In looking at rural youth, one cannot help but look at the dualistic character of African economies. Most of the African economies are characterised by a large agriculture, and rural economy and a small urban sector (except for Zambia which has 58% of its population living in urban areas). The same is true in Namibia, as 52% of the Namibian population live in rural areas (NIDS, 2016).
One of the pitfalls of most development efforts in Africa is that they have an urban bias focus, while rural areas hardly receive adequate financial or technical support. As Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania has wittily remarked, “While Americans have been to the moon, in Africa, we are still trying to get the village’’.
Recognising that the majority of Namibians, of which 66% are youths, live in rural areas the Namibian Government has implemented numerous multi-faceted strategies, policies and directives to address underdevelopment in rural areas in Namibia (New Era, 20 August 2020).
Despite the fact that the agriculture sector, especially in rural areas, has tremendous potential to create a myriad of employment opportunities for Namibians, the youth have traditionally perceived rural areas as less attractive because of the absence of basic social services amenities, such as recreational facilities, medical, education and other amenities, such as recreational facilities, medical and other services.
Understandably, therefore, most youth leave rural areas for the glittering lights of the urban areas.
However, it is this outdated perception that government is determined to change by stressing that the involvement of the youth in agricultural development is not only an option but a necessity (New Era, 20 August 2019).
Considering the above, government has implemented various initiatives to promote agricultural development, particularly in rural areas, which amounts to billions of Namibian dollars. Promoting development in the agricultural sector is of particular importance to government, as 70% of the Namibian population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods in terms of employment, income and food security, especially in rural areas (New Era, 20 August 2020).
Arguably the most significant of these initiatives were undertaken by government in 2018, with government aiming to invest about N$3.6 billion over three years (until 2021) over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework to develop this sector (New Era, 24 September 2018). These initiatives are underpinned by the understanding that the development in the agricultural sector is a powerful tool to eradicate extreme poverty and to boost shared prosperity (New Era, 24 September 2018).
In Namibia, as well as other SADC countries, it is clear that governments realise the important role that the agricultural sector plays in any economy; however, if governments are to formulate policies that are earmarked at facilitating young people to enter into agriculture, there is need for them to be more committed than what experience has shown so far. Otherwise, the policy will simply be a paper exercise, while young people continue to drift into urban or peri-
urban areas to join the growing ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. Fortunately, it appears that the Namibian Government is taking prudent and noteworthy steps to implement policies that will benefit agricultural development and the Namibian people in general for future generations.
It is important to mention that agriculture per se will not meet young people expectations for a better life. Fundamental changes have to take place, not only in such areas as availability of marking, credit facilities, improved pricing policies, and various rural services, but equally important, the government’s commitment to introduce land reform in such a way that the youth will have title to land, and in such a way that they will be encouraged to participate in the growing of high-value cash crops. In Namibia, as in many parts of Africa, young people’s access to land and growing high-value cash crops, for traditional and political reasons is limited. Unless young people are able to own land, either as an individual or as groups, and are given adequate incentives to participate in the growing of high-value crops, the call for promoting young people’s participation in agriculture will come to nought. It is also necessary that governments provide the necessary support to individuals, especially the youth, who wish to get involved in, and to develop the agriculture sector.
From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that the agricultural sector is the most significant employer with the agriculture, forestry and fishing accounting for about 167 242 individuals (90 076 male and 77 166 female), or 15.3% of the entire Namibian workforce (New Era, 3 September 2020). However, despite the aforementioned fact public investment in the agriculture sector has been on a declining trajectory, having dropped from average of 4.6% of the national budget 10 years ago to 3.6% now (New Era, 3 September 2020). Fortunately despite the bleak outlook for the agricultural sector Government has steadily been taking bold steps to ensure development in the agricultural sector, particularly encouraging the youth to get involved in agricultural projects as a means of socio-economic empowerment. It is clear that the Namibian government has put great effort into involving the youth into, and to develop, the agricultural sector in Namibia, however, the success of these government initiatives will depend on the willingness and determination of the youth to utilise these initiatives for their empowerment.