Is farming really cool? Re-evaluating young farmers’ needs and perspectives of the Kenyan agricultural landscape

Posted by , posted on Tuesday June 21 2016(2 years ago)
James Ogweno and Catherine Mungai
Young farmer in western Kenya.

A farmer shows off his farm managed as part of youth group activities in Western Kenya. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

Young people will determine the future of Kenya – “Nearly 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is aged below 35 years. This population is also the best educated in the history of this country, with about 80 per cent having post primary school education. The future of this country, especially the actualization of our national vision, depends on the hopes and aspirations of the youth,” said Dr. Alex Awiti, East African Institute of the Aga Khan University. He was speaking at a public seminar held on 3rd June 2016 at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi. The meeting aimed to clarify key research, policy, practice and investment issues and explore the best approaches to promoting youth engagement in agricultural value chains in Kenya.

The seminar was jointly co-hosted by the ICRAF and the Aga Khan University and attended by a vast range of stakeholders focusing on youth empowerment and agricultural development as well as young farmers drawn from across the country. The objective of the discussions was to interrogate evidence from research and re-examine the future of agriculture given the prevailing attitudes of the youth and their participation in agricultural activities. The panels and roundtables were structured as follows:

1)     1st panel and roundtable: Focused on the existing research evidence on the attitudes and participation of youth in Agriculture in Kenya.

2)     2nd panel and roundtable: Explored the potential that agriculture presents for the youth in the context of existing policy, institutions and investment environment.

Kenyan youth need expert advice and incentives to embrace agriculture 

In his opening remarks Dr. Alex Awiti mentioned that 11% of the total Kenyan youthful population (age 18-35 years) expressed willingness to engage in agricultural occupations with about 63% opting for public-private sector white collar jobs. These were excerpts from a countrywide survey undertaken by the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University. The survey sampled about 1,854 respondents aged between 18 and 35 to find out the aspirations, attitudes, concerns and values of the youth in Kenya today. He was particularly concerned about the negative perception that the youth expressed towards engaging in agriculture.

As a way forward, Alex called for collective effort from all stakeholders in supporting the youth in their plans to enable them engage in agriculture. Some suggestions included:

  • Development and implementation of clear policies and frameworks which target youth and agriculture.
  • Provision of incentives and credit facilities such as grants and loans.
  • Expert advice to the youth expressing interest in agriculture.
  • Value chain expansion and removal of limiting barriers (middle men) and bureaucracies that jeopardizes youth involvement in agriculture.

Inter-generational and gender issues should be addressed

Karen Musikoyo from the United States International University (USIU)laid emphasis on addressing systematic challenges passed on from our great grandparents as a viable solution to addressing the negative perceptions associated with agriculture amongst the youth. She pointed out that the Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship (GAME) centre had identified an opportunity for testing different business models to support the Kenyan youth and women to actively engage in profitable agribusiness. One of the key lessons learnt through their initiatives has been on the need to create opportunities for young and elderly farmers to engage and share ideas.

Regarding gender and land access, Dr. Grace Mwaura from ICRAF said that from time immemorial land ownership has been mostly associated with men in the society despite the fact that more women are actively engaged in agriculture. To address the situation, Grace acknowledged the need for policy reforms which focus on enabling women and youth have access to land, a necessary ingredient for agricultural activities. She however acknowledged that there are innovative ideas such as hydroponics (a technique for growing plants on water) which can be a solution to the land problem.

Woman farmer

Member of a community-based nursery living adjacent to Mount Elgon National Park in southeast Uganda.  Land ownership in Africa is mostly a preserve of men, yet more women are involved in agriculture. Photo: O. Freeman (ICRAF)

Climate-smart agriculture as an entry point for the youth

Winnie Khaemba, an environmental enthusiast from the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) pointed out that the youth need information and technical expertise on agricultural diversification practices to encourage both long and short-term investments and returns. Winnie noted that this would ensure steady money flow and act as a remedy to the misconception placed amongst the youth of them being impatient especially when it comes to investing in farm produce with long maturity duration, for instance, sugarcane.

Winnie further acknowledged that climate change is real and the impacts are already visible citing examples of the latest Narok flash floods, and the Dadaab camp that is hosting climate change refugees. However from a professional point of view she highlighted some key opportunities that come with climate change that the youths can explore, such as climate-smart agriculture (CSA). In her examples she encouraged irrigation of the vast unutilized semi-arid lands for agriculture, adoption of scientifically approved drought resistant crop varieties during farming and crop diversification.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is engaging with youth through the climate-smart villages approach to undertake research and explore investment options on smart agricultural practices. Read more: The time is now to engage youth in agriculture.

Access a CSA guide to help you get started right through to implementation.

Testimonies from the youth engaged in agriculture

During the second session, a panel of four farmers shared their challenges and success stories.

“The journey has never been easy but with resilience and hard work I am happy to have reached this far. I started with 200 indigenous chicken two years ago, three months later, I lost 57 of my birds and that was the lowest point in my career as a young farmer. I felt discouraged and it was at that point that I attended a similar seminar which was a turning point to my life, they supported me and today I take pride in keeping a total of 5000 birds with major supply tenders in town” narrated a smiling poultry farmer.

The young farmer holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from University of Nairobi and graduated three years ago. Unlike other youths, he opted to pursue farming at home, a career mostly viewed by his peers as a “dirty job for the unlearned.” He said that while most of his peers opted to seek white collar jobs in urban areas, he has never regretted his decision to stay at his rural home to pursue his dream of becoming a farmer. He envisages scaling up his projects from the current three counties to 17 more in the next three years to come, an opportunity that will create more job opportunities for other youth.

From their experiences, the young farmers’ acknowledged that copy paste ideas never really work and before making any investment, a thorough cost benefit analysis ought to be conducted. They emphasized the need to consult experts in order to make informed decisions.

Looking forward, participants called for youth empowerment, moral and financial support to enable them shift their perceptions towards agriculture. The governments, with support from non-governmental organizations, international agencies and research institutions, need to establish enabling environments, including incentives, to support young population’s initiatives to take up agriculture. The existing pitfalls of food insecurity and climate change impacts can be addressed by recognizing the vital role of integrating CSA with local indigenous knowledge to ensure access to and sustainable use of innovative solutions by smallholder farmers.

Further reading 

Kenya Youth Survey Report -

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