Despite considerable investment in agriculture, Kenya is a net importer of food with one out of three Kenyans unsure of where their next meal is coming from, according to the “Global Hunger Index 2018”. Reports indicate a deficit of 19 million bags of maize in the national granary after the delayed March to May (MAM) 2019 long rains.
The population is estimated to hit 65 million by 2030, as per “The World Population Prospects 2017” by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Undesa). The glaring state of recurrent food shortages calls for long-term interventions to address the declining food production reported in the “2017 Economic Survey” by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
The Sustainable Development Goals aim to end hunger by 2030. Progress towards achieving SDG 2, Zero Hunger, is significantly off-track with global hunger on the rise rather than falling. In Kenya, it’s difficult to see how SDG 2 can be achieved without fundamental change in the agricultural sector.
The country has a young population — 70 per cent of the population are under 24. Twenty-two per cent of the youth aged 15-24 are unemployed, says a 2016 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Many are actively looking for white-collar jobs while there is a decline in youth engagement in agriculture. The burden of food production has been left to the older generation, with the average age of a Kenyan farmer being 60.
Older farmers are often unable to adopt new innovations that can ensure sustainable production. It is expected that, by 2030, six per cent of the global urban population will be composed of people under 35, according to the 2016 UN Habitat Youth Statement report. Rural-urban migration is no different in Kenya, with nearly a third of the population living in towns and cities.
The low engagement of Kenyan youth in agriculture can be attributed to a host of factors. Key among them is that they don’t view farming as a profitable enterprise. Unsuccessful attempts at commercialising agriculture have resulted in widespread negative attitude towards farming with youth often associating the sector with poverty.
In spite of glowing case studies of quick wins in agricultural ventures, young people’s interest in farming as a career remains low. Land productivity is not at its optimum due to low adoption of technologies, high production costs, over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture, the effects of climate change and farmers’ struggles to be profitable amid competition with cheap food imports.
Young people also face significant barriers to entry into agriculture due to their low access to land, skills and capital. The culture of land inheritance means that land ownership remains largely in the hands of older generations while the youth, especially young women, are typically excluded from owning or accessing land.
Urgent action is needed to boost the profitability of farming and increase youth involvement. Priorities for government support should be providing targeted technical and business advice to youth producer enterprises and first mile agribusinesses, facilitating access to affordable high-quality inputs to motivate the adoption of productive technologies, and de-risking youth enterprises to help them manage alternative low-interest loans to service their farm business models.
Youth favour vegetable growing due to the short seasonality (45-90 days) and ease of selling produce.
The private sector is a critical player here. The local agro-manufacturing sector should be developed to help alleviate the 20-50 per cent post-harvest losses farmers incur as shown by a 2014 UN Food and agriculture Organisation (FAO) report.
Value addition is another factor. It reduces wastage, increases shelf life and creates jobs for the youth and a demand for local raw materials. In turn, diversified local and export markets are likely to spur domestic output and investment.
Kenya’s youth bulge offers a chance to raise agricultural output and bolster food and economic sustainability. With food security a major component of the ‘Big Four Agenda’, government empowerment of the country’s youth to gain access to the land and finance that they need to engage in agriculture is key to underpinning it.
Ms Mbatia is Technical Manager - Agriculture at Farm Africa.