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We Need to Change Our Mind Set: The Ignored Africa’s Big Sector Profession

Before reading this post, I want you to take a moment and digest one question.

Ready? Let’s go.

Who are farmers’ in your locality and how do those peoples possess that title? Take your moment…

Am hoping you will come up with a general description of those people with why they belong to that group.

Now let’s bounce to the deep side of my thought and experience of what the agriculture sector looks like and why its profession is neglected despite it being the mainstay of Africa’s economy.

In Ethiopia, most cross sectorial issues touching different ministries lack a legal framework. Agriculture, health (food & drug) and trade and industry ministries are without any linkages. This leaves farmers/agri-preneures barely without options to engage in agro-processing, a promising value addition venture. It results to Ethiopians always seeking foreign importer agents/certifying company to lobby such gaps.

In curbing this challenge, we (at YPARD Ethiopia) work to advocate for better agri-business models to equip partner companies and the affiliated/partner farmer cooperatives. We do this by ensuring working procedures comply with the global market standards/requirements; preach about social enterprise modalities that enable farmers to process and offer final goods rather than merely produces; reveal the journey agriculture and food security has been through against climate smart practices to convince policy makers.

Mankind has stumbled thousands of years in search of knowledge and every one of us has contributed to that in one way or another. Hence the reason we bring development so as to utilize our shared environment equally with proper management in sustaining its values to our children’s. It is neither ethical nor human to enjoy fruits of development alone, while others are hungry.

Man-to-Man is my principle and I’m passionate to bring a social change to contribute in making the world a better place. All those wars, ignorance, inequality, hatred, famine, and so on are rooted from greedy need.   My experience with most of African rural areas has always left me sad. They make the larger portion of the land & food supply but they are the one who are most disadvantaged. Urban people fix the market price over the farmer and after minimal value addition, they make surplus profit on the expense of producers. Unless, this vicious circle is tackled by social enterprise, it will never be changed only by technology. Market information (mobile) is nothing for a perishable vegetable, unless farmers have well organized supply/value chain in reaching remote markets as long as the local demand leads the local market price.

The big missing piece here is the public awareness as to what agriculture is. I say agriculture is a business and farming is a profession. The long journey that agriculture has been through along with its typical describing features has left a wrong definition in the Ethiopian agriculture. The way schools are teaching ‘what agriculture is and who is doing it’ matters, as schools are making mind setup and way of thinking of our policy makers from almost bare state of mind. In Ethiopian case, agriculture is a sector left either for “farmers” who are based in a remote rural or investors who do it in large scale/to export markets. Peoples define “farmer” as one who gets born in rural, illiterate, do farming, no/minimal access to infrastructure and related descriptions, which are unacceptable value for one to possess in urban dwellers thinking.

Neither the general public, government institutions (especially Ministry of Agriculture) nor “farmers” themselves see agriculture as a business rather they view it as a life/tradition and a majority as public sector and some as destiny. In my view it is emanated from policies affecting it (land is state owned), approach/strategy (public extension service, research and food donation) and mainly politics. As agriculture counts a larger portion of the land and population, the sector is political sensitive when one tries to change the way it is being done trouble ensues.

Policies and directives are made without hook to tie it up with private sectors. Currently, the government is not promoting local social enterprise establishment to work with “smallholder” farmers (I put it in quotation for they are large population and land holder of the world); ostensibly, the government has spent extra cost in offering services through its state owned enterprise. The world has come through that way and failed. Why? That is what I say “politics”. Public sectors are not competitive as private one. Public extension workers are begging ‘farmers’ to farm using fertilizer…that  is because they don’t see it as a business and they don’t want to do what the government says on their business (as development workers also do politics, farmers are not happy to listen to).

To change this mindset towards agriculture, it demands a systematic approach that embrace education system, public institutions, media companies, the general public and the like. In Ethiopian case, we used to learn agriculture/farming as a full-fledged course with practical sessions in all primary schools until the beginning of 1990’s. Then afterwards, the course was scrapped off from the elementary and  secondary/high school curriculum. Now there is no way for a child to know about agriculture nor practice farming.

I leave you here to digest it in your respective countries. Africa with a young population and agriculture as its economy main stay – where should we start to engage the youth in agriculture?