Luweero District in Central Uganda is commonly known for the growth of pineapples. Despite agriculture being an everyday activity involving many households in the area, it is predominantly practised for subsistence use rather than commercial use. The unemployment gap is on a steady rise not only the area, but in many parts of the country. Migration from the rural to the urban areas by young people, especially to the capital city, Kampala, has become extremely common despite the limited employment opportunities. Many of those who have not chosen migration as an option are now beginning to look at agribusiness as a means of income despite its challenges and physical effort required. Typical problems include crop failure due to prolonged dry seasons and diseases, limited market options to sell produce as village middlemen offer low prices, lack of farming inputs as well as management and farming knowledge to engage in agriculture as a business.
Youth Engagement in Agriculture
Swisscontact, through the U-LEARN Project in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, facilitates access to technical and soft skills, market linkages and information in 12 districts in Uganda, including Luweero/Nakaseke. The project seeks to increase the income and employment opportunities for 8,700 marginalized young people aged 18-24 years, including young mothers. Since 2012, over 9,911 young people have been employed through the project’s support.
Nyombi Livingstone is a 24-year-old chilli farmer from Sekamuli village in Luweero and a beneficiary of the project. Nyombi became aware of the support the project was offering unemployed youth in Luweero in 2016 through an awareness session that was organized by the Project Field Team alongside a chilli exporting business in the nearby village.
"When I heard about the linkages to market, training sessions in savings and entrepreneurship and the extension service support being offered, I got interested."
The project facilitates linkages between farmers and businesses. This is a mutually beneficial contractual relationship whereby farmers supply quality produce to the off-takers while the off-takers avail the inputs and support services required to produce and market quality produce.
In Luweero District alone, the project has successfully linked 350 youth who are now growing chilli in collaboration with KK Fresh Foods, the biggest exporters of horticultural products in Uganda who also offer production and marketing support to farmers.
Nyombi says he had previously tried growing chilli before interacting with the U-LEARN Project, but it was a disaster. “Initially, I had no idea where to sell the chilli and at harvest, I was told that the chillies were low grade since pests had infested them and the fertilizer I had used was unacceptable in the EU market.”
Despite his efforts, he would earn $54 in four months. After deducting the cost of inputs and labour, there was hardly any money left to provide for his family’s needs.
Nyombi underwent various training sessions facilitated by the project that educated him on savings, social and life skills, entrepreneurship, and Good Agronomic Practices (GAP). Consequently, due to the skills he gained, he decided to make several changes in his life and intentionally worked at being more self-aware and patient. One of the important additions he included in his life was a bank account where he plans to save for his future. Today, he can plan adequately, market his business and has plans to steer it to a commercial front.
“My family can now afford to change their diet at least twice a week because of my improved income.”
At present, Nyombi owns 1.5 acres of chilli and also grows passion fruit, maize and other vegetables. In a month, he harvests and sells 800 - 900kgs of chilli earning on average $546.
Nyombi is relieved that now he can support his wife and two children. His living standards have also improved as he was able to upgrade his house to a two-bedroom, brick and iron sheet-roofed house and buy some animals such as goats, pigs and rabbits. He has also purchased land to expand his garden.
Having experienced the benefits of agribusiness, Nyombi is convinced that he can grow his chilli business further. Using part of his savings, Nyombi paid for the construction of a well in one of his gardens so that his chilli crops have water throughout the year, even in the dry seasons. Filled with optimism, Nyombi says registering a company to process and export chilli is the first thing on his agenda. In addition, he plans to invest in an irrigation pump and a motorcycle to ease his movements as he inspects his gardens or provides extension support to fellow youth.
With the right market-relevant skills, young people can realize more employment opportunities and income as they find production, marketing as well as extension service jobs in the agribusiness sector. Development partners have a role to play in this by taking into consideration the needs of beneficiaries and market actors and factoring the necessary job creation and market linkage interventions into their programming.
Once every week, Nyombi facilitates training sessions on good agronomic practices, including post-harvest handling, to other youth interested in chilli growing. Nyombi says that he was inspired to offer extension support to fellow young people after an incidence in which he noticed disease and pest infestation in the garden of another youth. He realized that he could share his experience and help someone else to overcome the challenges he went through.
"Since that day I decided to start sharing my experience with other youth and buying chemicals and seeds so that information and inputs are nearer to my fellow farmers."
In an ideal world, resources would be enough to go around for all, but as life would dictate, that is not the case. While engaging with youth at different levels, the shortage of skills and financial resources is evident and has become the norm. Experimentation with peer-to-peer models is critical in ensuring the youth realise their full potential in agribusiness. As part of the project approach, young people, after being equipped with the necessary skills, are being supported by the private sector actors to provide extension services to others. This is critical, especially for new enterprises such as chilli as it will bridge the gap in public sector extension services and ensure continuity of services for sustainable engagement of youth in agribusiness.
Swisscontact is a leading partner organization for the implementation of international development projects. We strengthen the competencies of people, improving their employability, increase the competitiveness of enterprises, growing their business and foster social and economic systems, promoting inclusive development.
In Uganda, Swisscontact has over 20 years’ experience designing and implementing skills development and enterprise promotion projects with a focus on agribusiness. In the last five years alone, these projects have reached 40,000 marginalized farmers and youth (36% female, including young mothers). 35,000 of them have increased their incomes or secured employment. The total income increase has been circa USD $9 million.
The Learn, Earn and Save (U-LEARN) Project is currently in its second phase of implementation. It is financed by the Mastercard Foundation and implemented in both Uganda and Tanzania by Swisscontact.