Earnest efforts are now being made to make agriculture a priority sector. It’s been a long time coming. As an agrarian society, we have a significant portion of our population in this sector. Yet we do not produce enough to feed ourselves. At the same time, youth unemployment is growing and migration from the rural pockets of the country to urban centres has been increasing.

Over the years, our planning oversight has pushed agriculture to the back seat while other sectors have grown by much. In the 11th Plan, budget allocation for agriculture sector dwindled to 6.4 percent. Agriculture development suffered also because of lack of access to finance. It has been found that in 2014 credit from the financial institutions to the agriculture sector was only Nu 2.65 billion – 4.1 percent of the total 63.98 billion issued. Other credit schemes like vehicle and housing are by much cheaper than agriculture.

But reform initiatives are in the offing, which will help the nation address much of the problems facing agriculture today. The National Land Commission will soon come up with the User Rights Certificate land reform that will facilitate allotment of state lands for agricultural and economic purposes in rural areas. Agriculture is a sector with great potential. If we can make agriculture attractive and viable, it will help the country cut on imports. It will also help the country achieve its important national goal of becoming food self-sufficient. It is important to note that this initiative comes at a time when fallowing of land in the rural parts of the country is increasing by the year.

What this initiative will bring about it is the practice of using the limited arable state land for economically productive activities in a sustainable way. More importantly, besides addressing failings associated with freehold registration of state land, the initiative will help check rural-urban migration, increase food production and reduce youth unemployment.

What is critical, however, is making access to finance less difficult. Financial institutions could walk in to support farmers, groups, cooperatives and youth entrepreneurship through viable credit schemes. In the process, we could link the entire value chain from agriculture input supply to production, processing, distribution and marketing to encourage our farmers and young entrepreneurs take up large scale farming. All these succeeding, we will be able to address one of the growing challenges facing the country today – rising youth employment and rural-urban migration – successfully.