With BBI, youth can lead agricultural revolution
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has significant benefits for the youth. Apart from the establishment of a Youth Commission among other direct benefits, it also opens up significant economic opportunities for them most notably in agriculture.
One of the key concerns voiced during BBI consultative forums as is the need for the State to do more in terms of reviving and growing grassroots agricultural, livestock and industrial sectors to eradicate poverty and propel economic growth.
Specifically, many Kenyans especially in rural areas expressed that economic and development activities at local level would be boosted by rejuvenating various agriculture sub-sectors, promoting commercial livestock farming and supporting cottage industries.
Since 65 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, of whom 70 per cent depend directly on agriculture.
Kenya is a youthful country: about 75 per cent of the population is aged 18-35. This means youth have the largest stake in the country’s prosperity.
Yet, the country has a growing youth bulge and unemployment is highest among this segment.
Since agriculture accounts for 33 per cent of the GDP, the sector is potentially powerful in creating gainful employment and income opportunities for our youth.
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 sector which will unlock opportunities for youth participation.
The main proposals include: 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.
The youth need to pay special attention to these proposals as they directly and positively impact them. One, allocation of leases in settlement schemes is aimed at enabling easier access to land for agricultural production by youth, women and persons with disability.
A report by Food and Business Knowledge Platform says young people lack financial ability to buy land and, therefore, accessing land not inherited is a major problem.
This is one factor fueling rural-urban migration. But given the emotive nature of land in Kenya, this proposal requires careful implementation.
Two, youth could play a leading role in adoption of technologies that increase agricultural productivity. Young farmers are increasingly relying on technology in farming.
Research by Mercy Corps discovered that 90 per cent of farmers in the 18-35 years bracket are tech-savvy.
Emerging digital farming phenomenon has created a new breed of ‘agriprenuers’ across production and marketing in the value chain.
Three, BBI recommends enhanced financial support to farmers, where government provides a legal and regulatory framework to enable banks dedicate a portion of their lending portfolio to key sectors such as 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.
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 expansion of agricultural and livestock extension and advisory services with hiring of additional officers.
This would provide employment for our young people interested in pursuing a public service career in agriculture.
BBI also seeks to address rampant corruption in the 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 writer is is a lawyer and policy analyst