Banking on the youth to spur agriculture

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Africa is a youthful continent, with 60 per cent of the population below the age of 30 years. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that by 2055, the continent’s youth population (aged 15-24), is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million.

Unfortunately, the continent has failed to use this abundant resource to grow economies. On the contrary, unemployment, underemployment and limited economic opportunities pose the biggest hindrances to the youth.

The youth, including university graduates have had to resort to menial jobs, sometimes ending up in a life of crime because of the lack of opportunities regarding their future. These opportunities are even more rare in rural areas where agriculture is the mainstay of the communities.

A combination of poor yields, low profitability and manual methods make farming unattractive, and the youth are increasingly drawn to urban areas. The inevitable consequence of this rural-urban migration is the decline of agriculture.

Despite these challenges, there is a sliver of good. A youthful population comes with high energy, creativity and talents, which could be channeled into an economic boom. It presents an opportunity that can be harnessed to ensure sustainable food security and food production.

On August 12th, Kenya joined the world in marking the International Youth Day and now more than ever there is great need to highlight the benefits of agriculture as a career path for young people.

There is need for concerted efforts between the private sector, government and development actors to support youth-centric programmes for the same to be realized. All players need to step up the quest for creating more opportunities for self-employment for our youth.

The agriculture sector not only has the latent possibilities to address the enormous economic problems being experienced across the continent; it would also serve as a driver of employment, mainly among the large vulnerable youth population, while ensuring enough food to feed the bulging population.

As a country, Kenya can leverage on the dynamism of the youth to spur this sector to solve the twin challenge of unemployment and food insecurity. With concerted efforts from the government and the private sector, agriculture can be transformed into an exciting and profitable venture delivering job creation opportunities across the value chain.

If we are to enable the youth to invest in agriculture, then the barriers to engagement in the sector need to be addressed. For many, the challenge has always been access to finance, unavailability of land and technology.

The government has made food security one of its Big Four priority areas for the next five years, and agriculture holds a tremendous promise for catalysing growth and creating employment. The importance of the sector as an employer is likely to grow with continued transformation of food systems and growth in domestic demand for food.

To bridge the unemployment gap that exists among the youth, KCB Foundation launched the 2jiajiri Programme in 2016. Through this enterprise development programme the bank seeks to empower and equip unemployed, out-of-school youth with technical skill training opportunities as well as up-skilling in various informal trades including agribusiness.

Through the innovative hydroponics farming technology,  soil-less farming method, and a subset of hydroculture, where plants are grown using only a mineral nutrient solution in a water solvent and mature within two to three months, the bank seeks to grow youth in agribusiness; and bring them to a place where they can set up sustainable business enterprises and employ their peers, hence creating more job opportunities.

To scale the programme, KCB Foundation is partnering with County Governments and leveraging on their networks to reach out to the youth especially those upcountry.

At the launch of the Kenya National Youth Week on 6th August KCB Foundation, the German Development Cooperation through GIZ and the Government of Makueni County have rolled out a new food and nutrition security programme that will see 150 youth engaged in agribusiness.

The partnership, through its 2jiajiri programme, will sponsor the youth aged 18 to 35 years under the Makueni Youth Empowerment Service (M-YES) for a 3-month training on hydroponics farming.

Upon completion of the training, the beneficiaries will undergo business incubation services offered by KCB Foundation. They will be supported to develop business plans and access discounted financing to construct greenhouses on land sub-leased from the Government of Makueni County.

As we celebrate the youth, we need to reevaluate how to handle the teeming youth population to yield economic dividends. It should be our collective responsibility to support our youth to grow further to enable them feed the nation.

(Mwangi is the Managing Director of KCB Foundation.
jamwangi@kcbgroup.com

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