Agriculture in Kenya has for long been treated as a sector dominated by older people and shunned by the youth.
However if the voices that emerged during the 2022 National Youth Convention that ran 5-7 December at the Kenya National Farmers' Federation (KENAFF ) Conference Centre at Thogoto, Kikuyu, Kiambu County are something to go by the trend is changing.
In a conference whose theme was ‘Youth and Sustainable Climate Action’, impediments of climate change to agriculture in Kenya were highlighted, with the youth reiterating that although climate change is a challenge to their involvement in agriculture, they are keen to harness opportunities in agriculture and seek solutions relating to resilience, mitigation adaptation.
They also felt that other than tackling climate change, a relook into existing policies and ensuring full implementation of existing friendly policies will smoothen their full participation in the sector.
According to Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Strategy 2017-2026, the country has witnessed increasing temperatures from 1960’s alongside increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like El Niño and La Niña. The scenario has thus had a negative impact on agricultural productivity by leading to dwindling agricultural productivity and loss of crops, livestock, fish and investments.
The Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy of 2018-2022, on the other hand indicates that youth unemployment is higher than the overall national unemployment rate for while the latter is around 10 percent the former 35 percent depending on the age group.
Meanwhile, with Agriculture directly contributing 30 parent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and another 27 percent indirectly, it is seen as key to generating employment opportunities more so to the unemployed youth and uplifting the living standards.
Commercialising smallholder agriculture for jobs creation
This, the strategy envisaged will be attained through transformation of small-scale agriculture from subsistence to innovative, commercially oriented and modern agriculture hence addressing high rate of youth unemployment and underemployment.
Indeed during the conference, that attracted some 150 youths drawn from cooperatives across the country, participants noted the agricultural sector offers multiple livelihood employment opportunities for the youth if challenges facing it as well as youth participation are adequately addressed.
A research titled ‘Youth involvement in agripreneurship as Nexus for poverty reduction and rural employment in Kenya,’ done last year (2021) by Ouko et al, noted that out of a population of 47.6 million in 2019, the youth constituted 13.7 million with 75 percent aged below 35 years. The study also showed that youth unemployment is prevalent more so in the rural areas with the country having the greatest number of unemployed youths in East Africa.
According to the study, the economy is not offering adequate jobs that can absorb the growing workforce population. Thus, to reduce food crises and high unemployment rates, a multifaceted approach including harnessing the youths’ high labour force, is needed. This underscores the need to enhance youth participation in agriculture.
The Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Strategy -2017-2026 identified hindrances to youth engagement in agriculture as being negative
perception to agricultural activities, inadequate skills, knowledge and information; limited participation in agricultural innovations, research, technology development and utilization; access to land for agribusiness; inadequate access to financial services; unfavorable policies
to support youth in agri-preneurship.
Others were low levels of value addition, negative impacts of climate change, and weak environmental governance among other cross cutting challenges.
Seemingly, the national youth convention had taken cognizance of the scenario and discussions were anchored on empowering young farmers and agricultural value chain actors with knowledge, confidence, skills, and social capital to contribute to a sustainable agro-food system in Kenya.
Thus key topics revolved around three main themes agricultural enterprise and development, governance and policymaking processes and climate-action for a sustainable agro-food system in Kenya.
Role models and influencers, young and old also participated in the conference offering inspiration and motivation to the young farmers.
Joyce Mbingo, an agronomist advisor, SNV - Netherlands Development Organisation’s Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) said most youths opt to further their education after university and college studies due to lack of jobs yet they can gainfully venture in agriculture.
Owing to a dearth of youth participation in formulation of policies relating to agriculture, Mbingo urged young people to engage in policy formulation and implementation. “The needs of the youth should be articulated in the policies concerning the agriculture sector,” she said.
Elevating the youth voices in policy formulation
It was however noted that young farmers in Kenya lack a strong forum to champion their interests. Victor Mugo, Head of Global Partnerships at the World Food Forum (WFF), an independent, youth-led global network of partners facilitated by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations pointed out that Kenya lacks a national association of young farmers to articulate their issues unlike the case in Rwanda and Uganda.
“There is no uniform structure, everyone is working in their silo and those who purport to talk on behalf young people are not the youth nor have the interest of youth at heart. This robs young people of their place in policy-making leading to policies that do not reflect their views,” he elaborated,
Loureen Awuor, the Chief of Staff and Head of Partnerships at KENAFF, urged the youth to treat agriculture as an occupation adding that the notion that agriculture is for the old and unschooled has been overtaken by circumstances. She called upon young farmers to acquire knowledge and information for empowerment to utilize available opportunities to articulate issues and seek solutions to issues affecting them.
“Policy formulation process requires knowledge, hence we need to build our capacity such that in an absence of a national forum we can still participate in the process at the county level such as in the preparation of County Integrated Development Plans and B budgets,” Awuor observed.
Calling upon the youth to engage in agriculture at any level of the value chain, Awuor regretted that even in instances where good policies exist to promote their participation agriculture, implementation is wanting and urged participants to elect leaders who prioritize youth issues given that they are the bulk of the voters.
Still on empowerment for participation in policy formulation and implementation, Florence Kanana, vice chairperson of, Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), regretted that young farmers usually need more confidence to express issues affecting them in key forums where decisions are made.
“In mixed forums with older people, they usually dominate. We need to be confident to pass across our issues. Most importantly we should harness our networking skills and leverage on social media in addressing issues affecting us and promoting agriculture amongst our ilk,” she said.
It was agreed that mentorship is however needed to build the confidence of the young farmers to participate in policymaking. Additionally, participants also called for financial support and training to boost their agro-ventures.
Pamela Wesonga, a young agro-entrepreneur from Busia County called for collaboration among young farmers to boost their ventures. “We can take cue from the Bodaboda (motor cycle taxi operations) who have formed saving and credit society thus able to mobilse capital and invest in various businesses,” she said.
Land ownership patterns and access challenges were cited as a hindrance to youth participation in agriculture. Tobias Barasa, a young farmer from Bungoma called for a national policy that will guarantee young people access to land. “Land ownership is held by our parents and it requires a lot of cajoling to get permission to engage in commercial farming,” he lamented.
Areas that were cited as requiring policy reforms were intergenerational knowledge transfer via coaching and mentoring, marketing, packaging easing of transportation of food products from one county to another, impact of imported food products, affordability and access to farm inputs, language used to communicate policies and cushioning of farmers from vagaries of climate change. Other issues were elimination of brokers and intermediaries and affordability of inputs.
The role of creative arts in promoting agriculture was equally highlighted. A mentor, youth influencer, actor and Film director Geoffrey Githae Njogu popularly known by his stage name Teacher Karimi, in Tahidi High sitcom said engagement in agriculture can boost self-confidence and esteems of young people/ “To keep young people away from drug abuse and alcohol let us utilize arts to promote their participation in agriculture,” he said. Njogu called for policies that can protect farmers from exploitation of by ‘cartels’ by ensuring they get better returns from their produce and also ensure agriculture and climate change resilience are taught to pupils from a tender age.
Worth noting is that the conference also focused on the role of intergenerational sharing of knowledge to promote indigenous knowledge practices for climate change resilience.
Youth and local indigenous knowledge in tackling climate change
The role of local indigenous knowledge and practices (LIKP) in understanding and tackling climate change was equally explored. This knowledge system is developed and used by indigenous and local communities working mostly in agriculture. This knowledge is passed from one generation to another have been used for the selection, growing, and propagation of climate-resilient seeds and livestock, pest control, healthcare, and conservation of crop and livestock gene pools, prediction of weather patterns, and development of local early warning and response to environmental changes.
In the discussion it was observed that local indigenous knowledge, language, and cultural expressions are found to be key to the conservation of biodiversity. Indeed, numerous research confirm that in areas rich in LIKP, there is a corresponding high level of environmental consciousness and Kenya is a leading example. Research he conducted between 2018 to 2021 revealed that each agroecological zone of Kenya has a diversity of knowledge and practices.
All these put to use for a common goal of achieving ecosystem wellbeing and maintain their identity through on-farm experimentation, language, and cultural expressions. However, this critical knowledge for adapting to the negative impacts of climate change is disappearing with its custodians.
In a ssession on Youth and local indigenous knowledge in tackling climate change, it was reiterated that youths are key to rescuing this knowledge system. This could happen if youths took an active interest in the knowledge system using their expertise in ICTs to record aspects of the traditional knowledge, reflect on its status and redevelop it and make it accessible in forms that can be incorporated into policy, decision making and implementation processes.
It thus emerged that the youth of Kenya can be pacesetters in promoting a continent-wide youth-led community of practice on intergenerational knowledge and asset transfer to keep this knowledge system from disappearing.
About the writers
Justus Wanzala is a Translator (English-Swahili) at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, a Journalist and post graduate student of Development Studies and Environmental Law.
Eric Ngang, completed doctorate research in 2022 at the University of Birmingham Law School, UK. His research interrogates how policy and law-making on climate change have developed in post-colonial states as a tool for empowering or disempowering individuals and groups impacted by climate change. He explores this using the 2016 Kenya Climate Change Act Making process as a case study. Eric Founded the Action Group on Governance and Environment (AGGEM), where individuals, households, communities work together to pull their resources to drive sustainable development processes.