Making Farming Profitable: Integrating Youths into Viable and Sustainable Agricultural Value Chains

Zambia has a young population with the youth constituting 36.7% of the total national population (CSO 2010). Youth unemployment remains a serious challenge and there is urgent need to create opportunities for youth to ensure equitable and sustainable development. This article highlights some of the opportunities young people can take advantage of in agricultural value chains.

The potential of a career in agriculture

Agriculture has potential to create productive and rewarding employment for large numbers of youth. Zambia has vast tracts of fertile and arable land, adequate rainfall and numerous perennial rivers and lakes which can supply water for irrigation enabling farmers to produce throughout the year. Notwithstanding these opportunities, the narrative on agriculture revolves around back breaking labour and low returns. As a result, employment in agriculture is often considered to be last resort option for the poor. Hundreds of thousands of young people join the labour market each year and the vast majority end up in urban areas searching for elusive jobs.

There are opportunities for young people to start and run agribusiness enterprises focusing on primary crop, livestock and fish production, distribution of inputs, commodity trading, providing training and extension services, agro processing, etc. The country imports large quantities of value-added products such as milled rice, edible oils, onions and fruits which could be produced locally by agribusinesses set up and managed by young people. Agro processing is a particularly good area for youth to participate in given its high labour absorption capacity and the higher return to investment compared to primary production. There are also opportunities for young people to set up businesses that manufacture and supply simple and affordable equipment and tools for primary crop production and processing. Following the growing interest in farming by urban residents who do not have time to manage their small farms, young people can take advantage of this trend and create employment for themselves by managing the farms on behalf of owners who reside in urban areas.

Technology core to business success

Availability of affordable and appropriate technology is central to attract youths into agricultural production and agro processing. Technologies which reduce drudgery and increase productivity and quality are particularly helpful to attract youth into agriculture and agro processing. Access to affordable ICTs (mobile phones, reliable internet, etc.) can also go a long way in encouraging youth to go into primary agricultural production and value addition. For example, ICTs can play a lead role in helping youths to access inputs, training and extension services and to competitively market and sell their output in domestic, regional and international markets.

With funding from the European Union, Enterprise Zambia Challenge Fund aims to provide grants and technical assistance to agribusinesses in Zambia to enable them to work with at least 150,000 smallholder farmers/fish farmers as customers and suppliers. It is anticipated that the agribusinesses will integrate the smallholders into viable and sustainable value chains, create employment and increase incomes, food security and nutrition. The agribusinesses are also required to support smallholders to implement climate smart practices and enable smallholders to be more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change. In addition, the agribusinesses are also required to work with youth as suppliers, customers or employees.

By Mwalye Susiku, Portfolio Manager.