- A plain and green farmland is divided in well-arranged plots with various types of green leafy vegetables.
- The long coconut trees surrounding the farms are swaying in the wind cooling the busy farmers from the scorching sun.
It takes hardly ten minutes of walking from Kigogo Njia Panda bus station, in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, to a low-lying area where small-scale vegetable farming is commonly practiced.
A plain and green farmland is divided in well-arranged plots with various types of green leafy vegetables.
The long coconut trees surrounding the farms are swaying in the wind cooling the busy farmers from the scorching sun.
It’s around 11 a.m. and the farmers are in their farms weeding their vegetable farms.
A-five-minute observation in the area reveals shocking yet unsurprising reality: almost all the farmers are mainly women in their 40s and few other older men. There was not a single youth on sight.
We try to ask one woman farmer around if young people are part of their ‘farming community’ in the area.
“There are very few of them here as most of them prefer idling to farming,” says the 50-year-old woman while concentrating on weeding.
“Most of them live with parents so they get everything they need, they cannot come here,” she adds.
Agriculture has been mentioned as one of the sectors with the potential to employ Tanzanian youth.
However, this would be difficult to be realized if the youth do not change their mindsets towards agriculture and rebranding the sector.
Well Told Story, a communications research and production company based in Kenya and Tanzania, recently revealed that half of small Tanzania’s businesses are connected to agriculture.
Nevertheless, the feedback from youth collected by the company through its Shujaaz project, indicates that 90 per cent of those working in agriculture do so because they were born on the farms and not because they recognize the opportunities presented by the sector.
“Early exposure to hard labour, the lack of successful role models, parents as the main source of information about agriculture give agriculture a negative image of poorly-educated rural youths,” says Dr Anastasia Mirzoyants, Regional Head of Knowledge and Learning at Well Told Story.
“This eventually leads to a turn-off for youths with aspirations and the determination to succeed,” she says.
Concerted efforts to rebrand agriculture and showcase its opportunities to youth from a different and more creative perspective is believed to bring about positive transformation to the lives of millions young Tanzanians.
“Farming needs new image, it’s the opportunity millions have been waiting for,” says Ms Mirzoyants. “It’s the best chance they have to earn good money and improve their lifestyles.”
Ms Mirzoyants’ views seem to be evidenced in the lives of the several young people, both boys and girls, who decided to engage in agriculture and witnessed a drastic improvement in both their lives and that of their families.
“Previously, I used to think that agriculture was for old people and those in rural areas or those with no direction in their lives,” says Mohammed Kombo, 24, an agro businessman based in Dodoma.
“But as for now, agriculture is my job counting on it for everything in my life.”
Kombo, a graduate of Dodoma University with B.A in Political Science and Public Administration, makes a total of Sh8 million twice a year from his sesame agriculture, which is harvested twice annually.
“The profit is bigger than the loss,” he says. “I hardly spend Sh2 million from preparing the farm to other farming activities including buying the seeds, fertilizers and hiring labour force,” says Kombo who started agribusiness while at the university.
He says he started the agribusiness with only Sh500,000 as a startup capital where Sh300,000 he got from his other ‘hustles’ and his parents topped up with Sh200, 000.
“It’s by getting engaged that youths then can be able to experience by themselves the benefits and opportunities that agriculture can offer and do away with the long time fallacy that has been dominating their lives,” advices Kombo.
Esther Lazaro, 26, is another success story of those who decided to change their perception towards agriculture.
“I do irrigation agriculture,” says Ms Lazaro of Isanga, Mbeya. “I came to that decision since I refused to stay idle nor work for other people.”
Ms Lazaro, who is doing vegetable farming, says she does cultivation by herself since she had a small startup capital which would not allow her to hire people.
“I earn from Sh50,000 up to Sh70,000 a week,” says Ms Lazaro. “As a girl it might seem as a hard job, but in reality, it’s not.”
She opines that there is nothing better in life than earning own money and starting one’s own ‘hustles’ rather than depending on money from someone else, say, boyfriend.
“What I am proud of is that through this small scale farming, I’m able to help my siblings by paying their school fees,” says Ms Lazaro who adds that she plans to build her own house soon.
The issue of low participation of youth in the agriculture sector is a big concern to the government, which makes efforts with other stakeholders to create enabling environment for effective participation in economic activities including agricultural production.
“Youths’ negative attitude towards agriculture is historical as in the past agriculture was taken as a disciplinary mechanism where people were sent to villages to participate in farming as a part of punishment,” says Mr Revelian Ngaiza, a Policy Advisor for Government Agricultural Businesses at the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries.
“Poor infrastructures in the villages, where to a great extent agriculture is undertaken, including poor roads, unreliable power supply and poor communication system including limited internet connection is another thing which causes most youths to hesitate to go to villages and take part in agriculture.”
In addressing the issue and make youths take part in agriculture, the government decided to come up with the National Strategy for Youth Involvement in Agriculture (NSYIA).
Under the strategy, the government is tasked to create enabling environment for attracting the youth’s engagement in agriculture, by among other things, improving the areas where agriculture is taking place including instilling good market systems and infrastructure improvement.
The government also issued directives to local governments to set aside five per cent of their annual budget for youths who engage in agriculture value chain.
The 5-year-NSYIA, which started in last year, is expected to unfold employment opportunities by promoting formation of strong registered youth groups.
“But this issue is more of political will than anything you can think about and the government alone can do very little if other stakeholders in the issue will not come on board and support the government’s efforts to change the status quo,” explains Mr Ngaiza who is also the Coordinator of the project.
He warns that if youths won’t change their attitude towards agriculture and let only elderly people to take part in the sector, there is a danger of the country’s economy to shrink once the generation is gone since there will be no one to take up the role.
This view is supported by Mr Audax Rukonge, the Agricultural Non-State Actors Forum Executive Secretary (ANSAF), who cautions that if the tendency will continue, the country may experience food shortage.
“Once we reach there and start importing food, we will be in a very dangerous situation,” warns Mr Rukonge saying that may be by that time the country’s young population will realize the importance of their intervention in the country’s agricultural sector.
Mr Rukonge blames it all on the institutional indoctrination-like schools and government and communities, which put the wrong perception on youths either consciously, or unconsciously towards agriculture.
“Just recently, President John Magufuli when pronouncing the ban on teen mothers education said the girls who get pregnant should go farming, in schools teachers tell students that if they don’t study hard, they will go farming and in the offices old people are often told to retire and go farming,” says Mr Rukonge.
This according to him, all these contribute negatively in the way young people view the agriculture sector. “This is because it makes them see agriculture as the sector prepared for the failure and people whose contribution to the nation is either limited or no longer needed,” he says.
According to a study titled Determinants of Rural Youth’s Participation in Agricultural Activities: The Case of Kahe East Ward in Moshi Rural District, agriculture can offer the best solution to the current youth unemployment problem that the government is battling with.
“But this can only be possible if efforts will first be directed towards changing the negative perceptions,” says Mr Rukonge. “We need to make agriculture more of business-oriented and not ‘a plan b’ for the failures.”
Some stakeholders are skeptical of the efforts taken by the government and unsure if they will really pay off pointing out that most of the government’s efforts lack consistency.
“You see something in place today and soon disappears with no information of where it ended and what went wrong,” says an official in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.
For its part, ANSAF as a stakeholder in the issue at hand, reaches out to youths and link them with the market services, banking services, quality assurance services and other services related to better agriculture.
“These youths are those with inner drives and already realize the opportunities that agriculture can offer,” says Mr Rukonge.
It also performs advocacy by constantly pressurizing the government and the banking institutions to have youth-friendly environment so that they can develop a positive attitude towards the agricultural sector.
“We do this since we really know that the end result will be the benefit to both the youth themselves and the nation in general.”
According to the aforementioned study published in International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management in 2015, it was found out that age, sex, marital status, education level, family background, availability of rural credit facilities, land, agricultural knowledge, lack of job alternatives and perceptions are important factors associated with rural youth’s participation in agricultural activities.