Is agriculture a punishment or an opportunity?
It is no longer news that in Africa, agriculture is an occupation practiced by the aged in rural areas. African youth prefer migrating to urban areas in search of white-collar jobs to pursue a career in agriculture. This is because the youth have the mindset about agriculture being difficult and having little gains. The drudgery experienced in agricultural activities is also one of the reasons youth prefer white-collar jobs.
This used to be the scenario with a huge percentage of youth across Africa, but with the advent of technology, better and bigger opportunities have opened up in agriculture, especially in agribusiness. However, Africans must have a change in mindset to access these opportunities.
With the understanding that mindset change is easier to address at the early stages of growing among young Africans, CGIAR-IITA initiated the Start Them Early Program (STEP) in 2019 to redirect the aspirations of young people in secondary schools towards careers in modern agriculture by exposing them to viable opportunities in agribusiness at an early stage.
To determine the appropriate intervention strategy suitable for each country and school, the STEP team conducted a standard survey for 1264 students in eight secondary schools, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, and Nigeria. The survey was carried out to better understand the mindset of young people towards a career in agriculture.
The survey was in five categories comprising:
- School and student characteristics
- Career pathway ambitions
- Enrollment in and perceptions of agricultural coursework and practicals
- Membership and participation in extracurricular young farmers’ clubs
- Engagement within home agricultural enterprises.
Many of the students revealed that they consider field practicals a punishment rather than a complement to the knowledge passed in the classroom. A few girls that seemed attracted to careers in agriculture had their focus on food processing and marketing, rather than on field cropping, animal rearing, and fish farming. Farming was perceived to require excessive labor with unfavorable results.
Following the result of the survey, training programs and practical tools were provided for students and teachers. In DRC, workstations were provided in schools to give young people the opportunity to develop their ICT entrepreneurship and innovations.
A small-scale farm machinery package was provided in Mwiki and Muongoiya secondary schools in Kenya. While in Nigeria, training on the use of ICT in agriculture commenced for teachers and students.
This, according to the team, will create a mindset change towards agriculture among youths in schools in Africa, as plans are in process to extend the mindset change program to other schools soon.