A multi-storeyed kitchen garden at Wambugu Agriculture Training Centre in Nyeri County. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Globally, digital technologies and innovations are becoming a driving force in the expansion of opportunities in the agricultural sector. Several tech innovations are transforming the agricultural value chain, making it a new front for employment creation and livelihood enhancement and diversification, particularly for the youth.
In Kenya, areas in the agriculture value chain that have enjoyed strong growth in the use of technologies include service delivery for smallholders, financial services, enterprise development, market access, data analytics and climate-smart agriculture.
Despite the potential for the agricultural sector, and Kenya is home to many innovative start-ups on digital agriculture, the country’s agricultural industry has not achieved significant transformation. This has, in turn, limited the employment opportunities for the youth.
Fragmented approaches, restrictive policies and interventions and failure to integrate youth policies with development in the sector continue to stifle its contribution to national development and job creation, especially for the youth.
Kenya is endowed with an energetic, talented, and creative young population. Engaging this population in agricultural value chains can improve food security and reduce youth unemployment. Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims to create a globally competitive and prosperous nation with high-quality life by 2030.
Agriculture is one of the sectors expected to sustain a 10 percent economic growth into 2030. Marrying the two and providing the necessary innovative spaces will help tackle youth unemployment.
Having noted the value of agriculture, the government has developed several policies and frameworks to create opportunities for youth engagement, especially in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and digitalising agriculture.
Internationally, Kenya is a signatory to several initiatives meant to open the agricultural value chain. These include Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2063, and the AU-NEPAD led Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
However, having policies and regulatory frameworks in place is not enough. Often, these policies are not informed by robust evidence that considers youth voices. For example, several studies have documented the challenges in the agricultural sector that disrupt the potential to create jobs and attract the youth.
These include inadequate skills and knowledge, lack of appropriate and relevant sector information, limited access to financial services, negative perception and attitude to agriculture and little agricultural innovation to enable youth to cope with climate change challenges.
A focus on subsistence approach to agriculture rather than commercialisation is also a significant driver of low productivity. The policy and regulatory environment remain a significant barrier to youth engagement in agri-preneurship, partly because of the limited research and technology development investments.
A collaborative study by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR), through its innovative evidence-informed decision-making programme Utafiti Sera (research-policy), the Centre for Africa Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE) and Alternatives Africa on Youth Employment Creation (YEC) in Agri-business and Agro-processing established that if the country fixes the sector, there is the potential to create 3.2 million jobs in the mango value chain and 3.3 million jobs in the potato value chain annually through inter-sectoral linkages — agriculture, food MSMEs, e-commerce and transport services.
PASGR and partners convened various stakeholders to chat a pathway for youth job creation in Kenya’s mango and potato value chains using the evidence.
The evidence from the study and dialogue with stakeholders, including youth, identified numerous opportunities for evidence-informed transformation at different stages of the value chain, including soil analysis, seed production, weeding, spraying, repair and maintenance, harvesting, transportation, value addition, aggregation, marketing, and training.
For example, CABE and partners are working to improve the efficiency and profitability of the rice value chain through strengthening seed systems and delivery in Kenya. The innovation involves introducing the iSubira digital platform to the physical agri-food supply chains in Kenya and beyond to address their specific challenges and opportunities.
The platform offers integrated solutions in more accessible e-commerce, delivery service and social (chama) loans to drive greater agribusiness efficiencies and profitability by leveraging the role of government and other development agencies offering technical assistance in accelerating start-ups, research, advisory services, marketing, and finance.
The platform also provides quality assurance and tracking services to minimise mismatches between demand and supply in the agri-food business
The trends in Kenya’s economy show that connecting the agricultural sector with other rapidly growing sectors such as hospitality, e-commerce, delivery, social loans can generate substantial business opportunities and increase jobs for the youth.
Dr Odame, PhD is the Executive Director, Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship
Dr Atela is the Head of Research and Policy at the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and the programme lead for Utafiti Sera