Youth participation in rural development in east and Southern Africa
By ISOH, Abel ESIMO, BWEMBYA , Emilio, Fax: (260) 04 222702, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (July 2003)
The The International Movement of Catholic Agriculture and Rural Youth dubbed MIJARC, is a movement of rural youths covering four(4) continents namely; Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America. Although it covers almost the whole world, my focus for its contribution to rural development is on East and Southern African region.
MIJARC was recommended in 1939 by Pope Pius VI in Europe. It was a renovation from Father Joseph’s Gadjen’s Young Farmers founded ten (10) years earlier (1929). MIJARC membership is the youth world-wide. In Africa, the Movement was first introduced in the West in the 1950’s and later spread in the East and Southern parts of the continent in the 1960s.
The basic objective of the movement is to mobilise and transform youths all over the world from a Christian perspective. This is not to say that members must be Catholic Christian. The intention was to inculcate in them the principles of peace and justice. Another objective was to involve youths to participate actively in rural development. However, according to the interviewee, MIJARC was originally intended to prevent the youths from being conscripted into fighting the Second World War which had just broken out in 1939.
In a bid to realising its laid down goals, MIJARC has over the years embarked on a number of activities. To begin with, MIJARC’s intention was to train youths to become models or agents of development within their local societies. Therefore, rural youths have over the years been groomed or educated on the dangers of poverty which is characteristic of rural areas. Thus, the Movement has set out strategies on how the rural youths could be drilled on fighting poverty by organising themselves into groups of independent farmers. And in each group there are trained agents who elaborate the methods of farming and marketing strategies.
It has also been the duty of MIJARC to bring up the rural youths of all member states of which East and Southern Africa are not an exception. Through its local authorities at all levels, the Movement has promoted peace and justice by inculcating Christian principle of love in the members. The religious background has been very inspiring in that direction by keeping members together. Civic education has also been incorporated into its programmes to raise awareness of members of their civic duties, rights, and obligations.
A common characteristic of rural areas especially in developing countries is, lack of social amenities and poor agricultural orientation. MIJARC has, therefore, taken upon herself to ensure that the rural areas are provided with health units, portable water, sporting grounds among others. While the Movement encourages village or district chapters to sponsor some of these amenities, appeals are also launched to the government.
Demonstration farms are established on which grain products such as corn and wheat, vegetables, and fruits are planted. In addition, animal husbandry and dairy agriculture and aquaculture - important for fish industry are demonstrated. Moreso, food processing and fibre for clothes are done in East Africa, specifically in Zambia. It is important to note here that, the only communal plots are the training centres where demonstration of production is carried out. Proceeds here are used for the up-keep of the Movement. From the demonstration farms, individual farmers have gained experience that has been emulated. In tackling these issues MIJARC has adopted this strategy: see, judge, act and evaluate, which is important for analysis.
In an effort to achieving development in the rural areas, in parts of East and Southern Africa some difficulties are encountered such as lack of funding to run the affairs of the movement. Another problem is that, in many African countries rural masses are not being consulted in decision making. For instance during the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) many youths suffered retrenchment as a result. This was due to privatisation of market, competition in the quality of goods, external control of commodities and determination of prices by private agents.
There have been successes however these problems, among which are as follows. Firstly, there has been a marked improvement in environmental conservation in countries such as Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania; there has been mass planting of trees and protection of the bio-diversity. Next, many youths have adopted the training and experience acquired from demonstration farms and ideas shared at meetings. Consequently, their production has increased in recent years, and are living above poverty line as remarked by the interviewee. Moreso, education in its various forms has raised the awareness of individual members, and information problems have been solved by the creation of chapters at village, district and regional levels. Rural youths also share experiences from international forums through their representatives. For instance, the experiences gained in the just ended World Peasant Farmers Meeting in Cameroon shall serve as a resource through MIJARC’s East and Southern African representative to members of that region.
Regardless of the successes highlighted above, there are problems that need to be resolved by MIJARC in order to enhance youth participation in rural development in East and southern Africa. Such problems include limited financial resource, illiteracy, lack of modern farm implements, and rural exodus as a result of adequate provision of social amenities among others.
It is undeniable that MIJARC has contributed immensely in involving youths in rural development. Just raising awareness and advocating in favour of the rural youth is a significant landmark in the life of a people. Participation in international forums that favours exchange of ideas and experiences is not unimportant.