BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
Recently, one of the local newspapers carried a feature on the growing demand of Kenyan sweet potatoes in the United Kingdom.
It was on a group of farmers from Homa Bay who supply 10 tones a week to a distributor in London. From this, the farmers’ group earns Sh350,000 a week.
The gist of the article and which should interest any Kenyan is that the distributor says that there is a demand of 120 tones of sweet potatoes a day. This presents Kenyans and especially young people who are struggling to get jobs, with the opportunity to better their lives.
Also recently, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was seeking a supply of rabbit meat but the farmers in the entire Nyeri County could not supply even a tenth of the demand.
These two examples show that there are available markets that the country’s agricultural sector can take advantage of. This presents a great opportunity for Kenyan youth to move away from the streets searching white-collar jobs and actively participate in agriculture.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, agriculture contributed to 24 percent of the GDP in 2011, which has been on the same level over the years. The growth in this sector was however five percent lower than in 2010.
According to the KNBS 2012 data, agriculture is the number three employment sector in the country. However, due to low production, food prices have been high and contribute to inflation and thus agriculture has not managed to contribute highly to the economy.
In terms of exports from the country, fish, horticulture, coffee, tobacco, and tea make up the largest portions. Tea actually makes up one third of all of Kenya’s exports.
Kenya has about 20 percent of arable land but currently on eight percent of the country’s land is being used for agriculture production. More land can be put under irrigation and the country can invest more in greenhouses.
Agriculture has the potential to not only grow the economy, but also create a large number of jobs than any other sector. With more young people participating in the agricultural sector, the country can have more food making life more affordable for millions of Kenyans.
Today, Kenya is still importing basic commodities such as rice and sugar since our production is not enough to cater for our demand. Putting more arable land into useful food production will help the country import less saving Kenya unnecessary expenses.
Young Kenyans need to be more creative especially with the scarcity of white-collar jobs. Agribusiness has great opportunities that can help millions of young people especially with the Jubilee government having promised to enhance agriculture as a way of creating jobs and ensuring food security in the country.
Other than the current Youth Development Fund and the recently introduced Uwezo Fund, young people can also take advantage of the government’s plan to introduce affordable State loans to subsidise fertilizer and farm equipment. Young people can also in their groups take advantage of the Jubilee government’s plan to establish a vibrant national irrigation scheme to open up more arable land.
The government has also promised to make it easy for Kenyans to lease agricultural land and provide extension services and create and encourage Agricultural Investment Trusts (AITs) through tax incentives to direct private investment into the agricultural sector.
In coming budgets, the government will be moving that the country triples the budgetary allocation to scientific research and information and create a framework for technology transfer to enhance agricultural productivity.
The Jubilee manifesto also promises that the government will initiate and support a county level framework for value addition through the processing of livestock and agricultural products at source to maximize returns to farmers.
With the plan to double and diversify our national strategic food reserves from the current 22 per cent to 40 per cent of annual consumption, youthful entrepreneurs can move into the agricultural sector. This will not only help them create jobs but they will also take part in development of the country.
Over the years, we have had a large number of young people move to the cities as they search for those elusive jobs. It is time that the country encouraged urban to rural migration in an agricultural based economy. The government must also put in place mechanisms that encourage involvement of the youth and agro-entrepreneurs in profitable agriculture for employment creation and livelihood improvement.
Focus must also be given to the education system where being farmers is as competitive as being a doctor. Our system has cultivated the sense that farming is a lowly affair that should be left to the older folks in the village. We must work on changing this altitude.
Opportunities for young people to participate in agriculture will grow massively as the government implements its plans such as ensuring that one million acres of land is under agriculture by 2017. We should also fight the notion that agriculture is only farming and tendering to livestock.
There are other opportunities such as marketing, processing and management that graduates who are spending their time moving from one office to another, can take up. With the government plans to revive various industries such as cotton processing, sugar milling and meat processing, opportunities exist for young people to actively participate in the agricultural sector. Young people can use their techno savvy way to incorporate ICT into agricultural production.
Young people can through their numerous skills acquired in ICT, help the country in doing research aimed at enhancing agri-business data in the country such as emerging markets and demand for exports. This will help them venture into crop and livestock production that is aimed at specific markets and avoiding a waste.
Change in lifestyles and increase on awareness of lifestyles deceases among the middle class across the globe is increasing a demand of traditional foods such as cassava, arrowroots, manage and such. This presents immense opportunities for young Kenyans to venture into farming and make money will at it.
We have a government that is aiming at creating jobs and has promised to invest heavily in agriculture. This is a great opportunity for young people to move from the streets of Kenyan towns tarmacking for jobs and create jobs through agriculture.
(The writer is the TNA Director of Communications. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)