In the development sector (read NGO) and also in government circles, there is increased calls for youth to engage in agriculture to address the unemployment crisis the country is facing. In fact, donor organizations are continually seeking to position youth engagement in agriculture as the new frontier to lift the masses out of poverty.
Whereas only few youth with some tertiary education view this as the “hustle” of choice, they nevertheless choose to engage in it for the money. The challenge lies in the fact that they don’t want to live on the farm itself and do the dirty work, instead choosing to control activities in the farm from their bedsitters in the city leading to the birth of the “Telephone Farmer”.
The telephone farmer is heavy on technology and current affairs regarding agriculture, including; what agrochemicals are working and what crops should they plant at what time. Information they harvest from the myriad of agricultural blogs written by desktop bloggers who also coincidentally never touch the soil with their hands. They budget to the last coin and prepare for worst case scenarios through excel simulations on their laptops.
I am not against people living in town and having others do the actual work for them. The times that you had to till the land and harvest yourself is a few decades too late. In fact, there’s employment creation and money circulation when local people do the work for you. The risk with this model is that your business projections and agrochemical and technical input is only as good as the people you have at the farm. Many a times, the telephone farmer employs a farm manager and leaves the day to day running of the farm to him with minimal to no supervision on what happens at the farm.
This unchecked access is the loophole that farm managers and casuals exploit to fleece the unsuspecting telephone farmer. They make sure they send eye catching photos every so often to assure their boss that all is going according well. However, at farm level they divert resources and inputs to their own pockets, or to their own farms. They subtly claim minor cost overruns that don’t sound serious enough to raise the bosses alarm such as more workers needed, more fuel for the water pump and change in agrochemicals. All costs that seem sensible but in actual fact they are priming you for the disappointments ahead.
Reality sinks in that it has been a con game when the boss decides its 2 weeks to harvest time and they absolutely need to visit to check preparedness for the impending harvest. They meet only a quarter of the farm is as they were seeing in the pictures sent to them. They ask questions and receive answers that are cleverly crafted to make sense, after all they were never there to ascertain the truth. In crushing disappointment the telephone farmer cuts their losses, salvages what they can and goes back to their bedsitter, vowing not to engage in farming again.