Drive to interest young people in agriculture begins to bear fruits

Ms Maina, harvesting  tomatoes at a greenhouse. Interesting the youth  in  agribusiness  has been a challenge in a country like Kenya where farm activity has been associated with the elderly. Steve Mbogo
Ms Maina, harvesting tomatoes at a greenhouse. Interesting the youth in agribusiness has been a challenge in a country like Kenya where farm activity has been associated with the elderly. Steve Mbogo 

When Eunice Maina, a 24-year-old radio programme producer and broadcaster, speaks about the importance of entrepreneurship among the youth and the need for individual ownership of Vision 2030, many may take her advice for granted.
But as she leaves her home in Ruai, just before the overpass where the newly constructed eastern bypass meets Kangundo Road, Ms Maina ensures that her chicken have enough food and water to last them the whole day.

For her, rearing chicken is not a hobby; it’s a business. “I sell eggs, live chicken for meat, chicken manure, and cow feed from chicken droppings,” says a beaming Ms Maina. For four years now, she has reared chicken that have helped her pay for college expenses and supported her when she was job-hunting. Her’s is an unusual story. “I think some of these things, like starting a business of any nature and at whatever stage, starts with an individual,” she says.

Development experts say Africa’s leadership must create the mindset of “job creators”, especially among the youth. This will enable the youth to take up entrepreneurship and build enterprises that will help to transform Africa into a highly developed economy in the future.

“Majority of the population in Africa is below 25 years old. These people will require something to do. The government and private sector are not big enough to absorb all of them,” Dr Frannie Léautier, the head of Africa Capacity Building Foundation, said. Kenya has an estimated 28 million people below the age of 35, 75 per cent of who are unemployed, according to statistics from the Ministry of Youth Affairs. Unemployment and idleness are the biggest setbacks to young people’s progress.

Lack of occupation makes them unproductive, holding back the gross domestic product of the country. In other words, youth unemployment slows down the economy and attainment of Vision 2030 goals.

In some North African countries where youth unemployment rates are similar to ours, the consequences have been more visible with disgruntled young people leading rebellions against their rulers.

In Kenya, events of the 2007-8 post-election violence revealed the challenge of having high number of unemployed young people that have nothing to lose even if the country burned down. Ms Maina started rearing chicken with very minimal support from parents — they gave her two birds to start with.

Indigenous chicken

Today, her stock of indigenous chicken often reaches 100 but she prefers a lower number of half the flock for ease of management. She also rears several hybrid chicken.

Interesting the youth in business, especially agribusiness, has been a challenge in a country like Kenya where farm activity has been associated with the elderly. Agriculture is seen as a low margin business.

But there have been marked changes in the past few years; more young people are getting into agribusiness because they can access information on market and cropping technology, and highlights of young people making money from similar businesses.

Mr Rob Burnet, the director of non-profit group Well Told Story that publishes the Shujaa magazine and produces Shujaafm programmes targeting the youth, said a survey by the company found out that 75 per cent of Kenyan youth believe owning livestock, for example, is a measure of success.

“There is interest among the youth to start businesses, they should be educated and encouraged that it is not difficult to do so through the media,” he said. The most prominent route taken by the government in enabling job creation has been the revival of village polytechnics that are crucial in instilling skills on various disciplines that youths can use to start businesses or seek employment.

Data from the Youth Affairs ministry indicates that the number of rehabilitated youth polytechnics increased from 89 in the 2009/2010 financial year to 139 in the 2010/2011 year.

The number of youth polytechnics that have been equipped also increased from 291 to 441 in the same period. The government has also revised the curriculum offered at polytechnics, such as the recent introduction of agribusiness, to make it relevant to emerging economic and social needs.

To complement the review, the Youth Affairs ministry and Amiran Kenya have partnered to equip 100 youth polytechnics with greenhouses used to grow horticulture crops.

Jobs created

“Phase one of this plan will equip 100 polytechnics. Phase two will equip 500 youth polytechnics,” said Youth Affairs minister Paul Otuoma.

The ministry estimates that 300,000 jobs will be created through equipping of all polytechnics in the country.

The plan, known as the Amiran-Youth Polytechnics Next Generation Farmers Initiative, aims at equipping every youth polytechnic with a greenhouse.

The facility is also being installed in some secondary schools. The intention is to nurture entrepreneurial skills in schools and colleges by setting up income generating agribusinesses.

The cooperative movement is also seen as an opportune avenue for the youth to create employment.

Cooperative Development minister Joseph Nyaga said the movement should take an active role to attract youth members and subsequent reciprocal use of the movement by the youth to borrow and start businesses.

“The youths need to be assisted to increase their numbers in savings and credit societies. More savings from the youth will mean there will be money for them to borrow and finance their businesses,” said Mr Nyaga.