Govt urged to incentivize agriculture to stop youth migration to SA, other countries

Dozens of energetic and productive Malawian youths are migrating to South Africa and Tanzania every year to seek employment and other economic opportunities.

But as Derrick Chihana confided in local journalists when he returned from South Africa recently, grass is no longer greener for foreigners in the rainbow nation.

Chihana revealed that the hard economic hardships have left most Malawians, especially the youths, destitute and prone to promiscuity to survive.

This echoes findings of a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which states that as much as international migration represents an opportunity for youth to provide a better life for themselves and their families, pursue educational aspirations, improve their professional skills and prospects, or satisfy a desire for personal development through the adventures and challenges that come with living abroad, many young migrants frequently get trapped in exploitative and abusive jobs, including forced labour.

And too often, they – like other migrants – become scapegoats for the shortcomings of economic and social systems in destination countries.

In South Africa, young migrants have become the targets for xenophobic attacks as citizens accuse them of being responsible for crime, bringing diseases, stealing their jobs, services and resources.

To the origin countries such as Malawi, migration has brought about brain drain through loss of energetic and productive young people.

So, what can the Government of Malawi and its partners do to reverse this trend?

Dryson Zimba, a 23-year-old business farmer from Chapayika Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kazyozyo in Mchinji, offers a solution.

One of the youthful farmers NASFAM is working with in Malawi–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu

Zimba said the government and its partners need to incentivize agriculture to make the sector attractive to the youth, observing that currently, the sector is not appealing to young people.

“It is undeniable fact that rural youth are the future of food security for Malawi. Yet, they face many hurdles in trying to earn a livelihood from agriculture sector,” he said.

This is not all! Young people face many challenges to make headway in agriculture. Those challenges include inadequate access to financial services as most financial service providers are reluctant to provide their services – including credit, savings and insurance – to rural youth due to their lack of collateral and financial literacy, among other reasons.

As the population continues growing, pressure on arable land increases, making it difficult for the young people to access land where they can start a farm.

They also lack access to credit, and many other productive resources necessary for agriculture.

Chifundo Ngoma – a 24-year-old farmer from Mango Club under Kawera Farm in Mchinji – said promoting financial products catered to youth, mentoring programmes and start-up funding opportunities could all help remedy this issue.

“The government and its partners should work towards overcoming these challenges, including providing competitive prices for agricultural produce, to attract the youths to join the sector. And as many young people join and benefit from the sector, you will have very few migrating to South Africa,” said Ngoma.

Both Zimba and Ngoma agree that green jobs can provide more sustainable livelihoods in the long run, and can be more labour intensive and ultimately involve more value added.

However, they lamented that majority of the rural youth do not have the skills or access to the necessary skills-upgrading opportunities to partake in the green economy.

Access to competitive markets for their produce is another hurdle they face because of the growing international influence of supermarkets and the rigorous standards of their supply chains.

“The government and its partners need to address these, plus many other challenges, to increase youth’s involvement in the agricultural sector, and ultimately address the significant untapped potential of this growing demographic. I totally believe that facilitating the youth participation in agriculture has the potential to drive widespread rural poverty reduction among youths and adults alike,” said Ngoma.

NASFAM realizes that while most of the country’s food is produced by the ageing smallholder farmers, it is imperative that huge investment should be made in youth farmers to ensure there is continuity in sustainable food production.

NASFAM Communications Manager Karen Manda observed that youth farmers are more likely to adopt the new technologies needed to sustainably increase agricultural productivity, and ultimately feed the growing population while protecting the environment.

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