Opinion

Is digitalisation alone enough to attract youth to agriculture?

Michael K Ocansey

Wi-Fi enabled Wellington boots won’t get youth into agriculture

No, it certainly will not. That is the short and forthright answer to the question “is digitalisation alone enough to attract youth to agriculture?” IGI Global, an international academic publisher, defines digitalisation as the “integration of digital technologies into everyday life by the digitisation of everything that can be digitised.” This suggests that the digitalisation of agriculture will therefore mean integrating technology into almost all aspects of agriculture. This sounds very impressive, but it will not work like a magic wand on Africa’s youth.

The issue of getting youth into agriculture has never been about an absence of technology. African society has always subliminally reserved the agricultural value chain for the semi-literate, illiterate and poor. We don’t know how this happened, but it did. For some reason, anyone who says they work in agriculture is looked at twice, from head to toe. This stigmatisation of people in agriculture, especially farmers, cannot be trivialised. Youth (especially the educated youth) think about this when faced with the choice of venturing into agriculture. What will people think of me? When seated with friends over drinks, will I really want to introduce myself as a farmer? Not even Wi-Fi-enabled Wellington boots will make this an easy decision. Even farmers don’t expect their educated children to end up on the farm, because they want their children to have better lives than they have had.

In most African countries, farming or agriculture related activities generally occur outside of urban areas, and urban youth tend to be uncomfortable with moving out to Africa’s rural provinces. This leaves us with just rural youth who are willing to embrace agriculture and unfortunately they are only just getting used to using technology. There have been instances where we have spent an entire day training youth on how to log in to an enumeration platform that would make their work much simpler. That was just to log in – imagine how long it would take to train them to actually use the platform.

Given the option, a lot of rural youth would prefer to go non-digital, to avoid being embarrassed by technology. In some communities we had to revert to using paper forms and pens because the users (mostly youth) were really struggling with the technology.

With technology becoming a more inherent part of our daily lives, the digitalisation of agriculture is definitely a good way to start grabbing the attention of youth. A couple of digital processes here and there will turn the heads of youth, but don’t expect to keep those heads turned for long. A lot of time needs to be invested in education and the stigma associated with agriculture needs to be eradicated. Africa’s urban youth need incentives to move into the provinces and find employment in agriculture. Their more natural knowledge of technology will mean that they will embrace digitalisation and hopefully, before long, rural youth will then become more comfortable with the idea of farming and using technology. Not because they love agriculture or digitalisation, but just because they want to be like the urban youth.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.