Commercial sugarcane farming and rural youth livelihoods in Eastern Uganda
Commercial farming is a pathway for pro-poor growth because of its economic linkages such as jobs and incomes. However, most of the available studies of commercial farming are largely generic, leaving a dearth of evidence about what it means for population categories such as the youth. Anchored in a capitalist development lens, this study examined the implications of sugarcane farming for rural youth livelihoods in Eastern Uganda. Using a structured questionnaire, interviews and Focus Group Discussions and observation checklists, both quantitative and qualitative data was collected about youth involvement in sugarcane farming, with particular attention to the implications for youth livelihoods and enhancing their outcomes from sugarcane farming. The study reveals a suboptimal impact of sugarcane farming on youth livelihoods in Busoga. Due to a lack of requisite resources, the youth are incorporated into sugarcane farming through circuits of labour, which are hinged on land and financial constraints. Their proletariat class exposes the youth to imperatives of dialectical labour relations such as arbitrary exploitation, and harsh working conditions in physically demanding and low paying sugarcane jobs. Rather than solving youth livelihood vulnerabilities, sugarcane farming is an enclave for well-off groups and local compradors. Thus access to sugarcane jobs seldom guarantees decent youth livelihoods manifested by low purchasing power to acquire assets, and afford education and food. The situation is exacerbated by structural constraints such as a lack of labour regulation and sugarcane price volatility which affect the trickle-down effects of sugarcane farming on the youth. Commercial farming should be coupled with mechanisms that address individual youth constraints and the structural traps embedded in capitalist large-scale farming.