As the world’s most youthful country, Uganda is replete with the energy, innovation and ambition that comes with each new generation.
And yet with one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in Africa, and a population expected to double by 2040, the country is in urgent need of ways in which to channel and benefit from this enormous asset – the youth dividend.
Farming continues to be a major source of income in Uganda, employing around 65% of the working population and accounting for a quarter of the gross domestic product, yet only half of 18 to 30-year-olds find quality work in agriculture.
However, the sector has been severely hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The disruption to global supply chains has limited access to inputs, and farmers markets due to travel and transport restrictions.
Government estimates shows poverty could increase to between 1.8 to 7.3 percentage points, up from 25.3 %. This would add between 0.5 to 2.07 million poor to rural population (which stood at 7.2 million in 2016/17). In addition to the locust swarms, this could result in a further decline of crop production, depressing farmer incomes.
Uganda’s tech-savvy youth population could help address some of the challenges facing the sector. Born into an entirely digital world, Uganda’s Generation Z is at the forefront of a new era of disruptive, digital technologies. This small but emerging start-up scene is responding to major challenges across Uganda, including agriculture.
With this in mind, the World Bank in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) organized a Disruptive Agricultural Technology (DAT) Challenge in Kampala last year, bringing together young entrepreneurs in agricultural technology who could work with the Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP), a flagship project working to increase farm productivity.
The World Bank has committed more than $150 million in project financing to this project, but this event showcased some of the cutting edge solutions emerging in the field that will yield results for this generation and those that follow.
From m-Omulimisa’s IT platform that equips village extension agents, to mobile banking technologies by Akello Banker, digital financial services from M-Cash and the analytics company, Data Care, the range of innovative applications inspired hope not only for Uganda’s young entrepreneurs but for its smallholders as well. These four enterprises that were selected from hundreds of competitors not only demonstrate the entrepreneurship of young Ugandans but also their potential to solve key development challenges to achieve transformation.
And these developments are long overdue. In almost direct parallel to the rest of the country, the average age of a Ugandan farmer is 54; the sector is aging and urgently needs both the labour and the innovation of young Ugandans.
But what can the agriculture sector offer young people?
With the increasing penetration of mobile phones and internet connectivity in many report parts of Uganda agriculture is an untapped market and offers young people exciting new ways of working on or for farms, away from the traditional back-breaking manual labour of ploughing, seeding and harvesting.
Second, the professionalization of agriculture, thanks to rising levels of digitalisation, means more young people can find work – from software design to value chain development – in rural areas, and not have to migrate to towns and cities to compete for jobs.
And lastly, with the help of new technologies, agriculture can also become more productive and therefore, lucrative, offering a sustainable and profitable career option for more people.
The DAT Challenge may have selected just four winning entrepreneurs to create solutions for the ACDP project, but the opportunities for young people in agriculture are many and varied, and especially in a post COVID-19 environment
It is such innovations, creativity and enthusiasm that will propel Uganda forward and set an example for generations to come.