Like many other youth from rural areas in Africa, Mamadou Diarra left his village of Ballan, Mali, to make money in the city. However, the city did not prove to be as promising as he’d envisioned, and he soon returned home.
Mamadou’s story is illustrative of many youth in Mali, who associate agriculture with poverty and older generations and think that more and better opportunities await them in large urban centres like Bamako. The lure of the city is creating a very real youth exodus in many communities in Mali and across sub-Saharan Africa. And the unfortunate reality is that most youth do not find the success that they were seeking away from the family farm. Instead, they come face to face with low wages, crowded infrastructure and high levels of social exclusion and marginalization.
Ironically, as large numbers of youth are leaving the field of agriculture, it is becoming clear that farming is one of the most promising ways to pull families in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty. In fact, the World Bank reports that GDP growth from agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.
It is imperative that action be taken to encourage rural youth to stay in their communities and take up farming. As Charlotte Min-Harris writes in “Youth Migration and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: Empowering the Rural Youth (2009),”
To reduce the rate and negative consequences of rapid urbanization, policy efforts that empower and integrate rural youth into agricultural-based activities are necessary. If governments were to commit to this investment, the desire to migrate would diminish. Rural youth could evolve into agents of change with the capacity to improve their living standards, which is considered essential to promote sustainable rural livelihoods.”
This is what FarmQuest was all about. This reality radio program encouraged youth in Mali to consider farming as a legitimate and profitable career choice, and not just a means of subsistence, by following six young people competing to be named “best young farmer of the year.” Mamadou Diarra was one of these farmers.
When he returned home from the city, he decided to try his hand at farming. To help get Mamadou started, his father gave him one hectare of land and further support and mentorship were provided through the FarmQuest project. Mamadou is farming maize, but his ultimate goal is to get certified as a seed provider so that he can help other farmers in his region grow maize as well, which demonstrates his desire to contribute to his community. “If I succeed with my harvest, I want others to benefit from the seed so the village can progress,” said Mamadou at the beginning of the project.
Mamadou’s harvest was successful, and his experience undoubtedly encouraged many other youth to consider farming as a career. FarmQuest reached tens of thousands of households, and results have shown that the program not only increased young people’s interest in farming, but that it also led to improvements in knowledge and attitudes related to agriculture more broadly.
We hope that you enjoyed learning about Mamadou’s farming experience and will stay tuned to meet the next FarmQuest candidate. (If you just can’t wait for the next video, see below.)
Learn more about about the FarmQuest project, made possible with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, by checking out the following links:
– FarmQuest audio (in Bambara with English transcripts)
– “Can a reality show really deliver aid to Africa?” (article in the Toronto Star by Marc Ellison)