Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with 78% of the country being under the age of 30. What’s more, in the next 20 years the world’s population is projected to increase by a further 2 billion. On 12 August 2021 we celebrate International Youth Day under the theme of Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health. Through this blog I hope to highlight how the youth of Uganda are working in line with this theme, how several economic activities impact the food chain from the farm to the market, and how this has provided a wider field for youth to be involved in agriculture and food systems, either directly or indirectly.
When I was growing up, agriculture was strictly farm to table. Elders spent whole days on the farm while the little ones spent just a few minutes in the market. There is little wonder that when asked where milk comes from, my younger self would proud respond with “the supermarket”. There was clearly a disconnect in my knowledge somewhere between the farm and the table.
Schools are the birthplace of knowledge in our society. While at school, students can gain practical knowledge relating to agriculture through clubs such as Young Farmers and the Entrepreneurship Club, as well as through activities such as field trips and gardening. With schools being closed due to COVID-19 precautions, youth have since had to avail themselves with tutorials, webinars and online information relating to agriculture from their homes.
Youth are major drivers of innovation when it comes to transforming food systems in Uganda. Characterised by smaller family structures and living arrangements, today’s youth have normalized urban farming, clearing the stereotype that agriculture requires large plots of land somewhere in the village. On top of that, this has provided children at home with a safe space to practice what they learn at school.
Youth today are also contributing to ever-changing and transforming food systems in Uganda, an innovation space where we are seeing farms connected with markets through e-commerce, farmers being equipped with improved skills and technologies, perishable foods such as matooke being preserved and supplied year-round, as well as a downward trend in the use of charcoal for cooking. These, along with many other transformative innovations within Uganda’s food systems, are sure to have a positive impact on human and planetary health for years to come.
Though, while youth have brilliant ideas to bring to the table, the fear is that they are not always sustainable. This is due to a multitude of challenges including available capital and mentorship to drive innovation and entrepreneurship. Today’s youth are a generation that may have easy access to information, though they still require guidance on how to apply their newly acquired knowledge.
The National Association of Student Enterprises (NASE) seeks to bridge this gap by connecting youth with mentors, providing grants to young entrepreneurs, and allowing budding ideas to flourish through innovation hubs. Through the Youth IDEAthon, an initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), NASE has created a platform for youth to access various sectors of the economy to enliven their ideas. The initiative is creating and supporting sustainable approaches to the most pressing development challenges, and the Youth IDEAthon has so far attracted over 4,800 ideas from youth competing for seed funding, incubation support and one-to-one mentorship from all corners of the country.
Speaking of mentorship, NASE also encourages youth innovation within its own office by occasionally offering youth internships to support on various projects. This approach helps to complement the youth’s formal education with soft skills including leadership, problem solving, teamwork, creativity, communications and negotiation, to mention but a few. This is how I ended up working with the NASE team on the Youth IDEAthon, which has turned out to be the most enjoyable and fulfilling project I have every worked on. I have learned a lot in the process, made many friends and established some lifelong connections.
As we celebrate International Youth Day this year, my rallying call to my fellow youth is to seek out and have an open mind to opportunities such as the Youth IDEAthon. Once given the opportunity, apply yourself, and keep an open mind to learning.
By Elizabeth Atamba, S6 Vacist and NASE Intern.
The Youth IDEAthon is an initiative led by NASE and supported by the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab presenting entry level opportunities to unearth and nurture creative early-stage and startup ideas that can eventually feed into the pipeline of the UNDP Youth4Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facility. This initiative is intended to form the next generation of transformative, innovative and inclusive micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). In addition, the initiative provides youth with an interactive and collaborative process to develop and refine their ideas for products, services and solutions that help Uganda respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about UNDP’s youth initiatives, visit UNDP Initiatives for Youth in Uganda.
To learn more about the work of NASE and the Youth IDEAthon, visit NASE.