By Dirk Hoekstra, Yigzaw Dessalegn, Worku Teka and Beamlak Tesfaye
Kifle seems a bright young boy, whose father started onion seed production through observations and exchange of information with the neighbouring Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project intervention farmers. We met him on our recent visit to Gondar Zuria, in Amhara.
He was aware of the profitability of the onion seed production and we asked him if he would want to become a farmer, given the money he could make. His response was ‘If I fail, I will become a farmer’.
For us who are involved in promoting market-oriented agriculture, his answer suggests that money alone is not sufficient to attract young people to agriculture, let alone to attract them to food self-sufficiency agriculture. So exploring a bit more, he clarified his position and suggested that agriculture was ‘too hard’ work. Again, Kifle’s answer did not come as a complete surprise, since increased access to information through television and radio, shows alternative ways of making a living, often with less manual ‘hard’ labour. In this context, it is interesting to observe that in the past decade, partly as a result of the disappearance of youth from the countryside, many older farmers have shown a great interest in growing fewer labour-intensive tree crops. Therefore, if we want to attract and keep youth in agriculture, we will somehow have to make market-oriented agriculture ‘sexier’.
Etatu’s parents recently introduced a ‘local’ drip- irrigation system for fruit trees. Her parents were trained on fruit trees by LIVES and took part in a study tour to learn about and create interest in fruits. Etatu now helps her parents in refilling perforated jerry cans, which drip water in the planting holes of the transplanted fruit tree seedlings. The avocado trees seem to grow nicely so far but have not yet started producing fruits. Since the avocado trees are new in the area, we asked her if she knows how the fruits are used, and whether she learned about fruit trees in school. She answered negatively and quickly hid behind her father trying to avoid answering more ‘nasty’ questions.
It is understandable that Etatu is still a bit shy in telling/knowing about new fruits because she has never seen or consumed them. Still, in order to attract her interest, she and other children need to be ‘fed’ with information about the possible uses and market possibilities of fruits. One option is to engage the local schools in spreading the news by showing them videos on fruits, taking them to fruits farms and agricultural fairs. LIVES is planning to organize a trip to nearby Gondar town to demonstrate uses of avocado in the fruit juice shops. Etatu will be one of the participants.
Involving youth in future agriculture will require a drastic change from the present extension system and mechanization. Making use of modern diagnostic technologies and information technology (IT)-based information services needs to be part of this strategy.