Agriculture is at a crossroad in Kenya and Africa at large. The sector suffers from image and manpower difficulties as youth are unwilling to venture into it while drought and hunger hinder the continent’s progress.
Statistics indicate that while the average age in Kenya is 19.5 years, the average age of a Kenyan farmer is 60, which raises doubts whether the country can be food secure when its most active population is not willing to participate in food production.
In addition, the uptake of agriculture courses in universities and colleges continues to diminish while people in rural areas are trooping to urban areas for white-collar jobs.
For instance, of the 106 courses that failed to raise students during the university selection this year, 26 were agriculture-oriented - raising the question why, in a country where food security is a challenge, young people do not see and take advantage of the opportunities existing in the sector.
As the population grows in leaps and bounds and arable land diminishes due to increased urbanisation, the following strategies will have to be pursued to halt the dire situation and entice youth to agriculture.
First, agriculture needs to be promoted as an attractive and important business. For a long time, agriculture was associated with academic failures and retirees. For instance, if one retired from any white collar employment, he or she was given a jembe and a spade, signifying time to venture into farming.
This had a negative impact on agriculture among the youth who grew up with an attitude that agriculture was outdated, unprofitable, hard and dirty work. This perception needs to change if we have to nurture the next group of farmers who can feed our country.
Second, finance and other resources necessary for successful farming need to be made available for the youth. Few young people own land and capital is out of their reach.
Policymakers should develop innovative financing concepts, strategies to identify and fund sustainable agriculture projects and platforms to identify young people interested in agriculture and agribusiness.
In addition, agriculture should be well-tailored to fit in the primary and secondary school curricula to create awareness of the sector as a potential employer at early stages of growth and also help to identify those young people who have an interest in it for further nurturing. Platforms that facilitate discussion among youth on agribusiness should be encouraged in higher education institutions.
Third, the digital revolution offers an opportunity to attract youth to agriculture through digital platforms and innovations such as social media, apps, robotics, IoT and artificial intelligence.
It is important to note that these are the youth territories and incorporating tech-farming ideas into our agriculture thoughts and education system would help sway some to the sector. These digital platforms can also be used to spread knowledge, build networks and reduce farmers’ costs in market access and information gathering while increasing their profitability.
The concept of smart farming should be encouraged and highlighted to capture the minds of the youth.
Making agriculture look profitable and therefore a sector where young people can realise enough revenue to support their lifestyles is easier said than done. For a long time, we are met by farmers’ laments about poor and fluctuating prices in the markets, the existence of middlemen who take advantage of the farmers and huge losses incurred due to bad weather.
This only works to create more doubts about a positive future as a farmer and therefore distancing more young people from the sector.
Making agriculture more profitable will require practical reduction of costs of farming through subsidies on farm inputs, making markets easily accessible and building of loss mitigation factors in case of bad weather.
In conclusion, while it may not be easy to change the millennial mindset about agriculture in a fortnight, baby steps must be made towards this if we are to succeed in improving Kenya’s food security in the long term. Africa has the youngest population and some of the most fertile lands globally and therefore enough resources to feed its people. What is lacking is the will and strategies to make it happen.
The writer is a lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation at Kirinyaga University. [email protected]