Turning the Tide: Bringing Young People Back to Farming in Africa

Young people like Racheal will be crucial to ensuring that countries can support their populations in the future. (Photo: Grameen Foundation/Nana Kofi Acquah)

March 10, 2017 by Sybil Chidiac

Racheal Derchie is 26, smart and college-educated. Like thousands of young people raised on farms in Ghana, she thought she would move to the city, perhaps to become a banker. But today finds her talking with a farmer on the edge of a field in Brong Ahafo, the breadbasket of Ghana. With her tablet in hand, she asks the farmer a series of questions and helps determine how much fertilizer and seed he will need for the next harvest. 

Her friends in the city may think her choice of work is odd, but young people like Racheal will be crucial to ensuring that countries like Ghana are able to support their populations in the future. Technological advances on the farm that can help transform small-scale agriculture into a profitable enterprise are an important draw for a new generation of farmers.

By some estimates, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is set to increase by nearly a billion people between now and 2060. This dramatic growth is not only stressing food supplies, it's creating an employment crisis as rapidly expanding cities struggle to absorb the young people migrating there. By 2050, approximately 60% of the population in the region will be under 25, with the greatest increase in rural areas.  Despite the need for more farmers, young people are abandoning farming at a dramatic rate. At the same time, the average age of a farmer today is almost 60. Life expectancy in Ghana is only 61

Young people are leaving family farms for many reasons, but chief among them is that life as a smallholder farmer is extremely difficult. Demand for credit to purchase inputs far outstrips the supply. Many farmers, especially women, receive no formal training on how and when to plant their crops to get the best yield. Access to storage and transportation is typically limited, which restricts farmers’ ability to sell their produce for higher prices. The result is that smallholder farmer families become locked into a cycle of poverty; a cycle many young people hope to escape by moving to the city and finding off-farm jobs.

Attracting young people to farming means making it profitable and less burdensome. Rachael knows this is possible. “I have seen it myself,” she says. “When you know what you are doing and adopting good farming practices, you are able to increase your yields.” 

Working for a commercial farmer, Racheal is bringing his network of 200 smallholder farmers into the AgroTech program developed by Grameen Foundation and ACDI/VOCA. Using AgroTech’s digital app suite to map each farm, she determines the need for inputs and gives advice on record keeping. She works with farmers to develop Farm Management Plans to improve their productivity and make better use of their limited resources. When possible, she helps her clients access credit to buy seeds and fertilizers.  Later she will purchase their harvest on behalf of the commercial farmer that employs her, thus ensuring that the smallholder farmers she works with can repay their loans and, optimally, make a profit. 

AgroTech has thus far trained and equipped 47 field agents like Rachael, and they have in turn trained 4,479 maize and rice farmers in the Brong-Ahafo, Ashanti and Volta Regions in Ghana. The program also partnered with Farm Radio International, broadcasting AgroTech’s farming advice over local radio stations in local languages, reaching close to 444,000 farmers. 

The support offered by AgroTech program addresses issues of hunger and poverty on many levels. By empowering smallholder farmers to increase their yields, they are better able to support their own families. Studies show that when income increases, poor families tend to spend additional resources on medical care, and on feeding and educating their children. Additional income for farming families means poor children have a better start in life. 

For Racheal, the progress of the innovative program is promising. “Before I started working with the farmers, most of them weren’t keeping records. They didn’t know much about drought resistant varieties, but now they are trying to adopt it, and most of them are keeping their records well,” she says. 

The program is also making agriculture more attractive to young people it touches. Racheal is determined to establish her own farm one day to grow maize and soyabeans. In the meantime she’s happy helping others. “I love to meet with people and I love to put the food on people’s table. So when I realized I could help poor producers adopt good agricultural practices in order to produce more, I just become so happy for myself.” 

Sybil Chidiac is Senior Director West Africa and Global Savings Program for Grameen Foundation.