Unemployment among the youth is one of the most acute problems affecting a developing country like Ghana. There are no accurate figures from either the National Labour Commission or the Statistical Service to show the exact percentage of youth who are unemployed.

However, unconfirmed figures available states that about 250,000 youth join the labour force annually; over 30% of this population has either diploma, degree or a professional certificate. This makes over 75,000 per annum joining the labour force.

This clearly shows that the majority of the youth who join the labour force every year have no diploma, degree or a professional certificate. This makes a total of 175,000 annually representing 70%. Out of these figures, only about 5,000 are employed by the formal sector; whilst the rest survive in the informal sector or remain unemployed.

This is attributed to the lack of basic or quality basic education which ranks high. However, youth unemployment is compounded by the fact that a large portion of the populace tends to be youth and the formal sector is not creating enough opportunities to absorb this constant supply of labour-seeking youth.

Amongst the most possible solutions to youth unemployment being touted today is the greater involvement of the youth in agriculture. Agriculture is the bedrock of most developing countries and Ghana is no exception.

Agriculture is important to the development of our economy and should be attractive to employ the youth and serve as a springboard for the country's overall economic development. It is the major sector that can rescue our country from its current economic ruin. Government must therefore invest significant amount in the rehabilitation of this sector.

Agriculture is the major supplier of raw materials to manufacturing industries and sustaining household with daily income.

Our industries are failing to perform and many have collapsed because the country has not invested much time, energy and resources in agriculture. We have given little attention to our key industrial crops like palm tree (oil), cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, and kenaf, (use in the production of fiber bags).

These crops assisted in our local industrialization efforts, but the governments of the 1990’s down to today have not focused maximum attention on this crops and their benefit to our efforts to revitalize our industries.

For example, sugar cane output diminished with the closure of the country's two sugar mills, which was producing over 237,000 tons per year in 1974-76.

An attempt to revitalize it in 2010 with the support of the government of Mauritius (which exports over 600,000 tons of sugar every year did not yield any good result.
 
Also, cotton production which expanded rapidly in the early and mid-1970s and has the potential to produce over 250,000 metric tons of lint cotton in medium term can employ over 500,000 youth today. The current world market price averaging US$24,167 per metric ton could earn the country over US$620 million annually.

In 1977 the country was producing 24,000 tons of cotton and steadily increased from 4 percent of the country's national requirement to 50 percent in 1990. Between 1986 and 1989, Ghana has saved US$6 million (Six Million US Dollars) through local lint cotton production.

It was expected that between 1991 and 1995, about 20,000 hectares of land would be put under cotton cultivation which would have enabled the country to produce 95 percent of the national requirement. We have failed in this direction.

Unemployment is not a permanent state of human lives and we must help change the fortunes of young people in this country. The country must promote rural and urban development of agriculture.

The participation of the youth in agriculture even with the introduction of a government programme know as; “YOUTH IN AGRICULTURE” has been very low largely because the sector has not been made attractive due to risk, cost, inefficacy and its labour intensive nature.

We therefore need a multi-level intervention to increase youth participation in Agriculture. It must be made attractive to reduce youth unemployment. Those within the school system must be targeted likewise those outside of the school system. They must be lured and sensitized.

How should this be done? A positive response is to encourage partnerships with the education sector to compulsory integrate agriculture into the primary and secondary school curriculum. In many instances, agriculture is incorporated as an optional component that is taught with minimal enthusiasm; its broad-based and compulsory inclusion with the appropriate resources will help to motivate the youth towards having a more favorable view of employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Similarly, those youth outside of the formal education system must also be targeted and wooed towards agriculture.

Young people must not be turned off by the many plagues affecting the agricultural sector, such as irregular rain and information asymmetries which cause ineffective marketing. The Ministry of Agriculture together with the Ministry of Information must create a system on ongoing initiatives to support youth in agricultural enterprises and also create opportunities to showcase their successes in order to attract more young people and make labour markets more flexible (which has the potential of helping young people to find jobs out of the agricultural sector).

Government through partnership with the private sector should establish a fund to make capital and credit accessible for young people who want to enter into agriculture. There should also be new innovations to overcome these barriers and achieve sustainable outreach to smallholders. Some of these innovations; self-help groups, savings and credit associations, community-based financial organizations, rural and community banks, and cooperatives are among the organizational innovations that needs to be developed to address the high costs and risks and also allowing alternative forms of collateral (such as chattel mortgages, warehouse receipts, and future harvests) can reduce the cost of credit for young people.

Population growth puts pressure on land. Acquiring land is very expensive for most young people who want to go into farming. Government through the National Youth Authority (NYA) should therefore set up a committee which will directly negotiate on behalf of young people with chiefs of the various communities to lease lands (a percentage of total harvest profit must be contributed towards the local community’s development) and also encourage open access to equipment with less collateral than is the case for purchase to young farmers.

Linking agricultural credit to extension services can address the needs of young farmers for simultaneous finance and information.  

With support from government and non-governmental organisations, matching grants must be used to promote improved technologies, empower farmers to hire service providers, build linkages with private firms through productive partnerships, and provide rural infrastructure.  

The country must recognized agriculture as a source of growth and a major employer of the country’s young people.

Leadership should design and implement measures needed for the sector to deliver its full potential. Investment in agriculture can absorb a larger number of new job seekers and offer meaningful work with public and private benefits.

For this to happen, constraints to land, capital, and skills must be addressed, and features to make programs friendly to the needs of the young enhanced. Existing programs in finance, land, and education and extension can be adjusted to address the specific needs of rural young people.

The agriculture that attracts young people will have to be profitable, competitive, and dynamic.

These are the same characteristics required for agriculture to deliver growth, to improve food security, and to preserve a fragile natural environment. Agriculture offers a handsome youth dividend that will benefit young people. With clarity of vision and political commitment from leadership agriculture will forever be an engine of growth to our economy.

[The writer is an entrepreneur. He is the Director of Operations for the Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana and President of the Life Transformers Foundation, an NGO with interest agriculture, women and children empowerment, youth unemployment, and sports development.]

 

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