Agriculture still requires youth, women on farms

If you have ever driven along any major highway in Africa, you will not miss women and youth crowding at bus stops, farm produce in their hands, seeking buyers for their wares. Empowering this group with entrepreneurship skills could boost agriculture in Kenya.

I would like to present two strong arguments on why we need more significant involvement of women and youth in agriculture. One is pragmatic, and the other is strategic.

Let us deal with the pragmatic first. It is with no doubt that women make up half of the population in Africa. Similarly, they provide an average of 40 per cent of the labour required for crop production on the continent.

The statistics for young people is no different. Africa is a young continent with 60 percent of its population below the age of 24. Of this population, about 12 million join the workforce every year.

So any way you look at it, more people have a lot to offer to make agriculture thrive hence helping in the production of food as well as improvement of livelihoods through job creation.

Looking at it more strategically takes us back to the old saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Focusing our agricultural development efforts only on the older generation of farmers, the solutions we will propose will be very limited to what has been there and not worked many years before. Bringing women and young people into agribusiness will open up new horizons and opportunities. The new form of agriculture should be on the same level as other choices such as artificial intelligence, robotics etc. that are available to our youths.

Most people who were born in the mid-1990s have probably never known a world without smartphones. This is the age where one of the critical technologies is opening up great opportunities for farmers.

The smartphone gives many farmers access to agricultural knowledge, advice, weather forecasts, digital banking, and market information to sell and enhance productivity. Young people are the ones who are tech-savvy and can develop these solutions at a click of a button. But because of limited business advisory services, funding and training, these young people are hampered by a lack of opportunities and access to the relevant skills and resources they need to take their enthusiasm from idea to successful enterprise.

At Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC), we have been supporting youth and women in agriculture through various initiatives. One of them is the AgriBiz programme aimed at increasing the engagement of women and youth in agribusiness.

The programme, supported by the European Union and Danida at Sh5.1 billion, offers young people business training, finance, mentorship, incubation and networking opportunities. Since its inception in 2020, over 800 young entrepreneurs have participated.

The AgriBiz Programme will fund 2,400 women and youth-led agribusinesses and create over 20,000 job opportunities in five years. Given Kenya has a growing population of young people and our state of unemployment, the agricultural sector offers the best option of alleviating unemployment.

The World Bank predicts that African agriculture and agribusiness will grow to be an €890 billion industry by 2030. This presents an incentive for young people who can tap into the industry as farmers and entrepreneurs.

With the increasing population in Kenya, it creates an opportunity for farmers to produce more and increase our income.

In order to incentivise and facilitate more young people to find decent work in agricultural value chains, the programme is coming up with eight Business Incubation Hubs (BIH) in eight counties.

They are Bungoma, Kisii, Kiambu, Uasin Gishu, Isiolo, Meru, Kilifi and Machakos. The hubs serve as central places offering training, business advisory and financing to enable women and youth to scale their agribusinesses.

Any programme aimed at tackling youth and women unemployment should focus on structural constraints of job creation including in agriculture.

The potential of this approach is rapidly making its mark. From mobile apps such as Okoa Foods, which allows small-scale farmers to sell their produce directly to consumers, to drones to monitor the health and productivity of tea plantations and other crops across Kenya, the progress of agribusiness is excellent.

With the BIH hubs taking shape, KCIC will be rolling out another call for applications, which will be national wide and targeting women and youth who are seeking to make agriculture cool again through agribusiness.

Imagine how we can significantly transform agriculture and food security in Kenya if we bring women and youth the power to bear on the challenges we face. The future looks bright.

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