By: Jeffrey Agyemang Duah
With the interminable debate of creating sustainable employment for young people through agriculture, it has become imperative for government to prioritize job creation as the unemployment situation in Ghana increases at a disturbing rate. The 2021 Ghana Economic Forum held on the 19th October in Accra discussed extensively agribusiness opportunities as a key to bridging the unemployment gap for the youth. The concern is how the government can stir up the enthusiasm of the now “sophisticated” youth to embrace and make a living from what has over the years appeared like a “hopeless” venture to operate.
Some may be aware of the numerous youth-oriented initiatives in agriculture implemented by successive governments in Ghana. Yet the appetite for agriculture as a tenable enterprise for the teeming unemployed youth has not been realized. This makes it difficult for government to leverage the sector to power economic transformation. Most recently, programs like “Planting for Food and Jobs” targeted at least forty percent of the youth, including beneficiaries from senior high school and tertiary institutions in several modules. This year commemorates the fifth anniversary of the initiative, and I will leave the success of the program to objective assessment. However, it is a motivation and not out of place for government to create a platform for the beneficiaries, especially the young people, to talk about their accomplishment in the sector.
The “National Farmers Day” celebration, an annual event which was instituted in 1985 to appreciate farmers’ contributions to the growth of agriculture after the unfortunate famine in 1983, has become the acceptable avenue by which players in the agricultural sector are recognized. Nevertheless, in appraising this important national event, it has been observed that the occasion has always focused on and rewarded the ageing labor force, who are typically involved in the upstream agriculture. Again, the award has over the years favored actors who meet requirements such as big farm size and those with the capacity to invest in diversified agricultural commodities on a large scale. In view of this criteria, the youth are automatically consigned to the background because it is almost impossible for them to meet the set requirements. This action demoralizes the youth, who make up thirty-percent of the agricultural workforce, from fulfilling their role as key stakeholders to the agricultural development in the country.
Whilst I may agree that the handful of young people in agribusiness might not fall within the aforementioned benchmarks noted by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to determine awardees for the event, the government should not wait till the young get old before they receive the recognition needed, if fortunate. It is reasonable to understand the dynamics of today’s youth, aged between sixteen and thirty-five, always striving for "attention” with substantial efforts made. This is because they are the seeds and ought to be attended to, nurtured and critically taken care of for tomorrow. Relegating them from the awarding scheme has never been a suitable way of encouraging young people to continue sacrificing to revive the moribund sector.
As a witness participant in the “36th Farmer’s Day” celebration last year, I was impressed by the gradual improvement of Ghana’s agriculture sector where commodities were not only produced with advanced technology but also with conscious effort by the youth in value-added products displayed at the exhibition centers. It was obvious that those who patronized the week-long celebration were not there to observe rewards given to deserving aged farmers, but the outcome of the harvested products.
Ghana’s agricultural sector, according to the World Bank study in 2020, employs 44.7 percent of the country’s total labor force. The excitement is, there still remains a high level of untapped opportunities for the teeming unemployed youth in the country. Amidst the systemic challenges, an appreciable number of young people, in recent times, are engaged not only in farming but also in technology and mechanization service provision. Some are also involved in tele-agriculture consulting, processing/value addition, packaging, branding, digital/online marketing and distribution among others, within the food system.
Why it is Necessary to Reward the Youth
Averting the “image problem” of agriculture – The agricultural sector has been ill-packaged and left to the fate of rural people and the aged. It is also seen as an interim security for those waiting to be employed in the unfortunately non-existing white-collar jobs in the cities with great benefits. It is worthwhile for government to purposely contemplate national agricultural events and fora at least twice a year as a platform to stimulate youth interest in the sector. This will help to explore and highlight opportunities and reward the outstanding performance of the youth who are already operating within the commodity value-chain. It will also serve as an inspiration and a sustainable measure to onboard a new generation to take over the baton from the ageing labor force.
Leadership – These days, the “can do” spirit of the youth cannot be questioned, given their exposure and the alacrity to build their capacity and impact society. I have always admired “the young can lead” mantra, and as an agrarian economy, it will be a proud moment to raise many “Presidents on the farm”. These “Presidents” will take up the responsibilities and lead the revolution of agriculture having the clout to effectively influence decision-making across-board.
It is significant to note that without an evidence-based, intriguing youth-focused story, the drive to successfully integrate young people in agriculture a means of curbing the 4.50-percent unemployment rate in Ghana will continue to be a mirage.
I, therefore, suggest a “National Agribusiness Week” which will on-board and cheer up the young people in the agricultural value-chain for economic transformation.
The writer is a Researcher, a Development Policy Analyst and an Agribusiness MSME Advocate.