I was the responsible project manager for the Youth Development Project in Uganda at Jacobs Foundation until 2013 and had the pleasure to meet with the HRNS team and coffee farming communities in Central Uganda twice during this time. Five years later, in 2018, for a host of coincidences and unrelated to the YDP, I ended up leading a focus group discussion with a group of farmers in one of the same villages. At the end of what was an insightful exchange though not at all related to their youth, an older lady spoke up:
“One thing I really want to do is to thank you for the youth project. It was an eye opener for us. We learned that we should give land to our youth and have more confidence in what they are doing. Now they are growing coffee and they do not leave to Kampala anymore.”
It was also an eye opener for me and the motivation to look closer at the project’s long term impact of this youth project in Uganda. With the support of Jacobs Foundation and in cooperation with the HRNS team in Uganda, I was able to carry out a qualitative post-implementation evaluation and a follow-up to the tracer studies from 2014 and 2015. This allowed us to compare whether the positive changes reported in the final evaluation in 2017 and anecdotally shared by the lady I met were indeed sustainable.
Proven long-term impacts of a youth project in Uganda
What we found was encouraging in a context where more than three quarters of the population are younger than 30 years and 80% live in rural areas. Many of these young people are neither in school, training or working. In addition, Uganda’s economy heavily depends on agriculture, but being a farmer is perceived negatively; a second choice or fall-back plan in case nothing else has worked out.
The YDP worked with almost 1,700 youth from Uganda’s coffee growing communities in the area of Mityana with the goal to show that farming can be a successful business. The approach combines so-called youth farmer field schools (technical training in agriculture) with gender training and household planning, access to financial services and community events. We assessed whether livelihoods had indeed improved on the long term, by looking at indicators such as ownership of land, value of household items or quality of housing. These showed – partly impressive – improvements. As such, house ownership has gone up from 43% in 2014 to 67% in 2019. At the same time, the quality of youth’ houses had improved substantially: 61% reported concrete floors (up from 28%), 66% plastered walls (up from 26%), 84% brick walls (up from 50%) and 100% boasted iron roofs (up from 66%).
Youth making a good living from agriculture in rural Uganda
Moreover, we identified positive effects on the farmer families and the communities. Initially, parents and community elders had a quite negative perception of their youth thinking that they would use their first earnings to buy a motorcycle and leave for the city. This perception had changed substantially. Parents are now proud of their children’s achievements. And this in turn seemed to have changed inter-generational relationships within families. More importantly, some youth managed to gain enough trust by the community to become involved in the leadership of their farmer organizations. Finally, we collected anecdotal evidence that gender relations within households improved. What is most impressive and quite surprising given the image agriculture had initially, is that three years after the project ended, all youth are still engaged in agriculture. And many of them told us that they were convinced that they could make a good living out of agriculture. This really is a major change which has positive implications for the communities, including reduction of urban migration.
A holistic concept of project elements as key to success for the youth project in Uganda
Now what are the main success factors? We believe it is the specific combination of project components that reinforced each other positively. Agricultural training sessions taught youth how to grow crops and market them. Essentially, how to make money out of a garden. In financial literacy trainings, they learned how to save money and what it means to take out a loan. They were able to practice this in village savings and loan groups and some of them later with loans from an offtaker. Finally, training on gender relations and joint household planning helped to make better use of income for the well-being of the whole family. Finally, social events created cohesion among youth and with the community. What is more, although working in traditional coffee growing communities, the YDP decided to start with seasonal crops such as beans, tomatoes, or maize. These crops grow within a couple of months and allowed youth to quickly see some success, earn money and keep motivation up.
Last but not least, from a project management perspective, it is important to have the right partners at all levels. Jacobs Foundation combined its strong background on child and youth development with Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung’s extensive local knowledge and expertise in agriculture, gender, and organizational development. At the community level, the YDP partnered with farmer organizations, which anchored the project locally and thus contributed considerably to making it sustainable beyond the project life span.