Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The majority of East Africa’s population is based in rural areas, and is composed predominantly of young people. Specifically, Uganda has a rural population rate of 86%, and 77% of this population is under 30 years old (World Bank, 2011).
However, high youth unemployment rates have led to an unprecedented movement of young people from rural to urban areas, in search of employment opportunities. This influx has placed considerable strain on urban infrastructure, which was not designed to accommodate a rapidly swelling population; and has resulted in increased urban poverty and the proliferation of slums around urban centers. At the same time, rural areas are left with an aging population that lacks the capacity to drive and sustain long-run growth in the agricultural sector (the historical backbone of Uganda’s economy, accounting for about 24% of GDP in 2010).
It is here that the paradox emerges- although Uganda, and most African countries, face challenges of persistent poverty and high unemployment, there remains unrealized wealth and employment opportunity in the agricultural sector. However, agricultural employment is negatively perceived by Uganda’s youth; and it is this stigma that allows for the persistence of high youth unemployment rates as well as Rural – Urban migration and the continued decline of an important economic sector. According to a 2010 World Bank report, the sector’s growth rate fell from 3.5% in 2009 to 0.3% in 2010. And the longer the sector stagnates, the stronger the stigma surrounding agricultural employment becomes.
Despite the magnitude of these challenges, there is little being done to tackle high youth unemployment in rural areas. Even less is being done to get young people to view the opportunities in the agricultural value chain as viable and dignified employment options. Many associate farming with their own experiences of poverty in rural areas. Additionally, rural and urban schools contribute to this stigma by using agricultural, or farming, activities as punishment for bad conduct or poor performance. The lack of experiential or practical learning opportunities, even in a subject like agriculture, further exacerbates this problem- students have no chance to see or engage in the profession as a formal part of their schooling.While there were once agriculture clubs in Kenyan primary schools (4K clubs)that provided young people with these practical opportunities, they were a part of a politically motivated intervention that collapsed when the Moi regime ended. Collectively, these factors- a lack of real engagement opportunities, and the association of farming with poverty, punishment and the past- builds this stigma in the minds of Ugandans, and East Africans, from a young age.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Edward is addressing the problems of high youth unemployment and a stagnating agricultural sector by reversing the negative perception that young people have of employment within the agricultural value chain. By incorporating an experiential method of teaching agriculture and income-generating gardens within schools, he exposes young people to the range of economic and career opportunities that the agricultural sector presents. He envisions a generation of young people with a renewed and positive attitude towards agriculture and as a result, a more productive and dynamic sector that is infused with the passion, professionalism and energy of educated young people.
With unrealized wealth locked away in agriculture on the one hand, and high levels of youth unemployment and ensuing poverty on the other hand, Africa, and in particular Uganda, seems to be a paradox. Little has been done to close this obvious gap but for the first time in Uganda, a concerted and highly targeted approach to resolve this paradox can be seen in Edward’s work. His idea is based on the understanding that the stigma surrounding agricultural employment begins at a young age and is reinforced by a lack of practical engagement in the agricultural value chain development and the use of agricultural chores as punishment in schools. Edward is working to recast agricultural employment and increase youth involvement in Agricultural production as a dignified and profitable option, by partnering with primary and secondary schools as well as rural and Urban communities to engage more young people and students in income-generating agricultural production, marketing and product distribution and by providing opportunities for interaction with successful players at different stages of the value chain. In this manner, he demonstrates to youth communities, students and teachers that if done well, agriculture can be an interesting and financially rewarding economic activity.
His unique insight into this stigma, and the potential role that schools have in recasting this negative perception, has led to a program that demonstrates and encourages careers in agriculture; thereby unlocking the employment opportunities available in rural areas and injecting new, young energy into a stagnating sector.