Make farming more appealing to tame poverty

Alice Achieng' Odhiambo tills her farm at Pap Nyadiel, Alego, in Siaya County. [Philip Orwa, Standard]

The last December holidays offered an opportunity to retreat to the village and bond with family.

Trouble was however how to handle relatives seeking help to get job opportunities away from home. Many asked for “kazi yoyote tu” (any job), assuming one had necessary connections.

A look at some seeking to migrate revealed true suffering, with some looking several years older than they are. When a friend mentioned agriculture to a relative who sought such help, he was dismissed and labeled selfish and one who did not want others to prosper.

Meanwhile, there were those that thrive in the village. Some have limited education, but farm. Their children go to good schools and inhabit decent houses.

Such people make you wonder why you stick to the city yet you cannot save or invest throughout the year, as all your money goes to rent, transport and mama mboga.

While agriculture may not be the solution to a lot of problems in some areas facing hunger, diseases and drought, in several other places, it is capable of feeding communities and discouraging rural-to-urban migration, hence decongesting cities.

Yet the perception that agriculture is for the illiterate, aged and poor people; and means planting crops once a year, is wrong, but deeply entrenched. Changing this perception needs a concerted effort from all stakeholders, as the benefits will be massive.

There is adequate demand for food in the villages as a result of the prolonged drought in parts of Africa. The droughts, as declared by several institutions, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have presented a stark reality - the effects of climate change are rapidly worsening, and so should our approach to resilience building locally.

There is, for instance, a noticeable shift in rural-to-urban migration patterns among the youth. Encouraging them to engage in agriculture, despite the hardships, is crucial. Making agriculture look and sound sexier than it is now will enable the youth to embrace it.

The government can encourage the use of modern technology in farming to attract tech-savvy people, who in turn will introduce innovative tools like drones for crop monitoring, automated irrigation systems, and data-driven farming techniques. Showcasing success stories of young farmers utilising technology could inspire others to join in. Kenya already has success stories such as the "iCow" app that provides farmers with information on animal husbandry and crop management. Such initiatives show the fusion of technology and agriculture, appealing to a digitally inclined audience.

Besides, we must shift the narrative from mere subsistence farming to entrepreneurial ventures. We must view agriculture as a business opportunity. Training in agribusiness skills needs to get to the grassroots so that more people see the potential for sustainable profitability.

Since a lot of lessons learned in childhood tend to stick, the education sector should revamp curricula to include bits of agriculture, not necessarily as a speciality. Youth need to be exposed to diverse agricultural careers, which can be boosted through partnerships between schools, agricultural institutions, and industry players for practical learning experiences.

And now that climate change is to blame for a lot of problems today, rural folks can be capacity-built on the role of agriculture in addressing environmental challenges and fostering community development. This includes encouraging sustainable farming practices that prioritise conservation, biodiversity, and climate resilience.

Empowering rural communities to embrace agriculture will not only ensure food security; but also foster economic growth, innovation, and sustainable development. We can make agriculture an appealing and rewarding career choice for the vibrant youth and unengaged rural folk.

To cultivate a thriving future, we must now intentionally make agriculture more appealing.

-The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]