The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has significant benefits for the youth of Kenya. Apart from the establishment of a Youth Commission among other direct benefits, BBI also opens up significant economic opportunities for young Kenyans most notably in agriculture.
Indeed, one of the key concerns voiced during the BBI consultative forums as captured in the report is the need for the State to do more in terms of reviving and growing grassroots agricultural, livestock and industrial sectors as a way of eradicating poverty and propelling economic growth.
Specifically, many Kenyans especially in the rural areas, expressed the view that economic and development activities at the devolved/local level would be greatly boosted by rejuvenating various agriculture sub-sectors, promoting commercial livestock farming while supporting growth of cottage industries.
Since 65 percent of Kenya’s population lives in rural areas, of whom 70 percent depend directly on agriculture, the latter provides a vital pathway to food security, employment generation, value addition and ultimately, poverty alleviation.
Kenya is a very youthful country. About 75 percent of the population is aged between 18 and 35 years. This means youth have the largest stake in the country’s prosperity. In short, if the country prospers, the youth also prosper. Yet, the country has a growing youth bulge and unemployment is highest among this segment of the population.
Since agriculture accounts for 33 percent of Kenya’s GDP, the sector is a potentially powerful platform for creating gainful employment and income opportunities for our youth. Notably, the Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy 2017-2021 seeks to position youth at the forefront of agricultural growth and transformation.
On its part, BBI envisages sweeping reforms in the agriculture sector which will unlock opportunities for youth participation.
The main proposals are: improving access to land for agricultural production by allocating leases in settlement schemes; strengthening agricultural and livestock genetic resources; adoption of technology to increase productivity; expansion of agricultural and livestock extension and advisory services; improving market linkages for farmers; providing financial support; and fighting corruption in the sector.
All these proposals fall under the ‘Shared Prosperity’ pillar of BBI anchored on an economic revolution leading to a high-employment, high-productivity, value creation and export economy.
The youth need to pay special attention to these BBI proposals as they directly and positively impact them. One, on allocation of leases in settlement schemes, the move is aimed at enabling easier access to land for agricultural production by young people, women and persons with disability.
A report by the Food and Business Knowledge Platform says young people lack financial ability to purchase land and therefore accessing land that is not inherited is a major problem. This is one of the factors fueling rural-urban migration. But given the emotive nature of the land problem in Kenya, this particular proposal requires careful implementation.
Two, adoption of technologies that increase agricultural productivity is an area where youth could play a leading role. The youthful generation of Kenyan farmers is increasingly relying on technology in farming activities. Research by Mercy Corps discovered that 90 per cent of farmers in the 18-35 years bracket in Kenya are tech-savvy. The emerging digital farming phenomenon has created a new breed of ‘agriprenuers’ across the production and marketing elements of the value chain.
Three, BBI recommends enhanced financial support to farmers, whereby the government provides a legal and regulatory framework to enable banks dedicate a portion of their lending portfolio to key sectors like agriculture. This will help unlock much needed credit for youth to venture into agribusiness. Lack of access to affordable credit is often cited as a factor discouraging youth from commercial farming, a potential major source of employment.
Four, BBI also calls for accelerated investment in value addition including use of innovative processes in agro-processing, expansion of cold chains, harvesting and preservation systems.
Five, BBI urges the expansion of agricultural and livestock extension and advisory services with the hiring of additional extension and support officers. This would provide employment for our young men and women interested in pursuing a public service career in agriculture.
BBI also seeks to address rampant corruption in the agriculture sector which has allowed unscrupulous middlemen and cartels exploiting farmers to thrive. Eliminating graft and other malpractices in the sector is crucial to improving farmer incomes and attracting investors.
The ongoing reforms in the key cash crop value chains such as tea, coffee and pyrethrum are geared to putting more cash into farmers’ pockets and streamlining efficiency and promoting value addition activities.
BBI also prioritizes improvement of market linkages for farmers, for instance, public-private partnerships to provide mentorship support to farmers.
From the foregoing, youth stand to gain from supporting BBI as it will empower them to drive the country’s economic transformation.
Mr. Choto is a lawyer and policy analyst. [email protected]