Most of Kenya’s population is young, and yet less and less see a future for themselves in agriculture.
Kenya boasts one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies, with the agriculture industry at its core. Deemed the backbone of Kenya’s economy, agriculture directly (26%) and indirectly (27%) contributes to just over half of Kenya’s GDP.
Additionally, Kenya possesses a high youth unemployment rate (19.2%) and an increasingly youthful population, with 70% of the population under 30 years of age and a median age of 19 (FAO). This has the potential to stall economic growth in an economy already projected to face severe and long-lasting impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a booming agriculture industry paired with the pressing issue of youth unemployment, increasing youth involvement in the agriculture sector is a key policy goal in Kenya. Informed by this goal, B4D recently had the opportunity to team up with 11 field agents, all recent high school graduates, to work on our recent Kenya Agribusiness Program. Saumu, Business for Development’s Administrator and Business Analyst in Kenya, spoke to our field agents about their experiences collecting data, managing staff, and overseeing loan and farmer payments.
A field agent explained that although they were “… passionate about agriculture I thought it was meant for the aged till I started working for B4D when I realised it’s meant for all”. Research demonstrates there is an entrenched negative perception of agriculture among Kenyan youth and an increasing trend of young people moving away from agriculture. Indeed, the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries 2017-2021 agribusiness strategy describes the need for a shift from subsistence farming to “innovative, commercially oriented and modern agriculture.” A transition to digital agriculture can change young people’s perspectives on agriculture, resulting in higher youth employment while exploiting the economic growth offered via this industry.
Although technology can improve yields, an important consideration of our program is how the community perceives the modern avenues. The field agents spoke of the benefits agriculture technology offered them in increasing production, as it enabled them to access management techniques and easily gain accurate land measurements. “The digital platform should be retained as it makes the monitoring of farms easy,” they explained.
They described how their work deepened their value for Good Agriculture Practices in farming because they experienced firsthand the higher production rates. For example, one field agent spoke of changing their agricultural practices in the future, such as utilising intercropping. Intercropping possesses a range of benefits, such as increasing soil fertility which in turn offers higher crop yields for the long term.
Another nuance of Kenya’s unemployment rate is that, like many other countries, susceptibility to unemployment is impacted greatly by not only age, but gender. Kenyans between 15-29 show high rates of underutilised labour, coupled with high levels of rural-to-urban migration which reduces the human capital needed for the agriculture industry to boom. Those aged 20-24 experience the highest unemployment rate (19.2%) and over 64% of the Kenyan unemployed population are female. “We need to fund women to help them undertake agriculture effectively and teach them how to practice better farming,” explained one agent. “Involving them when an opportunity arises to work with agricultural organisations is key,” stated another.
We’ve seen the way that agriculture technology combined with better practices can improve yields, streamline farming practices and offer ease to farmers for overall operations. As Kenya faces a high unemployment rate, particularly among the youth, who do not perceive agriculture as a viable means to earning their livelihood, shifting perspectives is vital. The field agents spoke positively about the benefits of modernising agriculture, and the possibilities it provides for the youth and women to enter the field. This alludes to an important shift if this can be achieved on a wider scale.
The future of Kenya’s agriculture indeed lies in shifting the conventional perspective, as both the field agents and government policy indicate. When asked where improvements could be made, the field agents mentioned that farmers need more training in crop rotation, soil treating, and drainage methods. This can be achieved through supporting farmers to utilise digital agriculture and practice better farming methods. As an industry that employs 70% of Kenya’s rural population, modernisation of the agriculture industry offers one of the greatest opportunities to improve the livelihoods of those most vulnerable.
Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/ken171450.pdf
Kenya Bureau of Statistics https://africacheck.org//sites/default/files/KIHBS-2015_16-Labour-Force-Basic-Report.pdf
UNDP Socio-Economic Impact Analysis: Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Kenya – UNDPhttps://www.undp.org › COVID-19-CO-Response
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