I came into the farming business because I was introduced at a young age: my parents were coffee farmers. The money my family was able to earn through farming coffee allowed me to go to school. But my neighbors who were also farmers were not able to send their son James.
As result, James and many youth of a similar background have a bad attitude about farming. To them agriculture is for the poor, old and the hopeless. Yet these are the jobs that exist and can be profitable.
Uganda has the world’s second youngest population and the job gap is growing; each year more than 400,000 youth enter the labor market and compete for only 80,000 formal jobs. With a one of the highest population growth rates in the world, and the amount of job seekers expected to triple to 48 million by 2040, coupled with an economy that relies on agriculture for economic growth and food security, Uganda sits at a critical juncture.
A youth bulge for any country can be a time bomb or it can be a demographic “dividend”, depending on the human, social, financial, and physical capital assets in place. Uganda’s path forward lies in creating economic opportunities in the agriculture sector for its rural youth, given that 75 percent of the workforce is engaged in this sector, including 55 percent of youth and 70 to 80 percent of all women.
In 2016, together with other young farmers, we formed Young Farmers Champions Network (YOFCHAN). YOFCHAN is a network of young farmers' champions working together as ambassadors and role models to shape the agriculture sector by promoting positive images and perceptions of farming. We work with youth aged 18-35 years - providing real life examples to those who may have never considered a career in agriculture.
We believe that youth must be that demographic dividend. To achieve this, we focus on mindset change about livelihoods potential; that there is money to be made dispelling negative perceptions; identifying and supporting multiple pathways to economic success for youth from a range of situations. We equip rural youth with skills to succeed in income generation, while sensitizing the private sector to the wisdom of training, hiring, procuring and supporting production, post-harvest, processing, and marketing services of youth who are self-employed.
We use a champion model where youth are organized into groups of 30 at sub-county level. Every group is composed of two cohorts: 15 youth who have already started farming and 15 youth who are interested in starting. We ensure that 60% are young women. Among the groups, the first cohort elects the champion and the second cohort elects the vice champions. We then support the champions and vice champions to establish model farms, establish high quality input shops, train them in group dynamics, leadership skills, mindset change, record keeping and financial literacy.
We also use information and communications technologies (ICT) to deliver extension services and create market space for the champions and their group members. The group members meet every two weeks to learn, share experiences and set goals for the next two weeks on their demonstration farms. After two years, the first cohort graduates as alumni champions, second cohort graduates as first cohort and the group recruits 15 youths as the second cohort. We also link the champions and the group members to finance and sustainable markets, use social media like WhatsApp and Facebook as well as organizing young farmers pitching nights and sports to ensure that farming is seen as cool among the youth.
Our vision is to see Ugandan youth choose agriculture by choice, not by circumstance.
Tumwebaze Khamutima is a Founder and C.E.O at Young Farmers Champions Network. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences from Makerere University. He is a certified financial literacy trainer with Bank of Uganda, a 2016 Echoing Green global fellow, 2018 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) online accelerator fellow, a 2018 Global African Agribusiness Accelerator Platform (GAAAP) fellow, and a One Young World ambassador. He tweets @Khamutima2.