Imagine the great migration of the Wildebeest across the Serengeti in search of green pasture.  It’s one of the great spectacles to behold in East Africa each year. Yet there is another much more disturbing and critical migration taking place.  Youth in Africa and their “rural urban migration”.  And we need to not only understand it, but to resolve it.


“Mind the Gap”: Youth Heading to the Cities

The youth of Africa are leaving the rural areas of their childhood and the agricultural heritage of their families.  They are heading in droves to the bright lights of the city, wooed by the promise of a brighter future. With an ever-aging population of farmers across Africa it is critical for food production that we not only ‘mind the gap’ that is growing but find ways to bridge it. Over the next 10 years the population explosion will only increase the demand for food production. Opportunity lies on the very doorsteps they are leaving.  Yet they are seemingly blinded – unable or unwilling to see it. But are they really being lured by the promise of a new tomorrow? Or chased away by the ghosts of the past?

Why is there a Rural Urban Migration?

The first step in resolving this issue is to understand ‘why?’ and research done not about, but with young people in Kenya and Tanzania, by Well Told Story, revealed two helpful insights:

#1 – When a young person in Africa hears the word ‘agriculture’ what they hear is ‘poverty’

The many leaving rural communities and heading to the bright lights of the city have observed & been brought up in the harsh reality of the day-to-day fight to simply survive. A life in agriculture seemingly offers long hours, hard graft with little reward and no prospects. It’s hardly a tempting offer. We aren’t simply facing the challenge of taking young people from a ‘Neutral’ position to ‘Adoption’ when it comes to agriculture. The challenge is much greater. Young people aren’t at ‘0’ (zero) waiting for us to convince them. Instead we have to shift them from ‘Rejection’ (-100) to ‘Adoption’ (+100).

The greater the level of disillusionment, the greater the level of rejection and the greater degree of shift needed.  Many young people are nearer the left rather than the right side of rejection. Intergenerational hopelessness has paralysed families and communities. Until now youth often didn’t know any different, but the introduction & vastly spreading availability of smart-phones and technology is opening up their eyes and minds to a whole other world – a world that promises ‘more’ and promises it ‘now’. Whether it can actually deliver is almost irrelevant & the despite the ever growing masses of slums and townships around the bright light cities … a young person is still convinced enough to believe that their outcome will be different.

Because of the struggle and hardship they have experienced, most parents don’t want their children to engage in agriculture either. One parent whose son proudly went home to tell his parents he had signed up for an diploma in agriculture was promptly grabbed by the ear and marched the 2 hours back to the college.  He canceled the agreement and signed for a different career choice.  The message was clear: ‘No son of mine will ever become a farmer’.

#2 – When a young person in Africa hears the word ‘agriculture’ what they hear is ‘failure’

This has been ingrained in the mindset of young people from a very early age. In many African schools, when a child misbehaved in class they were sent to the fields as a punishment. I was told that on a wall in the entrance to a high school is a picture: on the left under the heading ‘If you do well at school’ are images of doctors, lawyers, business men & teachers. On the right under the heading of ‘If you fail at school’ are pictures of beer bottles, drug needles and a farmers pick that he uses to dig the land. When agriculture is assimilated with being an alcoholic or drug addict it hardly paints a compelling & inspirational image for your future.

So in the desire to attract young people to agriculture in Africa we have two significant challenges to overcome.  Without mindset change the story will stay the same. So we have to find solutions to resolve these challenges and deal with the ghosts of the past. We have to start young and we have to build a compelling case so that young people can both see and are willing to embrace the opportunity that a growing demand for food worldwide offers.  We need to enable those brave enough and innovative enough to re-write the future of youthful agriculture… but that’s for my next blog.