Richard is just 24 years old, but already he’s married with three children and solely responsible to support his growing family. Like many young men in Bwikhonje Village, Uganda, though Richard struggled to make a go of it.
“I was basically a subsistence farmer who could barely afford food throughout the year,” he says. “We used to plant local vegetables and grow crops such as beans, groundnuts, and vegetables like onions, cabbages, sukuma (collard greens), and matooke (plantains) to earn a living. But I didn’t have a daily source of income.”
In Uganda, youth like Richard and his wife Sarah account for 60 per cent of the unemployed population. Three quarters of the youth who are working find themselves in vulnerable employment, cannot negotiate their own wages, and, generally, don’t hold bank accounts. Even though the national economy relies heavily on agriculture, youth are steadily leaving farming. The young women and men who do choose agriculture face obstacles including lack of access to land, affordable financing for agribusiness start-ups, and the technical know-how. The youth in Bwikhonje are no exception.
Bwikhonje Village is located in the southeastern part of Mbale District where a shortage of land availability leaves most families struggling to survive on a very small parcel of farmland. Access to agricultural land for youth is a major challenge. Richard lucked out when he inherited a larger section of land from his father—approximately three acres—which put him in a better position to develop his livelihood compared to other youth in the village.
But, like many young people his age in Uganda and around the world, Richard wanted something more—he wasn’t interested in farming just to scrape by like his parents did. This is a global trend. Youth around the world are leaving farming because they don’t see a future in it. But the harsh reality is, alternative options are few and far between.
The Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022 report found that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated labour market challenges facing those between the ages of 15 and 24. This demographic has experienced a much higher percentage loss in employment than adults since early 2020.
Young people face enormous difficulties in finding decent jobs, both in developed and developing countries. Estimates indicate that 68 million youth globally are looking for a job; 123 million are working but living in poverty; and 270 million are not in employment, education, or training. Many young people are also underemployed, inadequately paid, and working in the shadow economy.
This is the climate in which Richard found himself struggling to get a small shop up and running. Despite his efforts, he couldn't make ends meet.
“It was not easy for my home and family members to afford basics like food and clothing. Life was not easy at all,” Richard explains. Their material poverty affected all areas of life. Because Richard and Sarah couldn’t afford a diverse diet—including meat—their health and their children’s health suffered considerably.
They had very few friends—the shame of their poverty kept them from socializing. “I did not have anything to offer people,” Richard says. “I could not even give good advice to my friends.”
Their social embarrassment was compounded whenever they went to church. Richard explains, “It was embarrassing for me to be attending church services every Sunday and not give to the offertory.” So, they stopped attending.
Being isolated from the life of the community affected Richard’s state of mind and his emotions. “I had low self-esteem,” he remembers. “I couldn't express myself in public. I was always feeling like I had failed in life. I didn’t believe that God could listen to my prayers.” Richard comments that his family was “voiceless” in the community: “I felt so unhappy as a parent and a father because I could not support and provide for my family.”
This is the heart of poverty: the pain it causes each of us to not be the people we want and need to be for those we love.
All over the world, youth like Richard and Sarah are being driven to desperate measures to escape the poverty trap. Many turn to illicit activities and are willing to take extreme risks.
For example, a study out of Venezuela revealed that rising youth unemployment has contributed to rising crime rates in Caracas, concluding that youth are attracted to criminal activities because of poverty. Youth unemployment encourages people to look for unconventional ways to make a living. Unfortunately, they are often left with no options other than engaging in criminal activities.
Another study based in West Africa showed that youth were attracted to the international drug trade moving cocaine from South America to Europe, not as users, but as traffickers through dangerous areas. These young people are willing to risk all kinds of danger, including frequent arrests when they reach port cities in Northern Africa, for a pittance.
Why? They have few to no other options for employment, income, and purpose.
Richard had land, but he didn’t believe in farming hand to mouth nor did he have access to training or finances to launch an agri business that would actually make money. So, he tried selling goods through the informal market instead. But the informal market doesn't provide security and his small store continued to fail. He was stuck.
That’s when YIELD offered Richard a second chance.
|The first group of young people to complete FH Uganda's Youth Initiatives for Empowerment and Livelihood Development (YIELD) program!
In 2022, FH Uganda launched Youth Initiatives for Empowerment and Livelihoods Development—YIELD for short. Richard was among the 50 young people invited to participate in this 12-month program aimed at increasing on and off-farm employment opportunities for vulnerable youth. The experience created new opportunities for Richard to make a living that would move his family beyond mere survival.
By working with his peers, Richard discovered that it’s a lot easier to mobilize resources in a group than it is trying to go it alone. “The YIELD youth entrepreneurship training has reshaped my mindset and behaviour on how to use available resources. I started saving $1.80 CAD per week after starting the training.” As he was able, Richard steadily increased the weekly amount he put in savings. Through faithful, disciplined saving with his group, Richard set aside over $180 CAD in just four months!
“We were trained on enterprise selection and modern farming methods. With the youth in our village, we selected groundnuts as our enterprise.” The learning and success he experienced with his group spurred Richard on to develop his own business plan to raise hens and sell eggs.
|Presenting and explaining their business proposals was a huge area of growth for these youth in Bukiende.
“Now I know how to start small and grow big,” Richard says. Using some of his savings, he started buying local hens a few at a time; today he has 30 chickens! “I’m planning to buy 20 more hens to make a total of 50 chickens. This will be a good number to enable me to start my poultry farm project.”
He plans to expand his poultry business by September. He and his group members are together developing an agro-input business from which he expects to earn more money to help him expand his chicken business. “Richard is a very enthusiastic youth who is very interested in business,” FH Uganda staff member Emmanuel shares.
“I want to be a commercial poultry farmer for both indigenous and exotic birds. I believe by September this year I will be the one supplying local birds in Bukiende. Through this, I will be in a position to make money to provide my family’s basic needs including school fees for my children. I want my children to study at those good schools when they grow up and I plan to build a modern house and buy a good family car.”
Richard is beginning to see himself as the leader he truly is. He wants to give back to his community by being a business mentor, eventually reaching beyond Bwikhonje Village to support others in the larger sub county.
Local youth are seeing his success and asking Richard to help them get trained by YIELD to start their own businesses. “I have become one of the most respected and resourceful youth in my village since the YIELD project started training me. I feel so happy because of the respect my community members are giving me. I want to see youth in my community get out of poverty because I believe that everyone can get out of poverty, just like me. Now, I can’t call myself a poor person because after the youth entrepreneurship training, I have the means to make money.”
Richard is proud that he can now afford to dress his children well and feed his family nutritious food—they’re steadily gaining weight and their health is improving.
Not only has the YIELD program empowered Richard to provide for his family’s material needs, it has also restored his sense of dignity and helped to heal his family’s emotional, spiritual, and social poverty.
|Richard's diverse flock of young birds is already thriving - soon he'll be the number one supplier of birds and eggs in his village (if all goes according to plan).
Richard explains, “These days, my advice and voice is heard and considered during important meetings due to my improved knowledge. Most people now refer their out-of-school children to me for good advice. I am now also a true and serious believer—I frequently attend Sunday services confidently.”
It would be easy to conclude at this point in Richard’s story that all youth need is job training and opportunities. But that would be a mistake. Research shows that it’s not enough to simply teach young people to sew, keep bees, or farm. Unless structural issues in communities are addressed, sustainable change in unemployment isn’t going to stick, even for Richard.
A 2015 MercyCorp study looking at connections between youth unemployment and political violence concluded that, contrary to the long-standing narrative, “Violence makes people poor, but poverty doesn’t appear to make them violent.”
While this study looked specifically at drivers of political violence MercyCorp’s conclusions have wide ranging implications for youth unemployment that we should all pay attention to. Their report provides recommendations for getting youth-focused programming like YIELD “right”. Here are three examples:
- End siloed, single-sector programming, and support multi-sectoral, multi-year programs that create systems within which youth can thrive.
- Target the most vulnerable youth—and be vigilant about ensuring programs don’t just reach privileged youth in urban centres.
- Increase investments in two-track governance programs that connect youth “voices” with meaningful reforms on issues of corruption, predatory justice systems, and exclusive governance structures.
If you are a Food for the Hungry supporter, now is the time you should stand up and cheer—and pat yourself on the back!
|Including parents and the wider community in youth development is critical to the success of young people, as well as the future of the community as a whole. Here, FH Uganda addresses parents of YIELD youth.
FH’s development model of holistic community transformation ensures that youth empowerment programs like YIELD happen in the context of a “multi-sectoral, multi-year” partnership. This partnership does, indeed, create new, community-led systems of leadership, wealth creation, health, education, and more to establish a sustainable way of life for everyone.
FH programs like YIELD also target the most vulnerable youth, like Richard whose business and farm were failing and whose children didn’t have enough to eat. And, as you’ve read, Richard’s young voice is now being heard in community leadership meetings—he is influencing the future of Bwikhonje Village through helping to shape community plans they will submit to higher levels of governance in their sub county.
Check, check, and check!
Out of YIELD’s training and mentoring process, 19 youth in Bwikhonje have already established small businesses. Ten youth Savings and Loans Groups were formed with approximately 2.5 million Ugandan shillings already saved in a span of just three months. A total of 38 goats have been bought by youth, 141 chickens are being raised, and nine phones (including two smartphones) have been purchased—all as income generating assets for new youth-initiated small businesses. They’re renting land for farming, buying agricultural inputs such as seeds, have stocked small retail shops, bought materials for brick-laying, and more!
Richard and his co-participants are now in a position to impact the youth in their communities who know where they started from.