He notes that agripreneurship is critical to driving marketing and trade since the youth will be aware of market demands and strive to produce with a target in mind.
The Malabo Montpellier Panel’s report, Mechanized: Transforming Africa’s Agricultural Value Chains, emphasizes the need to fill this skills gap and stresses that, “The mainstreaming of formal vocational training is needed to turn young people and farmers in the food system into skilled entrepreneurs who can run their farms or businesses as economical, productive, sustainable enterprises.”
In Uganda, many young people rarely complete lower secondary-level agricultural or certificate-level agricultural business, technical and vocational education and training (BTVET) with the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to succeed.
This is largely because the agricultural education and training they receive is too theoretical.
Justus Turyahebwa the head of the agriculture department at National Teachers College (NTC) Unyama says educating the youth and the general public on agriculture is key in transforming the sector.
“Agriculture serves as the number one industry in the country and to keep it running, we must educate our youth to take over. As teacher trainers, we need to do the teaching practically,” Turyahebwa says.
According to VVOB – education for development’s technical report titled ‘Enhancing adolescent wellbeing, learning and opportunities’, many young Ugandans see a future for themselves in the sector, not simply as farmers producing for household consumption, but as agripreneurs.
“To fulfil these aspirations, they need relevant skills. We want to ensure that adolescents, now and in the future, feel well in school, are learning, and gain relevant skills to unlock future opportunities,” states the report.
Strengthening teacher training
At the moment, VVOB is supporting the Ministry of Education and local education authorities to strengthen teacher and school leader professional development systems in creating safe and supportive, equitable, and effective school environments.
In Uganda, this is being done through the three-year program worth €2.5m (sh10.6b) named ‘From classroom to land: teaching agriculture practically’ that is being implemented in the National Instructors’ College Abilonino (NICA) in Lira district and the National Teachers Colleges of Mubende and Unyama to ensure teachers are well equipped.
Under the program students, teachers and student instructors are equipped with the main principles and skills for setting up and maintaining an agri-enterprise.
The state minister for Higher Education, John Chrysostom Muyingo, says Uganda is now prioritizing skills training and education to create employment for the youths who compose two-thirds of the country’s population.
“It is important to have hands-on learning and we are committed to equipping our people with skills that will enable them be job creators. We understand teacher training is key and we are addressing the gaps in providing agriculture education,” Muyingo says.
Lilian Lalam, an agriculture student from NTC Unyama, says now is the time for young people to see agriculture beyond digging with a hoe.
“I got inspired to join the teaching of agriculture so that I can transform the mindset of the youth. I also wanted the skills to practice modern agriculture which is business-focused,” Lalam says.
She notes that skilling the youth with agripreneur skills should be emphasized at all levels of education.
“When growing bananas, you require knowledge on pruning, weeding, spraying and fertilising. But you also need to know the business part; like being able to sell your product where and when it is most profitable, keep adequate records, and plan your production to take advantage of the most favourable markets. These are the skills we are getting as agriculture student teachers,” Lalam says.
Andrew Ahereza, a finalist at Unyama, explains that the best way to make agriculture interesting and attractive to young people is by showing people how they can earn from it.
“Many students lose interest in agriculture because it is not taught practically. In most cases, people are taught how to grow crops, maintain machines or rear animals on the blackboard with no practical lessons. You can’t grow things on the blackboard and expect to interest me to do it practically,” Ahereza says.
He notes that he got interested to pursue a teaching career in agriculture to give teaching a practical and interesting touch.
“We all live on agriculture and the only way to survive is having educated farmers with the right skills on doing agribusiness,” Ahereza says.
Bram Thibaut, an Agricultural advisor at VVOB, says for Uganda’s youth to realise their entrepreneurial aspirations in agriculture, they need relevant skills.
“Young people often consider agriculture as an activity done by uneducated villagers, because they have no other choice. Young people remember how their parents have struggled with subsistence farming and never really improved their life. That is why business skills or agripreneurship are so important,” Thibaut says.
He notes that Agricultural Education and Training (AET) could make a key contribution to the training pillar of the ecosystem, in terms of skills development of Uganda’s future agripreneurs.
AET can also help to unlock the resources and support available to these youth.
He explains that agriculture should be approached like any other business.
“Farming is not for those who don’t have another choice. Farming should be a positive choice! Only then can agriculture become an engine for the economy and lift many out of poverty,” Thibaut says.
According to experts, the long-term growth and development of the agricultural sector is secure once its human resource takes farming as a vocation and business.
Agriculture is an essential driver of economic development and an area of great opportunity for young people in Uganda.