Throughout 2020 and the myriad challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, supporting and working with young agribusiness entrepreneurs has been particularly pertinent.
To this end, the United States International University-Africa (USIU-A), through support provided by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research through their Cultivate Africa’s Future initiative, provides young agripreneurs, aged 18 to 35, with access to business training, finance and mentorship.
The programme, implemented by the USIU-A’s Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship (GAME) Centre, aims to enable youth develop and maintain resilient, job-creating enterprises.
At a virtual roundtable event recently, results of a recent USIU-A study funded by IDRC to determine the impacts of the pandemic and its gender implications on young entrepreneurs were presented.
The event was attended by 14 county governments, with keynote address provided by Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, who recounted how the nationwide curfew and cessation of international travel reignited the need to build resilient local food production systems.
According to the Kenya Agribusiness Strategy (2017-2021), youth account for 29 per cent of Kenya’s population and are significant to Kenya’s growth and transformation agenda. However, 70-80 per cent of entrepreneurs fail within their first two years of business.
With the disruption of agricultural value chains since the onset of the pandemic, USIU-A received additional funding from IDRC to better understand the factors that allow young people be more resilient and keep their agribusinesses afloat.
“This rapid response initiative to document changes in real-time, is part of our efforts at IDRC to help inform recovery of policies and reorganising of food systems during the current crisis but also to help us prepare for future shocks,” explained Kathryn Toure, IDRC Regional Director, Eastern, and Southern Africa.
Some 874 young agripreneurs from 31 counties consented in July 2020 to be involved in the study.
With Covid-19 restrictions in place, data was collected from 500 selected respondents via email, WhatsApp and phone, involving monthly monitoring and recording of resilience indicators.
While presenting the results, Prof Francis Wambalaba said resilience was investigated from two angles.
“The first looked at personal resilience including time spent networking, spending on promotions, confidence and changes made to business plans,” he explained.
“Business resilience included reviewing the entrepreneurs’ customer base, sales, jobs and employee welfare, product lines, outlets, and technology adoption.”
Analysis of the results revealed that by November 2020, 366 (73 per cent) were still in business but by January 2021, this had dropped to 260 (52 per cent) with a 48 per cent failure rate.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in my lifetime,” said Kelly Kadiviria, an agriprenuer in Kakamega County.
During the study, the average entrepreneur laid off two workers and reduced money spent on wages. “I could no longer afford to keep them (employees)... I just had to let them go,” explained Jared Omondi Andego from Kisumu.
Significant numbers of respondents had to fall back on savings or seek additional support from family or business associations.
The impacts of the pandemic seemed to hit female entrepreneurs particularly hard with a higher chance of failure resulting from reduced customer base and falling sales.
“Our sales decreased sharply… I used to make an average Sh6,000 a week, now I can hardly make Sh3,000,” added Benedetta Nangila, a fodder farmer from Bungoma County.
Nevertheless, more resilient entrepreneurs were shown to have spent more time networking, seeking advice and additional funds, and using social media to increase sales. Diversification was also key to sustaining agribusinesses.