Despite the struggles by many Kenyans to succeed in agribusiness, they are still being saddled by unstable weather patterns; high costs of farm inputs and transportation; unscrupulous middlemen; post-harvest losses; inaccessible markets; pests and diseases, among others. Financiers are also only keen on other sectors of the economy which they deem predictable and lucrative.
To address some of the challenges inhibiting youth and women participation in agribusiness and stimulate the growth of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the agribusiness sector, the European Union, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (Danida), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa Guarantee Fund (AGF) and Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) launched AgriBiz, a programme which aims to stimulate sustainable jobs for women and youth in the agricultural sector in Kenya. The programme which is about to launch its first call for applications will run for five years.
Agricultural extension services have also slumped particularly in this era of devolution. It was thought that with devolution of agriculture, such services would be brought closer to the people in a bid to increase investments in the sector.
There are certain challenges, however, which are only peculiar to youth and women when it comes to tapping into the immense potential in the agriculture sector. Agriculture continues to receive negative perception particularly among the young people who perceive it as a realm of the older generation or at best, an employer of the last resort. The mindset out there is that agriculture is not “cool enough” for the youth. It is still largely left to the older generation, the uneducated or retirees.
A large section of the youth and women also lack the necessary capacity to meaningfully derive economic benefit from agriculture. Farm productivity largely remains low with depressed incomes because the shift from subsistence to commercial profitable agricultural production has not been fully embraced. Very few people perceive agriculture as a source of gainful employment.
Youth and women are also restricted when it comes to accessing natural resources such as land as well as other factors of production including capital. Even though Kenyan laws are progressive on land ownership, traditional systems which bestow ownership of land on the eldest male member of the family, largely hold sway.
This limits youth and women from accessing financial services from conventional lenders who in most cases require land as collateral. Young people and women’s pursuit of investment in and improvement of land is thus greatly curtailed.
There is possibility, however, to turn the tide. Value addition and the use of technology have the potential to create more opportunities in the value chain and make agribusiness attractive especially for the younger generation who currently shoulder the heaviest burden of unemployment.
The Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy 2017-2021 estimates that 64% of unemployed Kenyans are youth, a majority of whom opt to move away from the agricultural sector to fast-growing non-agricultural sectors in towns and cities.
There needs to be a shift from the current systems that concentrate on production to those that offer value addition and processing in order to create opportunities for jobs along the value chains; in rural, semi-urban and urban areas alike.
Through incubation hubs to be established in eight target counties, the programme will promote business development services including technical assistance and access to facilities; as well as access to land and other resources and factor of agricultural production.
Additionally, it will enable access to finance for youth and women-owned SMEs engaged in agribusiness. Awareness creation and the pursuit of an enabling environment for greater involvement of women and youth in agribusiness will also be carried out.
It is envisioned that 17,000 job opportunities will be created by 2,400 SMEs which will be supported to upscale their business operations. AgriBiz will be a boost to smallholder production which will in turn increase household incomes and improve food security and nutrition for our country. It will accelerate the achievement of Kenya’s economic blueprint and also advance the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, AgriBiz is key to ending poverty (Goal 1), eradicating hunger (Goal 2), promoting decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), combating climate change (Goal 13) and promoting sustainable use of land (Goal 15)
AgriBiz will be implemented in Kilifi, Machakos, Kiambu, Meru, Isiolo, Kisii, Bungoma and Uasin Gishu counties. It will benefit not only the eight host counties, but the regional economic blocks as well.
By Vincent Ogaya and Ernest Chitechi