Why Agriculture frustrates youth

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Makhosi Mahlangu

Agriculture is a gold mine? Agribusiness is lucrative? There are unlimited opportunities in Agribusiness? Well, are there?

I believe each one of us come across these statements almost every minute on a daily basis. But sometimes I wonder, is this the case, especially for us in Botswana? Our country is characterised by unreliable rainfall; a semi arid climate. However, according to a SADC Regional Agricultural Policy; Country Summary Agricultural Policy Review reports published in 2013, it is indicated that Botswana’s Agriculture performs well in the livestock sector. In 2013 about 60% of agriculture mainly was allocated by meat and meat products.

While this is the case, Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) is the sole government owned institution dealing with meat processing and meat products (soon to be privatised). 

Now, the government provides funding for Agribusinesses through Youth Development Fund (YDF), National Development Bank (NDB). To single out NDB, the structure of funding for this institution supports middle and large scale farmers as it requires assets as security. They also require viability of the business as part of security, ensuring the business has potential for growth. As for Youth Development Fund, its grant as well seems to support upcoming agribusinesses. 

The fund supports cattle rearing and keeping of small stock, poultry and piggery to mention a few. It supports businesses which involves the initial stage of agricultural production. Looking at the world translation into modern agriculture, this is a No No for youth who too want to find themselves moving forward in the technological base of today’s era. Well, I do not dismiss these initiatives as good for nothing, BUT, the government needs to empower youth to play the BIG GAME in the industry. To quote reference from the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Strategy (2011-2016), published in September 2011, it is indicated that approximately 80% of cattle in private feedlots are supposed to be acquired from small holder farmers. This 80% says that a significant number of livestock farmers are still at the initial stage of production; cattle rearing. It would be wrong to say this is not right, but it is also important to remember that Botswana is working towards Agricultural development, therefore, she needs to encourage farmers towards developed agricultural activities.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-UNEP) Policy Brief (2013) paints light as to whether Botswana is working towards social protection as compared to agricultural development. Although emphasis is put on ISPAAD, the agriculture sector is a whole unit, therefore critics of this sort impact the whole sector. LIMID for example put much emphasis of reducing poverty and destitution as well as support the development of livestock infrastructure. As much as we understand that it has to start from grassroots level, we miss the part of developing the sector at a much improved level. More of the beneficiaries of these initiatives are targeted at small scale farmers. The Livestock Improvement Act, 2009 on the other hand aims at improving local breeds. Where does the part of agricultural commercialization fall in? Quoting the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Strategy (2011-2016), 2011, “the agric sector is not market led, this on its own kills the objective of farming”.

Can we therefore discriminate YDF beneficiaries who acquire the livestock and leave it with their parents to go back and live at the city, and use the livestock only to add as pride like it used to be in the past? That is unless and until the government reduces much focus on subsistence agriculture and focus on industrialisation of the sector.

Often than not we cry foul of unemployment and that youth need to engage in Agriculture, but as far as unemployment is frustrating, so is the prospect of going back to the rural villages to become a farmer.

Well, do not get this twisted, there has to be someone at that stage, but we need to consider even our qualifications. If the government could make a conducive environment for the youth to engage in agricultural practices, then it would not be a problem. Please mark the word conducive, because our government is working towards an Educated and Informed nation. Educated and Informed. An Educated and Informed nation should apply in all aspects of our lives. Agricultural Graduates are educated and informed about technological and modern agriculture, so this goes back to conducive environment for agriculture. Although this is highly my opinion, I still believe, it sounds demoralising to grant a PhD holder little funds to start a farm to fill it with cattle to drive to boreholes every morning. But wouldn’t it make sense to grant the PhD holder reasonable funds to start a meat processing and packaging agribusiness? Or maybe a grain milling or a pig slaughter abattoir ? And then, the Educated and informed will exercise their expertise in these industries. And they will prefer entrepreneurship over working for the government as lectures to groom graduates with similar perception over agriculture. 

You will be surprised if I share with you that it has been quoted that Botswana used to have agriculture as the main contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and that changed since the discovery of minerals. And all of a sudden the sector performs poorly. Have we abandoned it to focus much on minerals? Can our story be likened to that of Nigeria? Sani et al (2013) carried a study on Economics of Sorghum Production and they argued that in a way, Nigeria seems to have abandoned the agriculture sector to focus much on minerals since the discovery of fuel. They argue that “Prior to independence in Nigeria, agriculture contributed more than 74% of the GDP of the nation and also contributed to the sociological and cultural needs of the people living in Nigeria”. They say, “But with advent of petroleum, a great shift was observed, giving rise to huge neglect of the sector which resulted in decline in productivity (yield), low income to farmers, unemployment, high rise in food prices and threat to food security among others”. But the difference in production is observable.

Or at least, can’t we use the profits earned from minerals to invest in our own agriculture? Something that is durable.

Of recent, the World Bank has warned Botswana to reduce its main dependence on diamonds. I do not discriminate how our government is investing. But, have we somehow lost track that somehow we focus on visions which will make us seem equal to the different states around the world. An Educated and informed nation. You may wonder, Educated, and then what? Unemployed? And the circle goes back to transforming the educated youth towards Agriculture. I still repeat that, then the agriculture needs to be of quality standard. This is because we spend most of the time painting the picture of employment in the eyes of the children we groom. During my school days, I do not recall being advised towards being a farmer, neither did my colleagues. But if we could split equally on how we invest these profits from minerals, then we could go somewhere with agriculture.

I’d attended a Youth in Agribusiness Summit in Durban, South Africa last year,under the theme, unlocking agribusiness opportunities in Southern Africa, and I picked the word ‘Post Harvest’ from Professor Linus Opara’s presentation, Chair of National Food Review. 

Now, Post Harvest, defined to be the stage of crop production immediately following harvest, cooling, cleaning, sorting and packaging, is by no excuse a lucrative form of agribusiness. It comprises various activities which can be divided into two groups: 

• technical activities: harvesting, field drying, threshing, cleaning, additional drying, storage, processing;
• economic activities: transporting, marketing, quality control, nutrition, extension, information and communication, administration and management.

Prof Opara had queried that African countries still exercise the small game players in the Agriculture industry by not involving in the Post-Harvest Industry. 

Botswana should add value to its agricultural sector. The livestock sector which our government boasts about should not only benefit the government, rather, the public, the Youth. Western countries do not have minerals, but they own BIG diamond processing industries. But can’t we own big processing industries in agriculture and diversify our economy? 

I say that if we want to engage youth in agriculture, we better do it in an advanced manner not let them be exposed to the uncivilised form of agriculture. Let them see it as a Big business. We need not to convince them in word and say if you do it right, rather, make it appear as being potentially profitable. Let our government focus much on empowering agricultural initiatives in a more developed manner, in manner which says, AGRIBUSINESS, not poverty reduction.

BUT, you will still agree with me that the government continues to play her part, and now it’s our turn. E a re go tlogelwa tsatsing…Recall that I mentioned earlier that the government invests much of its finance on Education. The latter is broad, and so is Agriculture. It encompasses each of our professional qualifications. Anyone from any profession can play a part in Agriculture. When my friend from BCA owns a piggery slaughter abattoir, I can do advertising through ICT, and my other friend can own a packaging business, while the other collects waste agricultural material, and the other base on bio gas production.

Agriculture is a gold mine. Agribusiness is lucrative. There are unlimited opportunities in Agribusiness.

Article by
Gorata Kelapile