Aspirations and race relations: young people and livelihoods

Getnet Tadele presented perceptions of farming as a livelihood in Ethiopia where the government in various policies is emphasizing the need to cultivate a new generation of literate farmers. Christine Okali presented a case study of livelihood building in rural Brong Ahafo in Ghana. And Mandlenkosi Sibanda highlighted the interaction of race and youth, particularly the role of this interface in influencing agricultural outcomes in the post-land reform Zimbabwe.  

It was interesting to hear that with big drives by the governments to engage the youth in agriculture, in some parts of Ethiopia, parents do not want their educated children to follow in their footsteps and become farmers. Instead, children are expected to go into other fields of work where they “can make something of themselves” – giving the impression that if you become a farmer you are not “something”. Is this the general feeling of African parents who are farmers?

The Ghana case study put forward the idea that launching independent lives demands capital. This is something that is very clear to young people in the Brong Ahafo area who are in tomato production. These youths practice what Christine Okali and Jim Sumberg call “Instrumental Agriculture”: they farm in order to leave farming. Okali noted that young men and women have different interests, none of which are in agriculture.  Agriculture to them is a means to an end, but not a way of making a living.

The Zimbabwean case study was particularly interesting because the issue of race relations is often excluded from agriculture discussions yet the history of land rights in Africa is deeply rooted in its colonial past which is deeply racial. Mandlenkosi Sibanda noted that, perhaps surprisingly, race relations among young farmers are relatively healthy: while young black farmers’ livelihoods continue to be vulnerable and less diversified, there is an increasing number of inter-racial land deals and agro-project partnerships. However, there is still a need to re-think agricultural policy to be youth-centred, racially inclusive and responsive to new governance challenges and to strengthen new forms of agricultural organisation/alliances. These changes would help to strengthen emerging value chains and broaden inter-racial youth participation in agriculture.

It was clear from the papers presented and the discussions that an agriculture livelihood perspective cannot be restricted to a particular field but must be examined from the perspective of its linkages with other areas, such as education, race relations, and business. So then what are the opportunities that are available – can farming really be a way of earning a living given the fact that farming in Africa is mainly smallholder farming? That question remains a challenge to researcher, policy makers and young people themselves.