Kisumu County has a high unemployment rate of over 50 per cent, inequality and high poverty levels, with the youth being the most affected. These issues are not exclusive to the county but the region has resources it can utilise to change the situation. We are blessed with vital economic triggers. A good international airport, that is grossly underutilised, Lake Victoria and rivers, equally not well utilised, favourable climate and rich soils and lastly a populace rich and talented in arts and sports.
Kisumu has very few industries and is mainly sustained by small retail industries and boda boda, which employ thousands of youth. Outside the town the bustling Kibos Sugar, the failed Miwani Sugar and the poorly managed and the loss making Chemelil and Muhoroni Sugar are other notable employers. It means in a county with seven sub counties, six are even faced with lower standards of living than the urban Kisumu Central.
Last December, representatives of the youth from all the sub counties met and deliberated on these issues. They decided to come together under a youth movement in the push for socio-economic empowerment. Based on this, the county needs to first transform to a production economy.
At the moment, tender servicing and delivery are the main focus, yet this alone cannot accommodate everyone even if the agreed minimum of 30 per cent dedicated to the youth and women is to be honoured. We need to be a generator of real wealth by carrying the youth along, by producing and focusing on competitive advantage.
Kisumu has often been described as a consumer town with major supermarket brands praising their branches for leading in sales. While at it, the same cannot be said of banks having branches in the town in regards to money circulation. Which means, savings and loans, two most important money aspects are still very low in the town.
Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, a planning expert credited with planning and laying the economic foundation of Kibaki’s Government has already shown the best of intentions from his engagements so far. However, we feel that certain things need immediate attention.
It has been projected that by 2020-2025 half the population in Kenya will be living in cities and towns. It means, Kisumu’s population will be expanding at a rate never seen before. Without proper and urgent intervention, there will be more unemployment, crime and other social vices. What is the way forward? Agriculture provides the urgent solution to this problem. This sector, which has a wide chain and links from the planting, production, transportation, logistics, storage and value addition can provide alternative employment and absorption of over half the youth with the best multiplier effect. As more people move from rural setting to urban location, more land will be freed for agricultural production.
No bare Land Initiative
Kisumu County Government should immediately launch an initiative dubbed ‘No Bare land’. Driving from Kericho County that teems with plantation fields to Awasi and finally Kisumu town reveals a huge contrast. That of underutilised land. That idle land should be filled with either trees or crops.
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I believe Kisumu County should not have four sugar industries within a radius of 25 kms. Fact number 1, Sugar is a plantation crop and it is profitable and sustainable when grown on a large scale, hence the small scale farmer, waiting for 15-18 months for harvesting on one acre should be encouraged to diversify into fruit farming and horticulture where a marketing agency can help in exportation. Secondly, we need to move away from the mindset that Kisumu County has to grow sugarcane as its main crop.
As we think of diversification, let us transform Miwani Sugar into a Dairy and water processing plant. Let us feed ourselves from what we produce internally. Kisumu County imports over 90 per cent of its milk. Let us find export and internal markets for newly introduced fruit trees and horticultural crops like guavas, avocado, chillies and even watermelons that grow so well in Kisumu.
Let us start using waters from our rivers to do irrigation farming immediately. By just planting and increasing the acreage, we shall be empowering residents. Prof Nyong’o, this should start tomorrow. Engage us the youths immediately and bring stakeholders on board. We need to pull together for the betterment of our County.
- The writer is an Economist and Convenor-Kisumu County Youth Movement.