June 7, 2017

How We Can Excite Youth By Using ICT in Agriculture

Written by William Kedrock

This article originally appeared on ICTworks. Reposted with permission.

About six years ago, I was in Uganda as part of a team undertaking an agriculture policy assessment. One of the more interesting sound bites regarding agriculture was how many young people generically characterized farming as “digging” and that they’d rather earn enough to eat each day in almost any other way than digging.

Two points stood out for me, and still do, in these declarations if we are to attract youth to and motivate them to stay in agriculture.

  • Farming has to be more than digging.
  • The time horizon has to lengthen beyond today.

If one is only living for today’s meal, why dig? Why do anything but, for example, drive a boda-boda or open a kiosk selling sundries? True farming is hard work in the application of science and technology to supply a market and earn an income.

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It is exciting and it is a lifestyle, not just a coping strategy. ICT has an important role to play in changing the image of farming and in making it interesting, profitable and sustainable.

The Many ICT in Agriculture Engagement Options

Vicki Walker’s lunchtime discussion at ICTforAg 2016, “How Can We Excite Youth By Using ICT in Agriculture?”, noted that ICT is helping to reshape the notion of smallholder farming, from sophisticated soil sampling to Craiglist-like matching of suppliers and buyers.

ICT is helping to define and link smallholders as a consumer segment so input suppliers and technology providers can market to them. It is also facilitating access to crop finance and insurance, helping with weather forecasting, husbandry, farm management, and more.

At the same event, Stephanie Schwartzkopf gave a lightning talk on the application of ICT as edutainment. Her “Engaging Youth with Edutainment” talk highlighted how Mediae, and Africa Lead are collaborating to engage youth on the topic of agribusiness through two popular TV shows in East Africa – “Makutano Junction” and “Don’t Lose the Plot“.

Episodes of the latter are twinned with an interactive text messaging campaign on critical areas of technical knowledge for development of small agribusinesses. These programs help to address societal biases against farming and introduce youth to the notion of farming as a business and a chosen way of life (not a fallback of last resort), creating a social support network along the way.

We Cannot Delay

With the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa around 60, something needs to be accomplished to rebrand farming as a wealth creating career. To attract youth, farming has to be seen as something different from what smallholders did a generation or two ago—dig for today’s meal.

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The application of ICT in agriculture can change, and is changing, the image of farming. Change the image and you can change how youth generally feel about farming as a vocation.

By William Kedrock, a management consultant previously with DAI