Make agriculture attractive by making it pay, youths are interested.

There has been a debate on the role of youth in agriculture and how to involve them in agriculture. However, inadequate focus has been channeled towards why majority of the youths have not adopted agriculture despite them being unemployed.  This article will critically assess the current situation of agriculture in Kenya, the reasons why there is low adoption of agriculture as an occupation and career by youths and strategies that can increase engagement of youth in agriculture.

Kenya has an exceptional youthful population. According to KNBS (2019), 35.7 out of 47.6 Million people comprising of 75% of the total population is comprised of people who are below 35 years of age. The census 2019 further revels that 32.7 3 million people live in rural areas implying that Kenya have youthful rural population.  With agriculture continuing to be the predominant source of employment and livelihood in Kenya by supporting approximately 80% of the population in the rural areas, the large youth population can be considered an important asset for agricultural development. According to the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (2010-2020), agriculture sector is the backbone of the Kenyan economy contributing  to approximately (24%) of annual GDP. In this regard, the sector has enormous potential in eradicating poverty, wealth, and employment creation.

However, today agriculture is predominantly controlled and undertaken by the older generation while young people continue to face unemployment challenges. Majority of Kenyan farmers are old with their age ranging between 50 – 60 years.  This is a worrying situation considering that the population of Kenya continues to increase with current population standing at 47.6 Million its projected increase being approximately 66 million by 2030 and 97 Million by 2050. This calls for a revolution of the agricultural sector including an energetic and innovative agricultural workforce which the youth can provide to ensure food and nutritional security and support the economy. According to the Kenya Agribusiness Youth Strategy, agriculture sector offers opportunities that can be tapped and explored to reverse the increasing youth unemployment trend. Thus, the youth are at the heart of transformation of the agricultural sector.

There are various factors that hinder effective engagement of youth in agriculture and adoption of agriculture as a livelihood strategy and a business. Some of these factors include perceived of high labour intensity particularly in production, poor attitude by youths, negative perception towards agriculture (associated with low incomes and as a job for the old, uneducated population), inadequate skills and knowledge in agribusiness and unsupported land tenure systems.

Key issues in the sector and strategies of increasing youth engagement in agriculture

Strategy i: Promote the higher value chain stages other than production

Kenyan agriculture continues to be more focused on production level while there is an opportunity to create value at the upper stages of the value chain including processing/ value addition and marketing. While production and productivity are important aspects of the value chain approach, there lies numerous unexploited opportunities in the other value chain segments (such as transport and value addition) that are attractive to the youth. There is need for private sector actors, development partners and government to commercialize agriculture by supporting youths to invest in the higher agricultural value chain stages which offer them interesting opportunities around agribusiness.  This would address the perception that agriculture is labour intensive and ‘dirty’ due to its focus on production. 

Strategy ii: Implement strategies, legislation and policies that promote youth engagement in agriculture

The barriers for youth to engage in agriculture as a livelihood strategy can be addressed through implementation of some of the agricultural policies in the sector including Kenya Agribusiness Youth Strategy and the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS). There is also need to review our land policies to ensure they are youth friendly. This is because, land tenure issues continue to be a major barrier that hinder youths in engaging in agriculture due to ownership and management problems. This coupled with inadequate access to agricultural inputs, credit and extension services are major factors that disenfranchise youths from engaging in agriculture. Land issues also be addressed by supporting youths in innovations such as hydroponics, vertical bag agriculture among other interesting enterprises that do not require large pieces of land to undertake.

Strategy iii: Develop agricultural skills that match industry requirements

Low perception by the youths in agriculture in the past have resulted to few youths taking an agricultural career path while the education system has also not been keen in providing needed by the industry actors; there has been an issue of skill mismatch with industry requirements.

There is need to build talents and skills across agriculture with a special target on youths. This could be achieved through collective approaches between the industrial actors and education institutions. Industry actors should engage universities, colleges, ATVET institutions and their students to collaboratively address key challenges facing each actor. This can be achieved through implementation of youth/students mentorship and internship programmes in their early careers to engage with experts in the agricultural fields of interest and linking them with institutions working in their area to develop skills and address specific industry challenges.

Strategy iv: Adopt an inclusive, collaborative approach 

Transformation impact in the sector requires a coordinated and collaborative approach and private sector investment to re brand agriculture (e.g. by incorporating technology to make it less manual and laborious) and promotion of agricultural innovations to attract youth. All the relevant stakeholders and actors including government, private sector actors, investors and youths/their organizations need to work together as one in addressing challenges that affect the youth. 

By Mary Karigu (Manager, Gender and Youth) 

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