Young People, Farming & Food: Do young men and women want to work within agricultural food chains?

As in the first livelihood session on day 1, we were provided with some exciting signs of ongoing processes of change within the agri-food sector in which young men and women had been able to identify with, and respond to, opportunities for earning income. This was as true in the new agri-food businesses emerging in Ethiopia (see the paper by Tassew Woldehanna), as in the expansion of sales of gum and resins available in the Garba Tula pastoral areas of northern Kenya (the paper by Yasin Mahadi, Jeremy Lind, Susan Wren & Lars Otto Naess).  The products involved are high value for which there is an increasing demand.  In the case of the gum and resins collected in Garba Tula, young men appeared to have filled a gap in the value chain collecting and bulking produce for sale and negotiating for better prices in the market.

Backgrounding these stories of an apparently energised body of young men, and possibly young women, was the broader debate within this conference: of the circumstances under which young men and women might be engaged in agricultural value chains. Are young men and women encouraged sufficiently by the education system, their parents and their communities to use agriculture to establish their independent lives?

Certainly Tassew suggests that an educated labour force can be more productive than one that is not educated. Unfortunately, as detailed in our last paper in this session (by K Kadenga Lewa and John M. Ndungu reporting from Kenya), the education system is not seen as encouraging young people in this direction. Nevertheless, the paper ends on a positive note: school farms and young farmer clubs can be used as a means to change the way agriculture is viewed, and investment in these is proposed as at least one way forward for achieving change.