Private Sector Youth Engagement in Uganda: Is this Sustainable?
This post is written by Richard Miiro, Beatrice Luzobe, Steven Franzel, Kristin Davis, Nicolas Uwitonze and Raphael Rurangwa, Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC)
Agriculture is a key sector in the Ugandan economy contributing to 23 percent of GDP and employing over 60 percent of the working population, most of whom are small-scale peasant farmers. Agriculture, thus, is viewed as a vehicle for socio-economic transformation of Ugandan society, whose population is the second youngest in the world and contains high rates of rural poverty, youth unemployment, and food and nutrition needs. And consequently, agricultural extension and advisory services (EAS) are pivotal.
EAS in Uganda has had several approaches, each with limitations for effective and efficient service delivery. For starters, the number of extension workers is still small. For every one extension worker, there are 1,800 farmers (compared to the recommended one extension worker to 500 farmers). With the reduction in the capacity of the government to meet the EAS needs of all farmers and other agricultural workers, several EAS providers have had to step in to fill the gap. These include non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farmers’ organizations, private businesses, marketing agencies, agricultural input providers, finance institutions, universities, and research organizations. An opportunity for the youth to contribute to and benefit from EAS as a form of employment has emerged.
Engaging youth in EAS, both as providers and recipients of the services, can help address employment challenges and contribute to economic development — which is particularly critical given the advanced age of many existing farmers and extension staff. Private sector EAS offer the best opportunities for youth participation, so they can contribute and gain from food systems now and in the immediate future. Private sector extension focuses on for-profit, as opposed to public extension which focuses mainly on food security among poor farmers.
If the youth are to gain from EAS and agriculture, the models must be sustainable; and there must be a business case for engaging youth. We need examples of youth engagement in EAS that show sustainability through financial independence of the individual or company (for example, the ability to generate own funds from business and invest it in building youth capacity to engage in extension services, or youth starting their own self-sustaining extension business). Institutional and social-equity forms of sustainability are analyzed.
To understand how the youth were engaged in private sector EAS and how sustainability was designed and achieved, a study was initiated by USAID’s Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project in Uganda and Rwanda. The study focused on youth either as providers or as recipients of EAS.
We found that several organizations engaged youth in private sector EAS as providers and clientele, including private companies, NGOs, government programs, universities, international agencies, farmers’ organizations, community-based organizations, and often a blend of agencies. Some of the agencies used partnerships between public and private sector agencies. Several models were being used, including:
- Training youth to become entrepreneurs;
- The village agent model, in which companies hired youths to sell inputs or buy produce;
- Fee-based extension provision, where, extension providers were paid for their services by either farmers, government or donor agencies;
- Paraprofessional staff;
- Credit and financial services; and
- Youth awards.
Below, we share findings on the first two models:
1. Training youth to become entrepreneurs
Training youth to become agricultural entrepreneurs was a form of EAS practiced by a number of organizations. These included universities, NGOs, government-public private partnerships, community-based organizations, and private companies. All of these agencies relied on external donor funding to operate their youth entrepreneurship development programs. In terms of institutional sustainability, the NGOs and one university-based program anchored their programs in local community institutions, where the community recommended which youth to participate in the program.
Gender issues were also addressed, resulting in community ownership and support to the trained youth and their services. In some, the community was not involved, but the youth had to ensure that their agricultural business idea suited the needs of their targeted market. This model was open to both women and men who showed interest and met the qualifications. This model helped make tens of thousands of youth obtain stable businesses with high potential for financial independence. Often post-training and business follow up was needed.
2. The village agent model
The village agent model involved youth serving as brokers and sellers of farm inputs and/or farm produce. As agents, they linked farmers to other services. They would then earn a commission, salary, or make a profit from the service. Private companies practiced this model the most. However, most of these private companies also had external donor funding (for example, from USAID). They had to make a case for social, entrepreneurial, and business development in engaging the youth as village agents. Most of the companies integrated the use of ICTs in service provision placed onto smart mobile phones or accessed by ordinary phones using USSD.
Using ICT has the ability to attract more youth into EAS and farming. However, the cost of embedding a service like access to agricultural inputs into ICT can be very high. As such, companies which used this model often approached or responded to calls from donors to support the design of services to be delivered using ICTs.
Most of the companies who used the model were youth startups, or at least initiated by NGOs to grow them into independent companies. Lack of adequate funds would be common hence the reliance at times on donor support. There were cases where the company practiced some financial sustainability measures. One private sector company provided smartphones to youth village agents as one of several items in a starter pack but required the agent to pay back the cost of the phone over time. Some companies did not pay salaries to the youth agents, but some did. Those who did not pay salaries gave the youth agents freedom to make some margin profits from input sales to farmers. In addition to linking farmers to input markets, additional services were made (for example, crop insurance, soil testing, tractor hire services, and financing). The more farmers one convinced to use these services the more profit margins were made by that individual and the parent private company. The model worked with the farmers’ organizations and cooperatives, and some were the first to be selected; afterwards, the youth in those organizations were seconded by the members to serve as agents. More male youth agents than female ones were involved, as the females did not find moving around convenient due to home responsibilities.
It is clear that two models that engaged the youth in private sector EAS provision are helping to meet the employment goals of the country. Despite being private sector led, they could not fully function without some external funding. Attempts to have institutional sustainability by involving the community existed, while gender inclusion still favored the male youth agents. More needs to be done to ensure balanced gender inclusiveness.
These are just a few of the findings and insights from the DLEC study full report. See more in an article on Rural21 and stay tuned for the final report. The authors would like to thank Jane Lowicki-Zucca and John Peters for their support.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views and opinions of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).