Emmanuel Waiswa OPINION: How Coffee can address Uganda’s Youth Unemployment and Economic Crisis

Emmanuel Waiswa OPINION: How Coffee can address Uganda’s Youth Unemployment and Economic Crisis
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With the youngest unemployed population on the globe, Africa’s resources are being put pressure to sustain a growing, yet unproductive youth bulge. This is partly due to the fact that a high percentage of African farmers are old and will soon not be able to grow enough food to feed the continent. Similarly, the high rates of unemployment among urban and rural youth have robbed African economies of productive labor and hence causing more dependency and food insecurity. The growth of the private sector in most Africa economies, Uganda included is has not matched the rate of population growth and more young graduates won’t be able to find jobs in formal employment.

It is prudent to state that Africa will soon not be able to feed herself, worse still she won’t attain economic prosperity as, her ever growing future talent pool is underutilized. Albeit being the most educated, connected and exposed generation, young people have not been targeted by any contextually viable economic activity.

With the most fertile soils, cool climatic conditions, agribusiness remains a credible alternative for youth employment and would be a feasible strategy to engage young people in a well – developed value chain for a high value commodity like coffee. Coffee remains a major income earner and Uganda’s coffee is widely accepted on the global market to be of good taste. We can only leverage this opportunity, if we target to recruit young men and women into coffee as a choice for employment. Its surprising that the Uganda Coffee Road Map does not specifically mention youth engagement anywhere among the nine initiatives to catalyze transformation in the sector.

There have been many challenges fronted by many against pushing young people into agriculture, including, the view of agriculture and particularly coffee, as a farm based activity, usually done with rudimentary tools like hand hoes and usually often requiring land which young people often lack access to. Limited analysis has been on the view of the coffee value chain to be with off farm opportunities such as; operating a coffee shop, pulping coffee, training coffee farmers in agronomy as well as packaging and branding.

There are even cultural obsessions against coffee consumption especially by women and yet women contribute the most to the coffee value chain as producers.

The school curricula have generally tended to discourage youth from careers in agriculture, and as a result, agriculture is considered to be an occupation of last resort.

There have been numerous interventions geared towards youth engagement in coffee; In respect to fostering continuation of coffee production by attracting young people in coffee production, HIVOS together with regional non-profit, member-driven associations like the African Fine Coffee Association (AFCA), IWCA, 4C Association, and the International Trade Centre (ITC), Hivos has been working to improve the position of women and underrepresented youth in the East African coffee sector. Hivos aims to achieve this through capacity building, building linkages between coffee buyers and women and young coffee growers, and by integrating youth and gender in training courses. These courses promote the coffee sector as a family business and place great emphasis on the role and importance of women and youth entrepreneurship throughout the coffee chain.

Nucafe is also working with Makerere University and Curad to contribute to review of the curriculum for Bachelor of Science in Agriculture course to become more entrepreneurial oriented.

The chaLlenge with agricultural initiatives is the stove piped nature of interventions. No intervention addresses the challenges of pushing young people into agribusiness in a holistic nature. You will often find a program focused on financing, another on advisory services, farm inputs, another on agricultural enterprise development. You will often find few if any aligned towards promoting mindset shift or group formation. These are critical components of a sustainable approach and we should be thinking of an integrated approach towards pushing young people into agribusiness.

We have to address the barriers to youth engagement in coffee value chain by employing an integrated approach comprising of;

Mindset shift; we need to rebrand the agribusiness sector as a pathway to meaningful youth employment and poverty reduction among youth. This can be achieved through campaigns and bazars that showcase income making opportunities in the coffee value chain. We need to disband myths about coffee consumption especially the ones around women’s uptake of coffee beverages.

Group Formation; Organized farming and cooperative structures are effective farming systems. There is no reason why young people cannot self-organize to produce, source and sell coffee. A youth led coffee cooperative would by far out compete most that are run by the old generation. I visited a women’s coffee cooperative called Kala Mugosi in Sironko and was inspired at how much young graduates were positioning them along the value chain and it was no surprise when their name came up in a meeting with a major coffee business in Kampala. In membership and productivity, a youth led cooperative or produce group would be a vibrant one. Let’s forget the traditional cooperative structure and imagine a transformed joint membership based business venture. While these take time to build trust and cohesion, they are a pathway to increased productivity and employment creation.

Enterprise Development; Uganda and Ugandans are very entrepreneurial but we are all moving towards other sectors and demanding innovation in a very limited scope. Less entrepreneurship is emerging around coffee and farming generally. The most innovative solutions at times come from local context. We need to develop enterprise development modules that enable young people to locate businesses along agricultural value chains and develop sustainable ventures that can be sustained and scaled to employ other young people. Additionally, we need to support young people in developing agribusiness enterprises that operate alongside traditional farming to support the growth of the coffee industry, such as agro-input suppliers, or other farmer services.

Access to finance; Financing is a key component of any undertaking and similarly, we need to consider developing financial packages for young entrepreneurs in agribusiness to thrive. We need to design flexible and responsive funding structures – in form of grants and not loans. For many years, there has been an argument in favor of microcredit as an anti-poverty strategy and many organizations and governments rushed to design microfinance initiatives with the hope that loans inculcate ownership more than grants. Loans are tools for making money by the financing institution, the experience with microcredit, espcieclaly its impact on women empowerment teaches us to focus on a more empowering strategy – granting. Grants as tools for innovation, imply that profits stay with the business owner and not taken back to a capitalist or donor.

Grants also establish a relationship and empower, when paired with the necessary capacity building, intra group accountability and due diligence.

This integrated approach has been tried by Coffee Kids in Tanzania and Columbia.

Coffee Kids partners with young farmers to create youth-focused entrepreneurship hubs. These groups provide the space where young men and women can learn how to use their creativity and ideas to develop productive enterprises in coffee and other industries that provide services to their communities.  Coffee Kids provides the training and mentoring in developing these hubs, but the ideas and creativity come from the participants. Coffee Kids provides seed capital as a tool to help participants turn their ideas into action.

This would be the story of the future I look forward to.

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