Rural Youth, Education and Agriculture: An Exploration of Youth Aspirations and Government Policy in Ethiopia
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There appears to be a paradox in Ethiopia. On the one hand, the country's development policy emphasises the central role of the agricultural sector and the need of cultivating a new generation of young, literate, and capable farmers who can embrace new technologies and methods in order to transform the sector. On the other, this commitment on the side of the state to ensure the majority of rural youth become the new generation of literate and capable farmers appears to be counter to the aspirations of the majority of rural youth who are aspiring to life outside of farming. However, the question of how and why education influences the aspirations of rural youth and the implication of this to the future of farming in relation to the country's agricultural led industrialization policy have not been adequately explored. Based on a qualitative study of four categories of rural youth (students in primary school, students in high school, high school graduates and drop outs, and young farmers) this study investigates the hopes, aspirations and imagined futures of rural youth in one farming community in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The findings of the study suggest a strong link between education and aspirations but the link is more dynamic than previous studies seem to indicate. The state of being in school significantly opens up the imaginations of young people as to what is considered possible and achievable and is therefore of more importance in the construction of aspirations and imagined futures. The general modernizing influence of education, the influence of the media, and the strong state-lead modernization discourse are also important factors which shape and influence aspirations and imagined futures. The study also investigates the choice and process of becoming a farmer and the factors that facilitate or hinder this. While the process of becoming a farmer is relatively simple for those who have never attended school and comes as part of the rural transition from childhood to adulthood, this transition is becoming increasingly difficult for youth who return to their villages after completing high school. The increasing profitability of farming also seems to be leading to established farmers and an emerging group of farmer investors taking a greater foothold on farming resulting in the exclusion of young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to access farm land, thereby casting serious doubt on the government's commitment and ability to realize its stated objective of cultivating a new generation of capable farmers. The study also finds the process of entry in to farming to be more complicated for young women, especially those who have been to school, than for young men.