We’ve all seen it before. The archetypal symbol of agriculture in Africa is more often than not an elderly African woman spending back-breaking hours in the sweltering sub-Saharan heat tending to her crop fields with a hoe in hand.
The problem with this imagery is not necessarily in its ubiquity, but that it is representative of an underlying issue in the sector: there is a lacklustre perception of agriculture amongst young people. Whilst there are several push factors such as limited access to capital and land, for majority of the world’s youth, agriculture isn’t considered as a viable or ‘cool’ career venture. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the average age of farmers in Africa is about 60, despite the fact that 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under 24 years of age.
With an ageing population of farmers, the uptake of agriculture by this demographic is critical in ensuring food security in the years to come. So what can be done to make farming attractive to this cohort?
Well, imagine this. Four young farmers, from Kenya and Tanzania, are each given one acre plots to farm side-by-side for a growing season, competing to win an agricultural investment worth US $10,000.
This is the premise of Don’t Lose the Plot, a new reality television show which began airing in May on Citizen TV in Kenya and ITV in Tanzania. Produced by The Mediae Company and supported by several development organizations, the show aims to encourage youth into agribusiness.
There is sassy Leah and book-smart Ken from Kenya, and from Tanzania, the ever timid Winrose and go-getter Issah – each striving to be the most profitable, business minded and resilient farmer in the group, in order to win the coveted prize.
The contestants were required to do research and choose which crops to grow and livestock to rear, and then pitch their ideas and budgets to the judges before receiving loans for their farm inputs.
Throughout the nine month period, the four have learnt to get their hands dirty under the guidance of various experts in the agriculture sector, advising them along the way on best farming practices, financial management, niche marketing and value-addition.
Still, the journey to success has been marked with a set of challenges. From overly ambitious budgets to disease-stricken crops, but as Ken, one of the contestants put it, “success is not an instant coffee affair.”
Watched by three million viewers in Kenya and Tanzania, the producer of the show, Patricia Gichinga, says that it has given “audiences the opportunity to learn from the contestants mistakes and triumphs, emulate them, and be inspired to own, lease and run agribusinesses of their own.”
This learning experience has largely been aided by Budget Mkononi, the show’s web-based agricultural budgeting tool that helps aspiring and inexperienced farmers view estimated costs and revenues of various commodities. They are then able to edit costs to reflect their specific circumstances, so that their budgets are realistic and personalized. Thus, allowing viewers at home the opportunity to become farming heroes of their own.
Though the show has just concluded, it’s plausible to state that agriculture is making a comeback.
Transforming the image of agriculture amongst youth might be a gradual process, but by showing them the myriad of opportunities at their disposal to enter into and to grow agricultural economic activity, Don’t Lose the Plot is cultivating a new breed of farmers.