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During the last years, policymakers and development-practitioners focused heavily on making farming more attractive for the rural youth in Africa. To reach this goal, different actions are proposed, often emphasizing the need for modern farming and information and communication technologies. These proposed actions are mostly based on anecdotes and prior policy beliefs, but not on empirical evidence since scientists have largely neglected this topic. This paper aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the aspirations and perceptions of young people and therefore to the formulation of policy actions that fit these aspirations. Two research methods were used to explore the aspirations and perceptions of rural youth: interviews and drawing exercises, a novel method in this context that allows for both a qualification and quantification of aspirations. The results show that rural youth have very diverse opinions and aspirations. In contrast to the literature, young people were found to reflect carefully about the positive and negative sides of farming, rural and urban life, and of foreign countries.
Imagining their future farm, young people mostly envisioned using draught animals and having electricity (which explaining the reference to bulls and bulbs in the title of this paper). In addition, the young people aspired to greater farm diversity and applying more fertilizer. Few respondents mentioned the use of modern technologies such as tractors, and none mentioned ICTs. While it is difficult to generalize our results, the findings suggest that policymakers and development practitioners need to pay more attention to the actual aspirations of the rural youth to avoid well-intended but misguided policies.

Published in Development in Practice 29(7).

Also published as ZEF Working Paper 171.