Following decades of underinvestment, global attention has now turned back to agricultural and rural development as a result of the 2007-2008 food price crises. Now is the time to ignite the interest of the young and empower them to play a greater role in the advancement of this important sector.
Maureen Agena, a young development professional from Uganda, illustrates a perfect example of this. The story she tells was shared as part of a 2010 CTA competition inviting ACP youth to impart their ideas and experiences on the use of ICTs in the field.
She explains how a 25 year old small scale fruit farmer in Maruzi County has used mobile phones to secure success for his business. He accesses weekly market price updates giving him essential information on the best time to sell his produce. Social media has also provided him with an opportunity to enter new markets. In early 2010 he took part in a Web 2.0 training and subsequently joined Facebook and Twitter. He plans to use these tools to access a wider market for his fruit business.
New business opportunities
There is also evidence of similar proactive attitudes at a community level. Telecentres are no longer just a location to come to access communication tools. Thanks to the foresight and initiative of some young managers, these centres now provide a very valuable service. Using their experience and ICT know-how they are helping local producers to expand and develop new business opportunities. Sulah Nduala is a 35 year old telecentre support network coordinator from Uganda. In 2009 he met Sunday, a 32 year old migrant farmer from the Uganda-Rwanda border. After a decade of going from job to job, Sunday turned to farming but with little success.
Sulah showed him how he could use his mobile phone to increase sales. The strategy was simple; develop mobile phone mailing lists from households in the area and send SMS updates about what produce was ready and available for consumption.
The result was life changing. Consumers came directly to his farm to buy fresh produce at cheaper prices. Many even used m-money, a mobile phone money transfer service, to pay. In one season alone, he made US$1,500 profit. With this money he has been able to expand his farm buying five heifers and additional land.
Need for new agricultural policies and curricula reforms
The opportunities are endless and the enthusiasm and resourcefulness demonstrated by young people to harness the potential of ICTs is exciting.
However, these individual activities are not enough on their own. A well supported agricultural industry is necessary if bright young people are to be attracted into it. At a youth exchange and training workshop on Web 2.0 for agricultural and rural development organised by CTA and partners in Accra, Ghana in March this year, some 30 young people from 18 ACP countries discussed this very issue.
In a communiqu, they called for stronger support for youth involvement in agriculture and ICTs. They highlighted the need for relevant agricultural policies, reform in the curricula to reflect necessary skills needed in agriculture such as business plans and how to use and develop ICTs. In addition, they recommended the piloting of a robust peer-extension, localised training on good agricultural practices and agro-processing with an ICT officer programme to help young and emerging farmers to master their trade and boost capacity in rural and urban areas. The establishment of regional ICT incubators to develop contextual and efficient technological responses to agricultural issues was also proposed. The group further emphasised that success was dependent on providing quality training to boost the capacity of farmers and trainers to ensure the effective applications of ICTs in this sector.
These sentiments were further underscored by one of CTAs senior programme coordinators, Jos Filipe Fonseca, in a presentation on advocating for the involvement of youth in agricultural value chains at FANRPANs node common visioning workshop in Swaziland in February this year. He argued that while the agricultural sector needs youth for its knowledge and technology based modernisation and to increase its productivity, it must put in place holistic policies to attract young people.
Young people need a voice
ICT training on its own is not enough. Young people need to have a voice and a role in the development of conducive agricultural policies and policies on youth in agriculture. This will elevate the sector to a whole new level and will secure a new dynamic generation to become involved in shaping the future of agriculture and rural development in ACP countries.