Agriculture is the most productive sector in Africa, and youth are playing a big part in it, despite the common myth that the sector is not attractive to this group. On International Youth Day, Shoma Nangale, Helvetas’ Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and youth focal person for the KIBOWAVI horticulture project in Tanzania, reflects on the importance of youth in the agri-food sector and the progress her country has made in recent years.
Tanzania is home to more than 60 million people, and 79% of the population is less than 35 years old. There is a common myth in development cooperation that youth are not interested in agriculture, but research by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) shows that the majority of rural youth in Tanzania are engaged in single-occupation farming. Although there is much potential in the agricultural value chain, there are also many obstacles, such as a lack of funding and inadequate technology for young people. In addition, climate change and other global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have harmed agricultural development.
The horticulture project KIBOWAVI works to address these challenges and support women- and youth-led startups that, due to lack of opportunities, do not meet their full potential. With the right resources and support, youth can be part of the solution to fight poverty and food insecurity.
Changes in weather patterns
In Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, marked by lush green mountain ranges, the rainy season starts in October and ends in July. However, there have been significant changes in rain patterns from October 2015 to January 2022, with a 285% increase in rainfall from 650mm to 2500mm. As a result of this increase, extreme weather events damaged crops and hampered other species' growth, leading to farmers experiencing famine in certain areas.
While some regions are hit by heavy rainfalls and flooding, others struggle with droughts. Due to this, many farmers and growers decided to stop cultivating fruits and vegetables. Besides directly influencing the farmers’ working sphere, environmental factors are also exacerbating infrastructure problems. Heavy rainfalls and flooding are causing damage to roads and bridges, impeding the flow of agricultural goods from rural areas.
In recent years, both plant diseases and pests have increased, and Southern Highlands farmers have witnessed a rise in resistant pests like kantangaze (an aggressive tomato moth) and locusts in their legumes and vegetable crops. At the same time, prices for agricultural inputs like seeds and pesticides have risen. For instance, the productivity of farmers was impacted when fertilizer costs doubled in 2022.
From producers to processers
If farmers succeed in yielding a harvest despite these challenges, they are faced with additional hurdles before their products land on consumers’ plates. In Tanzania, agriculture supply chain technologies, such as cool rooms, refrigerated trucks and weather-resistant packaging, have proven difficult to implement, especially for small-scale producers and youth with little funds to invest. Due to the scarcity or misuse of these value-chain technologies, the quality of produce is either compromised or destroyed and cannot meet standards for international markets.
Processing agricultural products, though also requiring capital investment, can be a solution to increasing the shelf life of agricultural products and making them more suitable for longer journeys to distant markets. Processing fruits and vegetables promotes food security and reduces food loss, and value-added goods promise greater prices and more time on the market. This chain now includes more participants, ensuring employment, especially for youth. For instance, workers are needed in sectors to provide high-quality, environmentally- and climate-sensitive packaging. The study by IFAD verified that participation among rural youth within agri-food enterprises is gradually increasing in Tanzania.
The KIBOWAVI project, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by Helvetas Tanzania, ensures that young producers and processors are equipped with the right skills and have access to the technologies they need for agri-food activities. As part of this plan, 11 learning facilities were built and equipped with various agricultural technologies, including greenhouses, drip irrigation, freezer rooms and organic manure systems. At the Busekelo facility in Mbeya, 70 active and motivated farmers visit weekly to learn more about best practices in agriculture and the chain of value addition. Four solar dryers and one onion storage facility were also constructed.
The project has also trained more than 500 farm owners and manufacturers on how to process agricultural products to maximize their value. One of the farmers is 28-year-old Mainala Kalinga, who lives in Mbozi district in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and has a bachelor’s degree in procurement and logistics management. After graduating, Mainala tried unsuccessfully to find employment in the agriculture sector. She started growing onions and other produces like tomatoes and sweet potatoes. After a training with KIBOWAVI, she switched to organic farming and got into seedling production. She now sells her produce to nearby markets and is the onion supplier for some local schools. In addition to her agri-business activities, Mainala’s training equipped her to offer supply and market linkage services to other farmers.
Prioritizing protecting the environment
The Tanzanian government has long recognized that a widespread effort is needed to tackle the country’s environmental challenges and protect its essential agriculture sector. In 2019, the country banned the use of single-use plastic bags that used to line the roadsides and sometimes ended up in the stomachs of free-roaming animals. Together with other key actors, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environmental Affairs have been holding environmental educational campaigns with slogans such as "take care of the environment" and "chop a tree, plant a tree," encouraging Tanzanians to care for the environment and plant fruit trees wherever possible to combat climate change. The trees are a double win: they provide shade, and the fruits provide the body with vitamins and strengthen immune systems against a variety of ailments.
The Ministry of Agriculture is also educating the public about soil hygiene practices and how to get rid of dangerous chemicals. To reduce soil erosion, it advises employing greenhouses, uphill contour farming and improved farm-cleaning methods, and educates farmers about irrigation agriculture and water collection.
Tanzania’s environmental challenges are manifold and overcoming them is not an easy undertaking. By working together, the government, young farmers and agri-food processors, and projects like KIBOWAVI are connecting Tanzanians to better quality products and a healthier and more nutritious diet. KIBOWAVI's positive impact on youth opportunities and practices in agriculture is just getting underway and has the potential to benefit many generations to come.