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How youth, women-led agri-firms can be aided

Last week I was on a working tour of Embu, Tharaka-Nithi, Meru, Isiolo and Laikipia counties, part of which was a fact-finding mission on the needs of youth in Kenya and especially on combating effects of climate change, job creation and improvement of livelihoods through entrepreneurship.

I visited close to 20 businesses, community-based organisations, cooperatives and self-help groups mainly composed of women and youth who are trying to make ends meet while at the same time addressing some of the critical challenges facing humanity. The summary of the trip is that “there is hope and all what we need to do is enabling the youth and women of Kenya and indeed of Africa”.

Firms visited were on the agriculture value chains where climate change is mainstreamed into the business model. It is very clear to me that this is the future and there is need for more support to such entities if Kenya and other African countries are going to achieve their visions.

Businesses ranged from one-man/woman outfits to some already employing over 50 people and in different value chains of agriculture. From processing of camel meat and milk, macadamia, fresh juice to banana crisps. The message is very clear, governments and private sector need to up their game by providing enablers to youth and women in agribusiness.

The support to enable success will need to come from government, private sector and academia. This calls for collaborative initiatives that will provide the support mechanisms required to incubate, accelerate, grow and scale the social enterprises led by the youth and women.

From my assessment, the support will need to be in five different ways; Firstly, most of the youth and women are not necessarily businesspeople and lack the acumen of becoming a perfected businessperson. There is, therefore, need to provide business advisory services to the two categories. This support will take the form of training/capacity building, mentorship and business coaching, helping them to come up with bankable plans as well as providing them with tools and “how to guides” on their businesses.

Secondly, financing is a challenge. Commercial banks and other traditional funders are not readily providing financing to the two groups. There is need to have innovative financing solutions such a blended financing, guarantee schemes as well as result-based financing to kick start a movement of youth and women led businesses.

In addition to the provision of innovative funding, investor readiness will also become a key component to the support to be given. This will help the entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas, be able to package their businesses as well as negotiate with funders. In the past many have missed financing due to lack of capability to convince investors which should be a thing of the past once readiness programmes are put in place.

Thirdly, provision of proper policies and standards will enable the youth and women to run their businesses with more ease. The ease of doing businesses needs to be improved across countries as well as across African countries. Generally, there has been improvement in ease of doing business especially from the country perspective, but we are still lagging when it comes to county governments.

Meru county for instance walked the talk by considering the need to waive license fees from the businesses included In the AgriBiz programme- a project run by Kenya Climate Innovation Center and funded by EU and Danida with the aim of helping Kenyan youth and women in agriculture. This is a move that should be emulated by other counties.

Patents, testing facilities, office spaces and other facility provisions should be number four when it comes to the support mechanisms to be provided. These will provide entrepreneurs with the relevant technical facilities and advice that will be needed to support them to make their ideas and businesses bankable. Where innovations are concerned, the role of patenting will become critical, and the technical back stopping needs to be provided to ensure that innovative youth and women benefit from their ideas

Lastly is the provision of relevant information to the owners of the businesses. There is need to establish proper mechanisms that will provide information on matters technology, financing, markets etc. Information must be provided at the right time and to the right entrepreneurs for their success. In addition to the provision of information considering issues such as matching schemes and knowledge sharing exchanges will also be a critical element to lead to success of these entrepreneurs.