Agriculture must be modernized to increase productivity and create a future for rural youth
Agriculture plays an important role in the process of economic development and can contribute significantly to household food security. The National Development Plans (NDPs and HPPs) set out a broad vision of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030.
The developmental role of agriculture has long been recognized. Namibia imported over N$100 million worth of maize from South Africa and Zambia beginning 2022. This is not making good reading. We cannot point fingers or blame someone. We are the culprits. We cannot blame the government. We must blame ourselves. We failed as a nation and we need to wake up.
As a leading sector of many economies, agriculture helps facilitate industrial growth and structural economic transformation. Agriculture plays a multi-dimensional role in the development process, which includes eliciting economic growth, generating employment opportunities, contributing to value chains, reducing poverty, lowering income disparities, ensuring food security, delivering environmental services and providing foreign exchange earnings, among others. Due to the neglect of this sector, development progress has been hindered. Most young people today would shun a career in agriculture.
But young workers are identified as one of the vulnerable groups. Youth is often the time when a person starts to dream of the future, think of the path to take and boldly and aggressively set life in motion. In many rural villages, to be a farmer is not part of this dream of the future. Farming is a lowly job and does not earn much, so better migrate to cities or abroad where there may be more opportunities and adventure.
What will then be the future of agriculture and food without young farmers? No farmer, no food. No food, no life. The rural youth is often unemployed or work informally in unpaid or underpaid, low skilled, insecure and hazardous jobs. The lack of opportunities and decent jobs in the rural areas compel the youth to migrate to cities. Sons and daughters of farmers are often reluctant to go into farming due to various reasons. Farming is regarded as a lowly, back-breaking, unglamorous, dirty job needing little skill. There is usually less pride and dignity in farming. This low regard for farming is reinforced in society. Farmers tell their children, “Do not be like me, just a lowly farmer.” “If you don’t study well, you will just end up here, farming”. “You are not a bright student, go back to the field and just plant sweet potato.” Many schoolchildren dream to be doctors, engineers or lawyers, but seldom to be farmers. Agricultural producers and peasants are always ranked low.
The base of agriculture remains in the rural areas. There is, however, a lack of good infrastructure and institutions to attract the youth to stay in the rural areas. And most rural areas do not have access to good roads, electricity, health centres, clinics and hospitals, schools and universities, entertainment, internet connections, business establishments, markets to sell their agricultural produce as well as facilities for small and medium agro-industries or factories.
Furthermore, the upcoming generation of young farmers has limited agricultural knowledge and skills as well as leadership and managerial skills. Skills development and technology transfer are considered the key to ‘model youth farming’. Consequently, due to a lack of encouragement, support and promotion of adequate knowledge and skills especially in technology and modernization of farming, young farmers do not see any future in agriculture.
Surges in the price of food can therefore make the difference between life and death, between health and sickness, between peace and violence, between progress and poverty. Other impacts are the effects of food-induced inflation and deteriorating trade deficits on economic growth, as well as the impact of childhood malnutrition on children’s health and education.
In better circumstances, rising food prices should ideally induce Namibian farmers to produce more, thus helping to solve the food crisis but since tangible incentives are mostly lacking, the youth goes for city jobs while real farming takes them out of their city comfort zones.
A new vision and new policies are required to achieve a fundamental and sustainable transformation of agriculture. In my view, with the adoption of relevant technologies and innovations, agricultural productivity can help promote food security and significantly reduce food importation. Accelerated agricultural productivity generates general equilibrium impacts that spur faster employment generation and equitable growth, with a resounding effect on societal wealth and stability. Rapid modernization of the sector accelerates agricultural productivity.
To that end, enhancing agricultural productivity should remain on the central policy agenda for our government to promote structural economic transformation with a renewed commitment to the fundamental role of agriculture in the overall development process, especially as it relates to long-term economic growth and poverty and inequality reduction.
To harness the potential and energy of the youth for agriculture, a comprehensive and integrated policy and programme on rural development, sustainable and farmer-managed agro-based enterprises as well as on markets and trade should be put in place, with special incentives and provisions for young farmers.
The youth is the future of the nation, and the rural youth is the future of agriculture and rural industry. The time to act is now, if we would like to have farmers, and food, in the future.
Promoting the Agriculture-for-Development agenda requires fast-tracking the productivity of smallholder farming by supporting smallholder farmers to access land, farming inputs and post-harvest facilities. Agricultural productivity is an important factor in labour reallocation to other sectors of the economy. In this regard, promoting access to fertilizer, expanding irrigation schemes, promoting non-tillage farming and investing in agriculture are pivotal to promoting agricultural productivity to overcome poverty and inequality.