Why should the youth embrace agriculture?

By Jane Babirye
On 30 September 2023 at 10:10

Whether you ’live to eat’ or ’eat to live,’ you treat your mouth and stomach to a meal every now and then. In reality, very few of us out here, if any, can go days without meals; which signifies the importance of food in our lives.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of us detest taking on agriculture as a profession, yet it’s the main source of food.

During Rwanda Institute for Conservation and Agriculture (RICA)’s recently concluded graduation, Howard Buffett, the Chairman and Founder of RICA, shared a story of a couple of young women he met at a girls’ school in Rwanda who had a negative perception about agriculture.

"I remember the first time Anna and I sat down at the girls’ school here in Rwanda and a couple of young women said; ’we don’t want to be farmers, we don’t want to be in the field with a hoe, or chasing cows around, we just don’t want to do that," he recalled.

As a way to convince them, Howard explained to the ladies what agriculture is. "But I told them, that’s not really agriculture today. Agriculture is about science, maths, and technology. It’s about improving lives, feeding people, and taking care of the land and the natural resources so that the next generation can produce even more than what we do today," he said.

"It’s about transforming your country and its economy, and it’s about supporting farmers to improve their lives," added Howard.

Howard Buffet delivering remarks at recent RICA's graduation ceremony.

While there may be others with the same mindset as the ’young girls’ Howard met, there are also individuals who viewed agriculture as a chance to transform the world and pursued it as a university course.

RICA graduate, Sifa Florence Sangwa grew up in Rulindo village-Rwanda, where agriculture was the main source of income for her family.

Every weekend, she would accompany farmers to the fields and while there, she witnessed firsthand the challenges they encountered.

Although this would have discouraged her from taking a profession in agriculture, it instead motivated her to take the practice very seriously. After all, she was rearing some livestock herself.

"When I was younger, I was given a rabbit as a gift. Unfortunately, its kits were always born sickly, and they died since I didn’t know how to care for them. Furthermore, I used to overdose our hens to death whenever they got sick, thinking it would heal them quickly," she stated.

Through taking up a course in agriculture, Sifa is now competent to take on any agriculture challenge including those farmers in Rulindo face.

"I am able to carry out various technical skills involved in animal production like Artificial Insemination, veterinary intervention, and animal nutrition skills.

Besides, the teaching mode at RICA acquainted me with problem-solving skills that helped me develop innovative solutions to real-world agricultural problems like climate change, pests and diseases, and adaptability to new technologies in agriculture," she stressed.

Another graduate, Assoumpta Umwali Ujeneza was drawn to a career in agriculture because of her interest in food processing. During her studies at RICA, she participated in initial cultivation with farmers, which helped her understand the interconnection of many stages in guaranteeing food safety.

She also learned the significance of sustainable and ecologically friendly farming techniques, which will allow her to operate effectively in the agricultural industry and provide advice to others in the food value chain.

On the other hand, Ntihemuka Benjamin’s knowledge of agriculture was confined to what he watched on television. Fortunately, during one of his study tours at ’Urwibutso enterprise,’ he learned about the ’banana-value-chain’ and its positive impact on farmers.

He also witnessed the threat ’agrochemicals’ posed on bees and the entire ecosystem which stirred up his need to pursue a course in agriculture so as to improve people’s lives while at the same time conserving the environment.

"I wanted to address agricultural challenges while conserving nature at the same time," he explained.

Rwanda has expended substantial resources to modernize agriculture.

While in his fifth year in high school, Robert Ganza Mpore and four of his friends owned a small-scale farm where they cultivated cucumbers.

With their school acting as subtle customers for their produce, Mpore and friends generated some ’good’ income from their efforts which led him to come to the conclusion that agriculture is what he should do, hence enrolling in an agricultural institute for his university studies.

"Throughout my studies, I had the privilege of delving into various facets of the agricultural domain, the most notable one being; ’the subject of agricultural leadership’ which ignited my passion and nurtured my ambitions to pursue this specialization in the future," he explained.

"Furthermore, the capstone internship at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources shaped my practical knowledge and skills. This invaluable opportunity provided me with hands-on involvement in the development of agricultural projects and policies," added Mpore.

Now a graduate with a degree in agriculture, Mpore intends to ’leverage the skills and expertise cultivated during his tenure at RICA to make a meaningful contribution to the agricultural sector of Rwanda and the African continent at large.’

Youth encouraged to embrace agriculture

When it comes to choosing study courses at university, reports say that most youth shy away from the profession yet it provides countless opportunities in technology, resource management, food processing, among others.

Benjamin Ntihemuka, a graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Conservation Agriculture from RICA, urges the youth to engage in agriculture and exploit the vast wealth it holds.

"The problems and challenges of the agriculture sector make it even suitable for the youth to adventure and find solutions which will turn into multibillion businesses in the future," he states.

"The world’s population will have doubled by 2050 meaning that food demand will also increase drastically. Technology advancement like machine learning, Internet of Things [IoT], and artificial intelligence will be instrumental in precision agriculture and sustainable production. This is a great opportunity for the youth to create a synergy not only in agriculture but also other sectors that will elevate food production," he explained.

Irrigation plays a pivotal role in boosting agricultural yields.

Robert Ganza Mpore, also a graduate from RICA, sympathizes with those who look down on agriculture saying he was once like that not until he studied agriculture.

"Through studying agriculture, I discovered the tangible connections between Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and agriculture.

I came to recognize that agriculture is not just about farming; it encompasses a multifaceted landscape that employs some of the finest entrepreneurs, communicators, leaders and IT experts who employ cutting-edge technology like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, skilled mechanics, among others," he explained.

He thus recommends a foundation for a more informed perspective on agriculture to be laid during early education as a solution to eradicate the mentality that agriculture is a ’bad profession.’

"Schools should consider integrating agricultural education into their curriculum, fostering practical experiences such as maintaining gardens, thereby enabling students to gain firsthand knowledge of the fundamental principles of agriculture.

By doing so, we can bridge the gap between misconceptions and the rich world of opportunities that agriculture offers," stated Mpore.

"The same way Gold is excavated from mud and becomes the most valuable mineral, so is agriculture," says Sifa, a graduate with a Bachelor of Science in conservation agriculture, urging the youth to have a more positive approach to the profession.

She adds that the practice has evolved and is no longer about trolling in the mud. Instead, it is a dynamic and innovative field that offers countless opportunities for growth, learning, and positive change.

"I call upon the young generation of students to know that their positive attitude in agriculture counts a lot. They should venture and invest their time in this sector because it requires technology, innovation, and research that is easily done by young people. This will ensure efficient agricultural evolution and transition, making it easier to optimize production in agriculture," Sifa explained.

Irrigation plays a pivotal role in boosting agricultural yields.

A glance at agriculture in Africa

According to reports, agriculture contributes 35% to the continent’s GDP in addition to providing livelihood for more than 50% of the population.

Reports further indicate that ’Africa has the potential to meet not only its own food needs, but also those of the rest world’.

Despite this potential, one in five people faced hunger in 2020 and the number continues to rise as per report published by World Vision in February 02, 2022.

Soilless farming produces high yields on small land.

The United Nations (UN) recently warned Global governments that action is needed in order to prevent the next food crisis caused by the pandemic, climate change, production of food that can’t keep up with the increasing consumption, and current agricultural methods and strategies which aren’t sustainable.

Therefore, to address this problem, Howard Buffett together with the Government of Rwanda, founded RICA not only to address long-term challenges of smallholder farmers through conserving agriculture but also change the way that people view agriculture not only in Rwanda, but also in Eastern Africa and the continent at large.

Commenting on the significance of the institute, Howard emphasized the importance of each African country having its own version of a land grant university ’that would train the next generation of leaders in agriculture to help countries reach their highest potential both in agriculture and across national priorities.’

Land grant universities are colleges or universities that were established 175 years ago in the United States devoted to practical training and sustainable solutions in the agricultural context.

Embracing modern practices is highly recommended to overhaul Africa's agriculture.