Agriculture for long was the primary and main economic activity of Kenyans in several households. Animal and crop farming empowered families economically and provided the households with nutritious food and income. In the early 1900s, missionaries introduced education and Christianity in central and Western Kenyan regions as the Muslim religion dominated the coastal areas. This was the birth of economic doom.
The education system promoted education as an avenue for white-collar jobs and better economic opportunities, creating a nuanced perception of white-collar jobs being dignifying and farming being primitive and backward. At independence in the 1960s, only a handful of Kenyans had received formal education. They were considered the elite of the society, a position, and fete that every post-Independence generation aspired to achieve.
The decline of Agriculture in Kenya
As more and more children of post-independent Kenya accessed education, they started to migrate to urban areas searching for jobs. The jobs were readily available even for students who had completed primary education. This inspired every family to send their children to school and gradually increased the number of young adults interested in urban jobs.
In the 1990s, more children accessed education; hence more migrated to urban areas. The most significant fraction of the land was left in the hands of aging parents. With traditional low-yield farming methods, subsistence farming was the only option. The agricultural workforce was reduced. Yields declined.
While the younger adults could have adopted better farming methods to increase farm yields, they pursued unavailable ‘dignified’ jobs in the urban areas. This birthed the phase that would result in generational poverty and unemployed city residents that left farmlands that could have empowered them economically.
Going back to our roots
As the years advanced, no attempts were made to deconstruct the puzzle of rural-urban migration. Its impacts include continued decline of agricultural production, increased unemployment, hidden hunger, loss of organic crop farming. We abandoned our nutritious crops that would have rather ecologically protected the environment. The result is climate change.
The government has a complex long-term strategy to turn around the attitudes and perceptions of future generations to adopt agriculture as the default economic activity. Civil societies and faith-based organizations are challenged too. Support the reversal of migration trends from rural-urban to an extended stay in the rural areas. More young people should be encouraged to pursue agriculture as a default economic activity for every household.
The perceptions of farming as old-fashioned and the shame associated with agriculture need to be eliminated. This is the first step toward restoring the factory settings of Kenyan economic activities. In addition, it will set the next generations on the 100-year plan to make agriculture great again, promote organic crop farming, combat climate change, eliminate food insecurity and increase the economic empowerment of the future generations.
Frank Ojwang is a doctoral researcher focused on agribusiness and innovation across Sub Saharan Africa.