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Shaping the change agents for the future! Youth and sustainable agricultural development

 

Vivienne in the field

“Once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policemen and a preacher. But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”  ~ Brenda Schoepp

Growing up, I remember my relatives and older folk asking me what I wanted to be when I became an adult. My career path aspirations used to vary every other day, as often as seasons change or my mood would allow. One day I would want to be a pilot, the next day a teacher; and as soon as I found out about astronauts – who at the time I thought, had the coolest jobs in the world – I wanted to become one too! When I was about ten, I got my first pet and inspired by my fondness for it, I told my father how I wanted to be a vegetarian and take care of animals when I grew up. I remember him advising me with the sternest look on his face about how much education was important and how he wanted for me study law or medicine so that I would be “better than him”.  It is not that he looked down upon farmers or agriculture but just because in Africa, to most of us, the moment the word agriculture is mentioned, we automatically think of poor tired men and women ploughing dusty fields in the rural areas in the hot sun with rickety ‘jembes[1]  and old rusty machetes.

Unfortunately young people in Africa are majorly unemployed yet this is the perception most youth have about agriculture.  An analysis of youth and agriculture in Africa shows statistics that don't seem to match: two thirds of the population directly depend on agriculture; 70% of the population is under 30, and yet the average age of all farmers is higher than 50. This is not surprising, as young people face many difficulties: they have limited access to educational services, land and almost no access to credit or financial resources, while urban jobs and life are a powerful incentive to migrate. Advertisements for Kenya's popular cash transfer systems summarise the situation with one image: a young man uses his mobile phone to send money to his old parents. They are farming, he is in the city.

One of the most daunting challenges for any recent graduate in Kenya today is where to find a job. Increasingly, the country seems to be churning out more graduates than the existing job opportunities. Kenyan universities graduate an estimated 100,000 new university graduates each year and according to a recent World Bank report there are 800,000 job seekers in the country against an estimated 50,000 available advertised jobs each year (Mail & Guardian Africa, 2015). Indeed, according to the World Bank, the youth unemployment rate (youth unemployment refers to the share of the labor force ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment) in the East African country seems to be on an upward trajectory since 2010 and now stands at 17.1%.

In a quest to increase employment opportunities for the youth, questions have been asked. Can agriculture be used as a means to empower the youth? What else apart from unemployment can compel the youth to take up agriculture in large numbers? How can projects make use of the lessons learnt and effectively promote the social and economic inclusion of rural youth? Now, while I appreciate all the forms of formal employment, I’m here to make a case for youth integration in agriculture. Somewhat this is still an unfamiliar concept in Africa, yet with undeniable potential. There is overall agreement that if youth issues are not addressed high rates of youth unemployment and under-employment will persist and overall development in African countries could be negatively affected.

“Declarations, commitments and speeches don’t feed hungry people” ~ IFAD’s President Kanayo Nwanze at the GCARD 2010.

Young people living in rural areas have the potential, as the farmers and producers of tomorrow, to help feed the world’s growing population. More than ever, there is a pressing need to create opportunities for young people to contribute to their communities and to earn a decent living in the agricultural and non-farm sectors. There’s a need to address the challenges that they face not only in Kenya but across the world and create incentives to make rural life an attractive and viable livelihood option. We have to find a nice way to package agriculture and make it appealing to the youth by using simple but effective technology and introducing products with a short cycle so that the youth have a quick return on their investments.  Getting youths interested in and knowledgeable about farming, while helping them seeing the value of it, will be of great importance for our future food security. Youth have the energy and potential to create and expand enterprises through agribusiness. Indeed with proper guidance this energy can be utilized to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods through new income generation activities!

No, I’m not a farmer, just in case you are wondering, but I did end up working with them.

Vivienne Likhanga is a development worker, who has led and supported various teams in communication and operations related duties in a knowledge management not for profit organization: Procasur Africa. She is also a social media manager, fascinated by the power of words: spoken and written. Enthusiastic about using the written word to help eradicate poverty and is passionate about youth and women empowerment.

For further information, please feel free to contact:

Vivienne Likhanga: vlikhanga@procasur.org, phone: +254(0) 721 624443


[1] Common tool used in Kenya for digging. Swahili word for hoe

This blog post is part of the GCARD3 Youth blogpost applications. The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.