Collateral, negative mindset locking youth out of farming

Sheila Wangui, a young organic farmer from Murang'a County. [Courtesy]

World Bank statistics say youth in Kenya account for 35.4 per cent of the population. Of these, a million enter the labour market every year.

Yet, very few enter into farming despite the enormous opportunities that lie within the sector. In Kenya, the average age of the farmer is said to be 60 years with the youth having little incentives to delve into agriculture.

According to the Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy document by the Ministry of Agriculture, archaic farming methods and a negative mindset toward those engaged in farming are key factors that drive the youth away from agriculture.

In addition, the document says failure by policymakers to fully exploit the potential of the youth has made agriculture largely unattractive to young people and is viewed as a career of last resort, “one of drudgery and low monetary benefits.”

“Agricultural production is dominated by elderly people who still engage in traditional agricultural practices with little success which makes the youth shy away from the sector,” states the document. “Parents and teachers play a role in creating a negative attitude in agriculture by using it as a form of punishment and a career for nonperforming students.”

Other challenges highlighted include poor public sector systems that concentrate more on increasing farm produce but little value addition, haphazard processing and poor marketing strategies.

For many young people, little and inadequate market information, poor or no financing mechanisms and lack of access to land have also hindered their full involvement in agriculture.

Despite these setbacks, however, some young people are embracing farming as an enterprise with positive results. We caught up with two such farmers from Murang’a County during the 5th Organic Business Workshop in Nairobi.

Sheila Wangui, 30

I am a young organic farmer and a mother from Githumu, Murang’a County. I started out in 2019, growing horticultural products on our family-owned piece of land. I also lease out other small parcels of land from the local community. Vegetables need very tender care. You have to be there daily to monitor them or you lose the entire crop. That is why some youths find it tedious to farm because of the demand for their time. Everything that brings in money takes time. Farming is a game of patience, a quality lacking in many young people who want instant results.

I have since shifted to growing arrowroots, the uplands Dasheen variety that takes five to six months to mature and requires less water than the traditional tubers grown near rivers and other wetlands. These can earn me at least Sh30,000 a month. You have noticed how almost every big hotel now serves these tubers for breakfast and as conference snacks. Eating organic is healthy.

We cannot satisfy the local market with arrowroots. There lies an opportunity for young people to get into farming. It is all about money. And it is easy money depending on what farm product you choose to concentrate on. Feeding the nation means you are doing something worthwhile.

Sadly, many young people are running to the city and leaving their ageing parents to work on farmlands. People should also not demean farming. We need the media to highlight the success stories of young, certified organic farmers. But sometimes you understand why young people give up on farming.

They have no security to guarantee funding. Banks think young starters have no way of paying back a loan. Can you imagine I once got a loan of Sh800? What can you do with that? But with farming, you just start with what you have, grow gradually and then approach financiers as an ‘old’ farmer. This is my career now and I am not exchanging it for anything else anytime now. 

David Kariuki, 34

I am farming vegetables on three acres of family land in Murang’a County. I started out in 2017 and have been growing amaranth, cowpeas, nightshade, cabbage, and kales. I can harvest 100 kilogrammes of vegetables daily. If a kilo goes for Sh40, it is not a bad day for a vegetable farmer.

David Kariuki, a young organic farmer in his farm in Murang'a County. [Courtesy]

With more people switching to healthy eating, organic farming presents a growing opportunity for young people. I always say that a person needs a farmer three times a day more than he needs a doctor. If you eat quality food, you may not need to see a doctor often. Do you know a farmer is more respected than a banker?  

For young people though, this opportunity presents challenges, foremost of these being financing. Few banks will give money to a young person without collateral. We have a few youths who have land registered in their names.

In fact, a young person walking into a bank and asking for money is viewed as a threat. Some have been told to bring their fathers to the bank just to have a conversation about money. My advice? Just start producing what does not require much capital if you have access to some family-owned parcel of land, however small.