“The i-SOFT project helped me gain skills and thanks to it, I don’t need to look for a job. I’m already employed and will soon have my own office,” said Lynettee Ndyamuhaki, an alumna of Mbarara University of Sciences and Technology (MUST) in Uganda, a partner university within the China Funds-in-Trust Phase III: Higher technical education in Africa for a technical and innovative workforce (CFIT III).
Graduating this year, Lynettee now works as the coordinator of the Innovative Bio-organic Farming Techniques (i-SOFT) project, a student-led enterprise that develops organic fertilizers with the application of agricultural technology, developed with the support of CFIT III.
In Africa, the skills gap between higher education preparedness and fast-evolving labor market demands is identified as one of the main challenges for youth employment. To enhance employability and encourage youth entrepreneurship, the China Funds-in-Trust Phase III: Higher technical education in Africa for a technical and innovative workforce (CFIT III) supports evidence-based curriculum review and skills development programs in universities to reskill and upskill youth. Uganda, along with Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Senegal, and United Republic of Tanzania, is one of the participating countries of the CFIT III project.
In its first year of implementation, CFIT III supported the i-SOFT initiative at MUST. Through skills development and entrepreneurship training provided by i-SOFT, graduate students acquired hands-on skills to become entrepreneurs and contributed to the agricultural development of local communities. Lynettee, together with her peers, created employment opportunities for themselves and is making a difference for the modernization of agriculture in Uganda.
Linking innovative farming techniques to youth employability
Skills training for community engagement
The i-SOFT initiative responds also to the soil depletion challenge in Uganda by developing sustainable bio-fertilizers affordable to farmers. “Our product has already been piloted and rolled out to farms in the districts of Isingiro, Kiruhura, Mbarara, and Sheema in Uganda, with promising results,” Lynettee said. The Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Frank Tumwebaze, praised the i-SOFT fertilizer, saying that the innovation will benefit farmers whose lands are depleted every season.
In a similar vein, i-SOFT’s training approach is community-oriented, focusing on leveraging organic farming techniques for regional agricultural development. It allows students to acquire hands-on agricultural knowledge by closely working with local communities. Students also have the opportunity to train farmers in the uptake and development of the technique that will enhance farming productivity and improve living standards. So far, 192 farmers and 125 students have been trained.
For Lynettee, skills training enables her to put her passion for community development into action. “I’m pursuing my dream career as a practicing agriculturalist. With the knowledge and skills obtained, I have been able to train farmers in producing fertilizers meant for improved agricultural production.” Lynettee is excited about her future, “I believe that in the years to come, I will be able to reach out to more farmers to solve their problems and transform the community around me.”
A bright future ahead
“This innovative training approach is hoped to address the skills gap in Uganda,” noted Professor Nixon Kamukama, Deputy Vice Chancellor-Academic Affairs at MUST. To facilitate skills training, a mobile i-SOFT application and a curriculum manual on bio-organic farming techniques will be developed, benefiting graduates, undergraduates, unemployed youths, as well as small-scale farmers. Just like Lynettee, many students are receiving training for skills suitable for work through the project, seeing a bright future ahead of them.
Moreover, it is hoped that students will promote agro-industrialization in their communities using the skills acquired and develop other innovations. “We hope that through training, more students can come up with innovative ideas to start their own business,” Lynettee said. In partnership with UNESCO-CFIT III, MUST plans to establish an incubation center to incubate entrepreneurs in the bio-fertilizer industry and support students in entrepreneurship development.