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How Do We Make Farming Cool When Temperatures Are Hot?

This post was originally published on CGIAR's blog and was authored by Daphne Stella Nansambu.

Migration is part of human history, and the current human geography of Africa can be traced back to movements made centuries ago. In Uganda, different ethnic groups — including the Bantu, Hamites, Nilotics and Nilo-Hamites — all entered the country from different places in response to a variety of circumstances, including drought, infertile soils and depleted livestock pastures.

Today, changing weather patterns are becoming an important contributing factor in the movement of people. Adverse weather conditions are affecting the lives and livelihoods of people across different agro-ecologies, causing higher risks. This is particularly true in developing countries, such as in Uganda, where environmental risks are becoming a major driver of migration. For instance, in northeastern Uganda, the Karamajong, a nomadic people, have been forced to move even more frequently because of shifting weather patterns, given the highly variable semi-arid environment.

The challenge for the farmers and pastoralists affected now is how to adapt successfully to become more resilient and attain income- and food-secure livelihood activities.

Migration as an Adaptation Measure

At its root, adaptation means, “to become adjusted to new conditions.” This may mean seeking out more conducive conditions rather than changing one’s physical capacities in order to suit the surrounding environment. Moving yourself rather than changing what you are or what you do can be an effective way to adapt.

For governments, migration may be looked upon as an adaptation strategy in response to increasing pressures caused by growing population and unemployment (particularly among youth), skill shortages, and infrastructural and financial gaps, in addition to other risks, such as changing weather patterns.

For people, the greatest driver may be belief in the possibility of a better life — the "grass is greener" syndrome. This is perhaps especially the case for those whose livelihoods depend on a sector where the outlook is particularly bleak, such as for farmers and pastoralists anticipating the impacts of changing weather patterns.

Aging Agriculture in Uganda

Uganda is a good case in point. The country had the second highest fertility rate in the world in 2002. With 78 percent of the population younger than 30 years of age, Uganda has the second youngest population in the world after Niger. However, with the unemployment rate for young people between 15-24 years at 83 percent, Uganda has the highest dependency ratio at 103 percent.

At the same time, contrary to popular belief, the majority of youth are interested in agriculture and ag-enterprise development but lack the resources to break into the sector.

Shifting weather patterns heighten the need for the right support and input provision, not least because it adds a major disincentive to engage in the sector if it is seen as risky. Specific challenges include perceived increases in the cost of investment in agriculture, from the need to purchase drought resistant seeds, to the introduction of irrigation facilities to iron out rainfall anomalies, and measures to reduce losses due to pest infestation.

All these factors can be seen to have contributed to making agriculture less attractive or affordable to youth. The net effect is that, although the population is very young, the average age of a Ugandan farmer is 54 years. The lure of work in urban areas remains strong for youth.

Among the “millennials,” exposure through technology to what exists beyond Ugandan borders may also lead them to migrate out of their own country. Many migrate over great distances and via risky, sometimes informal routes. The chief lure is wage labor and being able to partake in an international cash economy.

Making Agriculture More Appealing to Youth

The question is whether there is a way to respond to young people’s apparent interest in agriculture and curb migration trends in a way that is economically viable. A key issue is understanding why some stay and what makes others leave. If youth do leave, what is the difference in experiences, both at origin (e.g., with the migrant’s family) and at the destination?

It is also important to look at the incentives of governments in addition to those of individuals. Doing so will lead to a completely different approach to sector development strategies in agriculture and climate change adaptation.

In the face of such complex, interwoven challenges, the CBA11 Youth Forum was held in Kampala, Uganda on June 28th and 29th 2017. The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), led by the International Water Management Institute, hopes to continue to contribute to the identification of potential ways forward for youth in agriculture, as well as for African governments, and propose support measures.

WLE lead a session titled “A Youth Agenda for Sustainable Agricultural Transformation in an Era of Climate Change and Out-Migration,” where all relevant stakeholders talked about how to give Ugandan youth access to the agricultural sector.