Unemployment is a big challenge for many countries worldwide. Several strategies have been devised to deal with the situation but with little success. Some analysts have even argued that we should not complain about unemployment because it is a global problem but this doesn’t mean Uganda should ignore the issue which has negative impact on the population, especially the youth. We ought to play our part to ensure Ugandans have jobs and live productive and dignified lives.
Among the interventions by the government of Uganda to deal with youth unemployment, is investment in agriculture. We all agree that in agriculture, we have a comparative advantage over many countries given our fertile land, relatively good weather, among others. Investments have been made by government through programmes and projects such as Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, the National Agricultural Advisory Services, the Youth Livelihood Programme, etc. This is besides the various NGO interventions targeting youth livelihood improvements.
However, these programmes have not solved the unemployment question and agriculture still remains unattractive to the youth for various reasons, ranging from negative attitudes and perceptions, limited incentives, absence of properly structured support and financing, and the fact that it was a form of punishment in schools.
Successful youth livelihoods are dependent on four factors: human, social, physical, and financial assets – sometimes together called productive assets.
A fifth factor usually ignored is the environment that usually looks at the policy, legal and structural factors that hinder youth livelihoods and prosperity. The youth should not just be represented at the decision making level, but should be able to influence and change the configurations of the decision making space.
Can we have a situation where youth come to the table as entrepreneurs, active participants, partners and not merely as passive recipients of what has been prepared and delivered? Having missed practical training opportunities in schools and in families, what can be done differently to ensure the gap is closed?
Investments and participation of youth in agriculture needs a holistic approach that takes into account the youth’s need for all necessary assets mentioned above. Some of the assets can be directly delivered while others can be acquired through partnerships, networking and collaboration. The four assets must be in place or strengthened for young people to successfully create sustainable livelihoods or increase productivity of their existing livelihoods.
Human capital: A range of skills, knowledge and attitudes that prepare youth for successful economic activity, including literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, health literacy, and other “soft skills” or work readiness skills, and technical skills. Attitudes and values are included here such as entrepreneurial and pro-social mindsets and positive attitudes towards contraception and the value of delaying/spacing childbearing.
Social capital (including markets): Access to entrepreneurs, mentors, role models, etc. These individuals or groups provide moral and material support and/or business opportunities, and they represent modes through which critical market information is channelled. High levels of social capital often generate a positive sense of belonging and identity that are critical to success. Opportunities for youth leadership, community service and social entrepreneurship, are also crucial.
Financial capital: Access to services and knowledge about financial resource mobilisation that enable micro-entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Savings, credit, grants, and insurance are included as well as financial literacy and accurate understanding of markets through value chain or labour market analysis.
Physical capital: Physical assets necessary for livelihood productivity including land, work space, tools, equipment, technology, and supply inputs, as well as stewardship of natural assets for environmental sustainability.
Enabling environment: This is another critical aspect that is normally ignored or given little attention yet it influences what happens a lot. It also speaks a lot to sustainability of initiatives. There is need for an enabling policy and legal framework that guarantees rights, obligations and responsibilities. Aspects of seed policy, trade regulations, protectionism, export/import rules in line with the integration process such as land use policy, GMOs, etc.
In conclusion, government has good intentions for youth empowerment but most of these initiatives have suffered poor design processes that have little or no active participation of the intended beneficiaries, which ends up depicting them as ‘political gifts’ as opposed to genuine sustainable youth development programmes. In some instances, we have had the wrong diagnosis to the youth issues and we have continued to make the same mistakes.
The current National Development Plan II under validation has agriculture as one of the priority areas. This provides an opportunity for government to respond in a more structured and organised way and speak to the real issues that will enhance youth livelihoods to meaningfully contribute to development. While a lot of blame is on the attitudes of the youth towards work and certain vocations, it is high time we also interrogated our own attitudes towards the youth and how we view them in the socio-economic development equation.
Mr Nkumiro is the coordinator of Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs. firstname.lastname@example.org