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The benefits of youth association and cooperatives in creating economic opportunities for young people in Uganda

Young people in Uganda are disproportionately affected by unemployment: they are in transition from child to adulthood and so do not have the economic, political, or social resources necessary to access employment. The agriculture sector is where the majority – 65% – of youth earn their livelihoods. Of these, 31% are engaged in subsistence agriculture and live in poverty. Young people, and especially young women, are excluded from accessing land, capital, and inputs which traps them in subsistence production. There is a great deal of potential in the sector for meaningful employment, but young people need help to access the resources and skills necessary to make their farming a viable business.

Youth associations and cooperatives can help to create economic opportunities for young people. In Uganda, the Mastercard Foundation Youth Forward initiative – with a focus to link young people to quality employment or to start their own businesses in agriculture – is implemented by Youth Empowerment Through Agriculture (YETA) in Mid-Western and Northern Uganda and led by NCBA-CLUSA. Based on lessons learnt from YETA and key findings from research conducted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Development Research and Training (DRT), here are three highlighted benefits of youth associations.

Increased social capital

In order to improve young people’s livelihoods through agriculture, YETA encourages young people to form associations of up to 35 members. These groups are provided with training and skills to embark on a joint group demonstration agricultural project and individual projects. Collaborating in an association creates social capital for young people, including peer-to-peer support and social networks. This enables them to access information on available services and resources, inputs, skills and training opportunities and to increase their access to finance and land through savings and loans associations.

Access to finance

Youth associations and cooperatives improve access to finance for young people. Through these associations and cooperatives, young people are provided with financial literacy and foundation skills and training. Young people are encouraged to form village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). The VSLAs provide a platform through which young people save and borrow money to start and expand their businesses, acquire land, and hire labour for increased production. The economic benefits to participating in youth associations and cooperatives included: access to input and output markets through contract farming, and access to land from elders to increase acreage and yield. Young women were able to save and borrow to start and sustain their businesses or to access land through their VSLAs.

Youth empowerment and aspirations

Youth associations and cooperatives promote young people’s empowerment and motivation. This is not only due to the trainings received, but also through peer-to-peer motivation and mentorship. Young people access the group’s resources and labour to achieve successes that would take an individual much longer. Thus, participating in a youth association expands young people’s ideas about what is possible; thereby helping them to develop actionable aspirations.

Overall, youth associations are a powerful tool for combating young people’s impression that they are unable to positively change their lives and living standards. Youth associations and cooperatives have enabled youth to work together. They allow them to learn, practice and adapt to new skills. They can then apply these skills to realising their aspirations. As a result, youth are working towards breaking out of subsistence farming to adopt agriculture as a business.