There is a world of difference between employment and underemployment. A lot of data from different research outfits such as findings of a report titled: Charting the path for a youth apprenticeship policy: Lessons from Utafiti Sera House on Youth Employment Creation in Agriculture in Kenya by Centre for African Bio-entrepreneurship (CABE), found that there has been between 78 per cent and 84 per cent employment creation in the informal sector.
While we cannot ignore the contribution of the informal sector to the economy, the contested definitions of what informal employment is, is the reason why this piece will interrogate agriculture as informal employment, and therefore largely underemployment as currently defined.
As opposed to formal sector, informal sector in Kenya connotes lack of registration, therefore no payment of tax, for the most part.
Traditionally, the informal sector in Kenya was dominated by people who did not complete formal education and required little or no certification.
This means that if a young person has been working at his father’s hardware for 10 years and needs to show his cumulative experience to progress to a higher position and get a higher income, he would have no formal papers to show and would rely on word of mouth. But even then, in such a case, bargaining power is greatly reduced.
“However, due to rising youth unemployment, there is an increased dynamism in the informal sector, and it is quite common to meet people who have successfully completed school working in the informal sector. So the traditional definition of informal as people with little education does not suffice,” says Dr Hannington Odame, the lead researcher at CABE.
One key solution provided by this report is agriculture. But the research also found that the reason why agriculture is not usually seen as the go-to option is the way in which it is packaged.
Like the informal sector, agricultural pursuits are seen as something that only those who were unsuccessful in their academics engage in.
This has resulted in the reluctance of many young people to get into agriculture as an alternative source of employment despite all the investments being made in it.
For example, since 2007, AGRA (A Green Revolution in Africa) an organisation whose primary goal is to increase the incomes and improve food security for 30 million farming households in 11 African countries by 2021, has supported at least 683 PhD and MSc programmes in agricultural research and capacity building.
But like in any sector, succeeding in agriculture is not any easier, and requires deliberateness and focus.
The report recommends working on the following key areas by stakeholders and the government to realise the full potential of agriculture.
You do not just wake up and get into agriculture. There is need to identify someone or a centre where you can learn as you begin your journey.
Having land is not all you need. Getting the best yield means that you understand the prevailing circumstances in the agricultural space, where you are.
The report further advocates for accreditation and certification in the informal sector.
Accreditation adds value to output, and it is this legitimacy that is at the centre of earnings and progress in any career.
To fully rope in the youth, there is need for rebranding of agriculture, varying messaging to make it attractive to young people as an employment and investment option.
Like most other fields which have utilised technological platforms to ensure that accurate information on their fields is readily available online, institutions in agriculture need to do more to ensure that information on risk, cover and coordination is readily available on all the available social media platforms popular with young people.
Information on apprenticeship opportunities available in agriculture also need to be made available on platforms (such as social media) which are patronised by youth.
The report also proposes institutionalisation of county incubation programmes with strong outreach teams.
Finance is a key issue for any business. The report highlights a need to restructure funding mechanisms in agriculture to include risk cover.
Investment is a risk, however, if seasoned business people make wrong investments and run into losses, how much more young people who are inexperienced?
And funding avenues that exist need to be cognisant of this and go beyond penalties for non-payment or late repayment of loans to also cater for unforeseen situations.
Again, like in every sector, change and evolution is a constant.
Agriculture needs to be integrated in this so that documentation exists and it is possible to learn from past projects and youth funds output so that it does not become “starting from a clean slate” for every youth taking up a project.
Having a central data base that is easily available for youth seeking information, having a place to go for learning and re-evaluating processes for continuous learning and improvement.