Recently, there has been an upsurge in the number of youth-centric initiatives from government reinventing the National Youth Policy, launching the Kenya Youth in Agribusiness Strategy to the influx of donor-funded programs targeting the youth. Whereas the programs mean well to cure the ailing unemployment and improve young livelihoods, the approach is quite detrimental to fostering the youth agenda.
Now, it was quite paradoxical to note that the Kenya Youth in Agribusiness Strategy launch had no youth representation in the room. It would be oblivious to assume that a tailor can cut clothe and make it without the presence of the wearer to get the correct measurements. Ironically, this has been the norm toy every other high stakeholder conversations focusing on youth. This leaves a lot to be desired; with the term youth emerging as a fundraising tool. This is quite sad if you think about it. Public participation, is the moral public forever project design, especially in our democratic country. Like a fellow youth in agribusiness once stated, the youth agenda is not subordinate. It is on this nerve that I share my two cents on what youth engaging in agribusiness implies.
The typical 21st-century young tuck is exposed to a lot of progressive thinking and results at the palm of their hand and in the swipe of a screen. The digital era is an amazing era where information is readily shared across continents, transactions are done without physical encounters and drudgery systems abhorred. The youth have been exposed to easier ways of achieving results and fast money is the order of the day. This coupled with the harsh economy, the societal expectations on self-sufficiency and not forgetting the urge to make it as per the gram/social media have led to youth innovatively irking a living as practically as possible. As you can tell this involves less burdensome, time-consuming and regenerative incomes.
Many youths shy away from agribusiness from previous exposure to agricultural activities as a form of punishment; back at home or even in school. To add insult to injury, agriculture is no longer offered as a subject in primary school. The formative ages of a child are quite crucial in developing a child’s talents, abilities and tastes, and preferences. The four (4)K clubs are no longer in action, leaving the agriculture sector mired with the absence of new blood. The Kenya School curriculum needs to emphasize on teaching modern agricultural practices and even engaging primary school pupils in kitchen gardening and further contributing to the School Feeding Program as producers by National Government.
Now that our youth have information, the policies in the sector need to create an enabling environment. An environment that makes farming profitable. The enablers of the agriculture sector such as land, inputs, electricity, fuel and even market access need to be readily available to young farmers. More often than not, agriculture policies in Kenya only create barriers to entry. With each licensing comes a licensing fee and with each penalty equals monetary reparations. If this hurts the average business operators, how much so will it stifle a budding young farmer? The youth are therefore making calculated decisions by choosing not to depend entirely on farming for a living.
One sure way of engaging youth in agribusiness is by focusing more on other activities along the value chain other than the actual production. The youth are quite adaptive and enthusiastic about technology with limitless imagination and innovation being their forte. This is a seasoning that has been lacking in our value addition aspect across value chain production. Access to markets nowadays has been enhanced through digital applications such as M-Shamba whereas Hello Tractor provides mechanization- the uber for tractors. Engaging the youth in post-farming activities is a win given the limitless opportunities to venture into such as post-harvest handling innovations, transportation, value-addition, and agro-processing market access, e-extension and other techno-savvy innovations potent within the young demographic.
To make agriculture cool and sexy means to make agriculture a profitable business. It is not the dirty work that scares the youth away, show them how to the lucrativeness of agribusiness and watch as agribusiness becomes the new Big thing. The government needs an urgent policy on safeguarding land for agricultural production, even as other stakeholders work on making the land for farming available for youths. A following will be garnered through show-casing the youths who have been successful in agribusiness. These youth champions, together with having agricultural tours to youth-run demonstration farms will change the narrative that agriculture is for the aged and the poor.
Above all, anything for the youth should be by the youth and with the youths. Programs designed for the younger demographics’ consumption should first derive the needs for the target youths, consult on possible solutions and think through the modalities for execution. The youths in agribusiness need to arm themselves with knowledge on existing policies, research, business ecosystem and opportunities to tap into to sit at the table. Not as a subordinate but as the drivers of the youth in agribusiness agenda and the youth agenda as a whole. Success is opportunity meeting preparedness. The youths need to take their place as the leaders of today by utilizing technology and tapping into their innovativeness to create a powerhouse of solutions in the agriculture sector. Let us put a face to the name youth.