Why it's time for youth-led rural resurgence

Students in a discussion group  during the during the Transform Education themed 'Empower learners to be resilient ,adaptable & prepared'  organised by the 'Global youth ambassadors under Their World' at the Moi University ,Nairobi campus on January 28, 2023. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

There’s a deceptive feeling about education that makes youth shudder with horror at the thought of staying in rural areas to engage in full-time farming.

In the minds of those graduating from college today, it’s cool to be famished inside shanties in urban slums – ravaged by thirst and hunger – as long as they have a job in the city. The love for white collar jobs has become what one would call a ‘fool’s gold’. The misguided labour market indoctrination persists yet we’ve lost not just the job creation battle but also income equality race. Africa has six of ten countries most affected by economic inequalities.

Blinded by the allure of town, young job seekers are disconnected from realities of what most of the so-called hustlers face due to hard economic times in cities. Millions spend long periods seeking lowly urban white-collar jobs yet massive resources lie idle in rural areas where 87 per cent of poor households reside. Admittedly, we’ve failed to persuade the under 35’s, who make 78.3 per cent of the population, to take up agricultural enterprises. This is the lingering missing link in unemployment, food insecurity and overall growth. Rather than grumble about lack of jobs, the youth can be educated to appreciate that there’s real cash in farming and that they can creatively feed the nation.

With most farmers aging, who will cultivate farm lands in rural Kenya? According to the Ministry of Agriculture, those engaged in agriculture today are aged between 50 and 65 who predominantly practise subsistence farming.

Our nation needs professional development and empowerment of young Kenyans to produce food using effective agronomic practices and technologies in rural areas. Counties are crying out for creative minds to make possible more coordinated services, better transportation, security, markets, clean accessible water, housing and critical amenities.

In counties, there are documented life-changing experiences of women and youth turning the tide. The community-led Vihiga Dairy Cooperative provides easy markets, value addition, loans and pays out dividends. Its vendors, mainly youth, earn Sh15,000 a month.   

In Kuria, a potato project has lifted locals in a rare scale, as women and youth go for sustainable land management. Then there’s Jepses boda boda group that transports produce. They earn good money while helping farmers minimise post-harvest losses. In all these, the earnings exceed the low wages of youth with city jobs. 

In 2023, we can create a dynamic economy by embracing diverse innovations and empowering the youth with farm implements and commercial finance. Counties should encourage agricultural diversification that will revitalise low-income areas and ensure social stability.

Efforts by Kilimo House to revive 4k clubs in schools are timely, with a team picked to lead the process and in due course launch a magazine that will highlight achievements of the clubs. Agricultural awareness should be inculcated in the youth from the onset.

The country needs initiatives like the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (Narigp) that bridge knowledge and resource gaps. Rural areas can be made attractive and rich. That way, the quest for jobs won’t overrun the urban areas.

Kenya’s unemployment figures are startling as millions live below the poverty line. The Kenya Kwanza administration is stuck in campaign mode and endless promises as key leaders tout power surrounded by hungry masses. Who will fill the void? The youth must take up the challenge this year by throwing a spanner into the works.  

Importantly, we must embrace technology. Farmers now seek markets online. Importers and exporters interact on the web. We must tap into the energy and creativity of youth in production. That way, we can become food and jobs secure.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo

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