Seven years ago, as a fourth year agriculture undergraduate student in the mandatory one year on-farm only period, I was posted with my group to live for 2 weeks in a village that barely existed on the map, lacked access road (we had to pass through a sandstone surface), had no school, no portable water (not even a well), no power, but was still a major contributor of food produce to the neighboring towns and cities.
The children in this village had to trek early every morning to the school in another village to get the little education they could, and walk the long way back in the afternoons under the glaring sun. Our assignment was simple: follow the farmers to their farm every day, help them out on their farms, learn as much as you can from them and teach them improved farming practices.
But we went beyond the scope of our assignment and started afternoon extra-curricular classes for the children. In the course of our interaction with them, we realized none of them expects to still be in the community by the time s/he is ready for high school, furthermore, none of them is really expected to come back to live in the community until a certain age-range when they are tired of, or cannot fulfill their aspirations in, the city.
It was then that we realized that the community was made up of only two age groups,the elderly/adults (40 years and beyond) and the children (13 years and below). There were no youths (especially males). They’ve all left for the city and there’s little hope that they’d ever return. Since then, my agricultural and cultural backgrounds have taken me to many other rural communities, and the story is always almost the same – with little variations.
The truth is, in the last three to four decades, hundreds of millions of African youths (and youths in other parts of the world) have moved out of rural communities to seek a “better life” in cities, and most times they never return – even when migration to cities do not improve their lives. Many reasons have been adduced for this, and though there are basic/general underlying reasons for migration, it seems each generation of migrating youths have their peculiarities.
Now, my intention is not to discuss the reasons for migration – an area which has been covered extensively by many researchers – but to provoke and stimulate debate among Africans and youths especially to find, and pressure policymakers to provide, solutions to this problem that might have a long time impact on food security in Africa – considering the disproportionate percentage of youth populations in many African countries.
Recently, when discussing this issue with Robin Bourgeois of the GFAR secretariat at a side event of the AASW6 organized by FARA in Accra, he mentioned to me that one major question he asks youths nowadays – especially his three children – is “Under what condition will they live in a rural community?” and the responses always do not differ much.
Youths want access to power, telephones, digital television and other information and communication technologies that are sadly missing or not really functional in many rural communities especially in Africa. Besides, youths do not want to practice agriculture the way of their fathers but in a modern way, with an appropriate image that speak to their aspiration as natives of the digital age – where the media have a great influence on perceptions and aspirations.
Like Robin’s children – and the other youths he spoke with – I remember many of my former classmates who developed enthusiasm for farming after our one year farm-practices eventually lost the passion because of lack of access to resources and that they couldn’t afford to live in rural areas with “no access to information”, as this will take them “backward while others in the cities progress”.
This opinion, for the most part, is still rife among youths, and the onus is on African policymakers to come up with comprehensive rural development programmes that makes the rural communities appealing as a dwelling place; and also, for African youths in agriculture and rural development fields to find innovate ways to pressure or persuade governments to make and implement such policies/programmes.
That way, we do not only keep rural youths from migrating to urban centres but also lure urban youths with passion for agriculture and agribusinesses back to the rural areas, where they can help contribute to the present viability and the future sustainability of those rural communities.