Strategies for luring youths into agriculture to reduce joblessness

Pupils of Paramount Education Centre harvesting some of the mature and ready cowpeas from the school garden in Mombasa County on September 5, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Unemployment among the youth is one of the most acute problems affecting developing countries like Kenya. According to Institute of Economic Affairs, unemployment percentage in this country stands at 12 per cent of the current workforce which is approximately 15 million people. A lack of basic education ranks high among the reasons for this problem.

However, youth unemployment is compounded by the fact that a large portion of the populace tends to be youth. The formal economy is unable to create enough employment opportunities to absorb this constant supply of labour-seeking youth. Whatever the solution[s] to this multilevel problem, a great deal of coordination and deft thinking will be required to attract gadget-loving and efficiency prone young people into the agricultural sector.

Amongst the most trendy and perhaps viable ‘solutions’ being touted today is greater youth involvement in rural development through agriculture. However, youth participation in the agriculture sector in many developing countries is very low, largely because the sector is highly unattractive due to risks, costs, inefficiency and its labour intensive nature. As such, motivating the youth to view agriculture as a career opportunity will require a multi-level intervention.

In the first instance, those within the school system must be targeted and in the second instance, those outside of the school system must be lured and sensitised. How should this be done? We must teach our youth population by delivering age appropriate information inside and outside of the formal school system and ‘dangle the carrot’.

The absence of agriculture from the curriculum, particularly at the compulsory levels of education, should be addressed. The current mode of education in Kenya is geared towards educating white collar workers, which doesn’t reflect the economic and social context for which they are being trained. This is not to suggest that developing countries shouldn’t plan for economic expansion. However, those plans should not negate the existing needs of the economy.

One response is to encourage partnerships with the education sector to compulsory integrate agriculture into the primary and secondary school curriculum. In many instances, agriculture is incorporated as an optional component that is taught with minimal enthusiasm; its broad-based and compulsory inclusion with the appropriate resources will help to motivate youth towards having a more favourable view of employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Similarly, youths outside of the formal education system must also be targeted and wooed towards agriculture. Young people are often turned off by the many plagues affecting the agricultural sector such as irregular rain and information asymmetries which cause ineffective marketing. There ought to be the creation of ongoing initiatives to support youth in agricultural enterprises and opportunities to showcase their successes in order to attract more young people.

There should also be the incorporation of information communication technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones, computers, and Global Positioning Systems, associated or not with traditional communication technologies such as radio, television, newspapers and video.

With this in mind, the emerging Youth in Agriculture Strategy must demonstrate a clear understanding of the youth’s affinity for technology, efficiency and a strong voice in the decision-making processes. The strategy must also emphasise the need for the incorporation of agriculture in the regular curriculum.

Another potentially cheaper way of helping young people to find jobs out of agriculture sector is to make labour markets more flexible. There exists evidence that strict regulations such as job protection laws, hurt young job-seekers disproportionately. A company will not hire young inexperienced workers if it cannot get rid of them in case business outlook deteriorates. However, although politicians regularly deplore Kenya's high youth unemployment rates, the steps to improve the situation are often timid.

Employment specialists agree that successful labour market reforms are not usually imposed by governments. They are haggled out between trade unions and employers. But our trade unions tend to represent older workers with full-time, permanent positions. They fight less fiercely for the interest of young workers, those in temporary jobs or those looking for work.

The result is that the needs of young people are not properly represented in debates about how to change labour markets. Hence another, perhaps somewhat surprising, solution to the youth unemployment problem is for more young men and women to join trade unions and make their voices heard. It’s therefore, needless to initiate a laptop and/or tablets programme in lower primary education when we cannot incorporate agriculture which is the backbone of our economy as a compulsory subject of examination.

Our youths are suffering disproportionately and therefore the current leadership must do more to prevent them becoming a ‘lost’ generation. Although many structural reforms will only yield results when economic growth returns, the time to put them in place is now.