Agriculture plays a vital role in the economic development of Ghana. It is one of the largest contributors to GDP and export incomes in the country. Agriculture employs about half of the economically active population, and about 80% of the country’s population depends on agriculture. With all these benefits agriculture comes with, only about 37% of agricultural lands in Ghana are being cultivated. This represents a large number of unexplored opportunities such as employment, food production, an increase in exports, etc. that can be utilized for the growth of Ghana’s economy.
Considering the enormous potential of Ghana’s agricultural sector, the government has made some efforts to encourage the youth to go into agriculture. Unfortunately, due to the poor nature of rural agriculture, the youth finds it unattractive and unrewarding. According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the average farming age in Ghana currently is 55 years against a life expectancy age average of 55-60 years. This clearly shows that older men and women mostly practice agriculture, thus, explaining the country’s inability to produce all its food needs. Motivating the youth to turn their attention to and engage in agriculture will be of much benefit to the country. In ensuring that the youth is motivated, the government introduced the youth in agriculture programme, which has helped to some extent though more needs to be done.
Growing up in an agricultural research station and having engaged in farming for some number of years has given me enough exposure to know some major challenges that scare young people away from agriculture. The following issues, if considered by stakeholders in the agricultural sector, will motivate more young people to go into commercial farming.
Access to Land
Farming is not possible without land, and traditionally, the land belongs to adults. Thus, young people seldom have access to lands for agriculture. It is unrealistic for young people to purchase land these days given the high rates of youth unemployment against high land prices. For young women, it is even a greater challenge to assess land due to the underestimation of women’s abilities, especially in Africa.
To overcome this challenges in accessing land, the following can be considered:
The youth should be encouraged to come together to form cooperative farming groups. They can then lease a land, which will be affordable, given that the cost will be for a group, not an individual. Likewise, the Government should lease dormant government lands to the youth for short periods to serve as a motivating factor to positively influence the youth’s interest in agriculture.
Also, the government must formulate and enforce statutory laws that give equal rights to both women and men to have access to lands. This will give young women the opportunity to engage in large-scale farming.
Access to Finance
The youth today is trendy and prefers new technical and innovative ways of farming, which involve substantial financial commitments. Access to financial services is of fundamental importance to start those new and technological ways of agriculture. Unfortunately just like access to land, access to finance also poses a great challenge to the youth who would like to start commercial farming. In some settings, the youth has access to land but lacks the necessary finances, such as costs of planting, fertilizer, harvesting, etc., to invest in the venture. Meanwhile, financial service providers have the perception that young farmers form a riskier client category than the adults because they assume that young people lack experience and collateral. Due to this perception, the youth is denied access to loans and grants that can help start up their agricultural activities.
To mitigate the difficulties in accessing funds by young farmers, the following can be implemented:
The young farmers should come together to establish a common warehouse for their farm produce, which they can use as a collateral in accessing loans.
The financial service providers (FSPs) need to create youth-based products to satisfy the needs of young farmers. For instance, to reduce the perceived risks, the FSPs can provide loans to young farmers coupled with training and monitoring to guide the farmers in utilizing the funds efficiently. Also young inexperienced farmers can be placed under the supervision of successful adult farmers, who will serve as their mentors. This will help the young farmers avoid some mistakes that might make them run at a loss and hinder them from paying back the loans.
In addition, the Government and other agricultural funding agencies should implement fiscal support programs, particularly planned for young farmers, to promote the interests of the youth in agriculture. For example, competitions can be organized for the youth, where young people with good business plans can be evaluated and rewarded with funds to start up their agribusiness.
Access to Markets
Prior to accessing markets, the young farmers have already gone through the tussle of acquiring land, securing funds and agricultural inputs. Market access for farmers means their ability to get buyers for their farm produce. Access to market is at the core of the advantages agriculture has on the society such as income generation, employment, hunger and poverty reduction. Without markets, the sweat of the farmers will be in vain as the farm produce will remain unsold and unutilized, making the farmers run at a loss. Regrettably, the market structures do not favour young people and remain a challenge to young farmers. Most farming activities take place in rural areas, where there are few market intermediaries as against a large number of farmers, a situation, which allows these market intermediaries to exploit the farmers by buying the produce at unreasonably low prices. The young farmers who lack experience and knowledge about how the market works are the most affected in this case. To worsen the case, most farm produce of young farmers are not able to meet international standards for their produce to qualify as export commodities due to their inexperience in using improved farming technologies.
To resolve these marketing deficiencies;
An innovation platform should be formed, which will comprise of the farmers, middlemen and consumers. On this platform, an agreement can be reached on the prices of the commodities and to some extent qualities of the produce expected from the farmers. In doing this, the exploitation of farmers by middlemen will cease and the farmers are able to know the needs of their consumers and provide them accordingly. Also, trade fairs should be organized for these young farmers to exhibit their farm produce, which will expose them to potential buyers and investors.
Education and training sessions on agribusiness should be organized periodically for young farmers. In such sessions, farmers will be informed about the market dynamics, exportation requirements and how to meet the standards.
Government and other agricultural Non-Governmental Organizations should focus on the development and reconstruction of roads that link farming communities to the urban centres. Also, they should formulate favourable marketing and tax exemption policies to encourage the youth and attract them to commercial farming.
To conclude, young people account for a significant percentage of Ghana’s population, and most are unemployed or underemployed, despite the gap in the labour force for agriculture. The youth faces many hurdles in trying to earn a livelihood but does not perceive agriculture as a rewarding and attractive profession. Until they find meaningful economic and attractive opportunities in agriculture, they will continue to turn away from it. This trend does not only contribute to the growing rate of unemployment but also affects food production in Ghana. Investing in young farmers is, therefore, the key to enhancing agricultural productivity, boosting Ghana’s economy and ensuring food security.
Author: Jacob K. Amengor, threesixtyGh writer