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Malawi: Youth migration hurts farm production, but one youth is succeeding on the farm (IPS)

As households in southern Malawi’s Chiradzulu District start preparing their farms for the next maize growing season, Frederick Yohane is a busy young man.

Every morning, the 24-year-old works with his two brothers in their family field where they grow maize and pigeon peas. In the afternoon, he tills other people’s farms to raise money for his needs and to support his family.

Twice a week, he cycles to nearby markets to sell the chickens he buys from surrounding villages.

This has been his life since he was 16 when his father suffered a stroke, paralyzing his left leg and arm. Mr. Yohane finished secondary school in 2014, two years after his father fell ill. But he didn’t pass the final examinations.

Without a school-leaving certificate, he followed the route of many youths in this rural district who trek to Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, to look for menial jobs, mainly as assistants in shops or as street vendors.

He says: “Through a friend, I found work in a hardware shop owned by an Indian. But the money was not good compared with what I was getting in the village. So I just worked for two months and I returned to the village.”

Mr. Yohane is not planning to return to town. He believes he can make more money in the village if he works harder.

He adds, “Besides, I am the eldest child. My father can no longer work. My mother spends much of her time looking after our father. It’s the three of us [brothers] working in the field.”

Mr. Yohane’s family is one of the millions in Malawi that rely on family labour for their farms. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations says that farmers account for 80% of Malawi’s total population of 17.5 million. Around 75% of farmers work small family farms that depend on family labour.

Like the rest of Africa, Malawi has a high rate of rural-urban migration, mostly by youths seeking a better life.

Youths make up the majority of Malawi’s population. And when they migrate to urban centres, the productivity of family farms declines, according to the findings of a study commissioned by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, or IITA, in Malawi in 2018.

IITA’s research found that households that lost youths to urban migration produced 650 kilograms less. IITA’s policy brief states: “This can be [attributed] to the fact that migration of youth household members was leading to loss of labour for agricultural production which was not compensated by hired labour using the remittances received.”

The policy brief recommends introducing income-generating activities to rural households to diversify sources of income and reduce the need for youth migration.

One solution is to change youth perception of agriculture—portraying it as exciting and economically rewarding.

Timilehin Osunde is the communications officer for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-CARE Project at IITA. He says that many youth associate farming with “drudgery … insufficient financial gains, and a dearth in basic infrastructure.”

Thomas Munthali is the director general for the National Planning Commission in Malawi. He says the organization is currently mapping the country into potential investment zones for projects that could lead to the reduction of youth migration.

He explains: “The idea is to create secondary cities in such zones based on their arable land, mining, and tourism potential. These will be created into industrial hubs offering sustainable decent jobs and socio-economic amenities just like in cities.”

As rural youths in Malawi wait for such programs, Mr. Yohane has already decided to stay in the village, with big dreams for his agribusiness.

He explains: “We harvest enough maize for our food. But we need to make money. So we are planning to rent another piece of land this year where we can grow more maize for sale. We won’t need hired labour. In future, we want to see if we can buy more land on which we can do serious commercial farming.”

This article is based on a story written by Charles Mpaka for Interpress News Service, titled “Youth Rural-Urban Migration Hurts Malawi’s Agriculture.” To read the full story, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/08/youth-rural-urban-migration-hurts-malawis-agriculture/ [1]