Harnessing the Potential of Youth to Realize the Power of Agriculture
This International Youth Day, we highlight how engaging youth in food systems is vital to ending global hunger.
Mark Odong turned 25 years old this year. As a young person in Uganda, Mark knew that finding a job after graduating from college would be a challenge. Uganda has the world’s second youngest population. With just under eight million young people between the ages of 15–30, the country also has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Understanding that agriculture is and will remain a significant source of employment and opportunity in Uganda, especially for young people, Mark started an agribusiness consulting company, Consult Agriquery Solutions, in 2014, when he was still a student in vocational school.
For Mark, Consult Agriquery Solutions isn’t just a source of income. He is creating positive change in his community through his company, paving paths toward better lives for young farmers in Nwoya, Amuru, Omoro and Gulu districts in northern Uganda. He realized that many young farmers, especially women, lack access to crop finance, extension services and a guaranteed market for crops grown in the region like cabbage and tomatoes. Mark saw the opportunities in these challenges and started a business to fill the gaps.
Mark started out with training 30 young farmers as his contract growers (or outgrowers). This means that the farmers ensure supply of specified quantities of either cabbage or tomatoes to Consult Agriquery Solutions. He trained them to grow drought-resistant tomatoes and cabbages and set up demonstration gardens to teach these young farmers best practices on growing vegetables, like weeding, pruning, and rotation farming. He also helped them access agricultural inputs like quality seeds and fertilizers. Many young farmers could not afford these quality inputs, so Mark provided them with seeds and fertilizers on credit. Once these farmers were able to make a good profit from their harvests, they would pay Mark back for the input they received for planting.
In 2017, Consult Agriquery solutions partnered with Feed the Future Youth Leadership in Agriculture Activity (YLA) to sustainably expand his outgrower network to ensure his business could continue to thrive as it scaled. Currently, Mark is working with more than 100 young vegetables out growers, most of them are young women. Through training, often with Agriquery-trained extension workers, these young farmers learn the latest, best practices to reduce food loss and optimize crop yield. And with connection to bigger markets, these young farmers have a stable source of income. This simple contracting and extension system creates jobs for young extension workers who are also producing more in their farms by applying good practices. Young smallholder farmers, who are often taking over their parents’ farms, are also learning practices that work better than old-school farming, earning a better income as the new generation of farmers.
Young people can empower other young people, just like how Mark is using his company to help young smallholder farmers gain access to better seeds and bigger markets. Feed the Future is helping young people get engaged in agriculture and food systems so they can earn better livelihoods, support resilience in their communities and improve nutrition. Engaging youth in agriculture is vital to both present and future food security. Like Mark, this generation is motivated to contribute and has the creativity to address pressing issues such as unemployment, hunger, and poverty. Their entrepreneurial spirit and self-drive are transforming agriculture around the world. Feed the Future, through such partnerships, is making sure that these young people can find opportunities in their home communities and empower them to productively engage in the broader food systems to earn a good living. Through working with young entrepreneurs such as Mark, we can reach more of them working along the agricultural value chain, from farmers to distributors, creating a system that will make lasting impact.
Youth need agriculture and agriculture needs youth. Feed the Future is making a concerted effort to engage young people in the larger context of their communities and network — to make a difference in their lives and the lives they will transform as they achieve their goals and improve their livelihoods.
This International Youth Day, join us to celebrate the incredible youth who are lending their energy and efforts to create a food-secure world.
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Over the last decade, Feed the Future has made valuable contributions to global food security by harnessing the potential of youth. Check out our latest progress snapshot to learn more.
To learn more about the work we do to empower youth in Uganda, check out the Feed the Future Uganda Youth Leadership for Agriculture Activity for more.