“Agriculture is the backbone of our Nation”. I believe that almost every Ghanaian writing a Social Studies or Agriculture test might have used this as an opening statement. However, many people continue to downplay the impact agriculture has on the economy. Agriculture ensures the production of food and the sustainability of ecosystems. Simply stated, agriculture benefits all of mankind, animals and the environment. In the Ghanaian economy, agriculture contributes 19 per cent of the GDP with additional export earnings and provision of food needs of the country.
Over 60% of Ghana’s population is involved in agriculture. Most of them practice smallholder, traditional and rain-fed agriculture without the benefit of technology and equipment. In addition to this, there is the issue of the agriculture sector being dominated by an aging farmer population. The average age of a farmer is 55 years, which is a challenge considering that the life expectancy in Ghana is between 55 and 60 years. Pumping younger blood into the farming sector and its auxiliary businesses is necessary to ensure sustainable food security in Ghana.
Agriculture needs to attract more young people. The first step to achieve this is solving its image problem. In other words, the majority of the youth do not see Agriculture as being “cool” or attractive. Young people have an idea of what they admire and aspire to. They do not find agriculture in that category.
A valid question to ask is ‘what or who defines cool?’ ‘Cool’ refers to something that is in vogue or fashionable. In fashion, anybody wearing a jacket will go unnoticed but once a superstar such as Kanye West wear the same jacket, many people will storm malls trying to get a similar version or a jacket worn during winter would be cool to wear same during summer. Trends come and go based on popular opinion and popular people. This means that cool is defined by time and context.
When we place agriculture in this kind of context, we have to find out what engages the youth so that we can tailor agriculture to their preferences. Basically, this will mean reducing the backbreaking labour, debunking the myth that farming is a business for illiterates and ensuring that it is lucrative. Agriculture has to be remunerative to the youth to be cool. In a recent chat with a pineapple farmer, it was obvious he was ready to quit pineapple farming and opt for vegetables. His reason was that he could not wait 14 months till he harvested the pineapples before selling them to make money. He needed his money pronto. For him agriculture is money since he had invested so much.
Delivering a speech on the topic: ‘Agriculture is cool: engaging Africa’s Youth’ at the 52nd Annual meeting of the African Development Bank on Monday 22nd May, 2017, Ghana’s former president Mr John Dramani Mahama stated clearly the need to make agriculture attractive for the African youth to increase involvement in the sector. He pointed out several interventions that will help make agriculture cool to the youth: the establishment of farmer service centres to provide equipment for farm operations; provision of easily accessible financial support and the establishment of the Youth in Agriculture Programme, a platform for young people graduating from colleges to work on state farms and learn modern techniques such as use of green houses, the production of local or exotic crops and other modern techniques.
Most of these interventions complement the ‘Planting for Foods and Jobs’ Campaign. This programme seeks to make agriculture cool for every Ghanaian irrespective of age through the provision of various planting inputs, technical support and financing.
Making agriculture cool for Ghanaian youth must not solely be about production. There is the need for various ‘cool’ services along the value chain. These include large data management in terms of commodity pricing, weather forecasts and the provision of innovative mobile technology and information services such as the work being done by Farmerline . Additionally, there are services such as logistics and transport for haulage of produce as provided by AgroMindset an agribusiness that transforming poultry production and additionally handles a major logistics and transport business. For these businesses, providing a solution that will be beneficial to farmers is cool hence their indulgence. There are also other cool solutions along the agriculture value chain such as the processing work offered by RealVine and Kubenut. There are also mechanical services for ploughing, weeding and land clearing for new farms.
People like Mr Dramani Payida , who has a 200acre mango farm, believe that agriculture is the future of Ghana when it comes to revenue generation. However, their beliefs are often constrained by severe challenges in the sector. Be it start-up capital, education, human resource challenges dealing with third parties or even farm workers or the huge cost of land due to the land tenure system of Ghana, the youth are often dwarfed by the challenges of entering into this field of business.
The key to overcoming all these challenges is rebranding. Agriculture should be rebranded as cool and economically viable business. Once people’s perception about the sector changes, access to education, capital, land, and the right resources would become easier. Agriculture needs to be treated as a major business in a way that will attract the youth. Success stories about agriculture ventures and businesses should be shared and promoted by all people everywhere. Making agriculture cool will involve all stakeholders working to make agriculture profitable through promotion of agriculture as an intellectually stimulating and economically sustainable career.
In addition to all this, agriculture as a business should be incorporated in the school curricula. Students should be taught about production as well as all other rudiments of the business of agriculture. This includes how to develop a business model, partnering, raising capital, branding, marketing and general management.
Government’s policy objectives, which is consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2&12), for the development of the agricultural industry as the key to sustainable growth and development of the Ghanaian economy clearly highlights the importance of the private sector. The role of the financial institutions in providing funding to the youth involved in agriculture, and the organisation of education and incubation programmes for start-ups cannot be downplayed. Increased access to education and agribusiness enterprises would mean that young people would be a vital force for innovation focusing on technology. Ghana needs an educated youth that understands the need for increased agricultural productivity.
Agriculture means more than subsistence farming; it’s a science and a business that is cool and remunerative. Wooing the interest of young people into agriculture is imperative for the development of the agricultural and economic sectors. The spotlight on young farmers should be wider and brighter in order to support this ‘AGRICOOLTURE’ trend.
“The Best Culture is Agriculture”
Akwasi A. Tagoe. (MSc. Agricultural and Environmental Science)
Agricultural Services Manager – GreenCoastFoods