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Agriculture and the youth in coastal Kenya K. Lewa and J.

Ndungu Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Mtwapa

A few weeks ago, we participated in an activity aimed to seek the views of youth on their role and participation in agricultural activities in coastal Kenya. Agriculture as we all know is still considered as the backbone of Kenyas economy, providing food and employment for many people especially in the rural areas. For some time now, there has been growing concern that the youth are not keen on agriculture. And they being the majority, a worst case scenario is projected where in years to come, there will be less and less people to grow crops and keep livestock; finally, agriculture will collapse and Kenyas backbone will break! Of course, no one wants to see Kenya move in that direction. Our first task was to decide on who the youth were. We thought we would find a clear classification of youth. But to our amazement it was never to be. In Kenya, different communities define youth in different ways. Official government documents have different definitions. Political parties likewise define their youth in very interesting ways. For the study however, we eventually agreed to define youth as both men and women aged from 15 - 30 years of age. So, what do the youth in coastal Kenya think about crops and livestock farming? We now start with the good news. Most youth agree that agriculture is very important to their lives. It provides food in many households and has been a source of income for many farm families. Some even acknowledged that they had been educated to high school and university through proceeds from agriculture. For the not so good news (we have to be perpetually optimistic), seven out of every 10 youth would rather be doing something else other than agriculture. And those that could do agriculture, they were doing it as a last resort not out of choice but because they could not get any other employment. Most youth think that agriculture is a job for the jobless, aged, illiterate. It is something that one does after retirement.

In one of the discussion sessions, one smartly dressed young man asked now look at me, can you imagine a person like me dragging an oxen plough in the streets? What will people think about me? No way, I can never do that! But one elderly man who had keenly followed the discussions from a distance pulled me aside after the meeting and said. You know what; those young men were cheating you. They are just lazy
Youth in a group discussion at Garsen

and they dont want to work. They only come to the farm during the harvesting season. Infact they would rather steal than work for anything. We decided that we were not going to include that unsolicited statement in our report! It is apparent that the youth in coastal Kenya, probably like many other people, view agriculture as a kaserema /panga, cattle herding activity which is very tedious and with almost no returns. Agriculture cannot bring in wealth or sustain the kind of lifestyles youth want to have. Other factors that make agriculture less appealing to youth include: lack of knowledge and skills, lack of capital investment (land, labour, money), unreliable rains (it is too risky to farm), lack of markets for produce, diseases and pests and inadequate extension services.

So, what is the solution? What needs to be done? The youth had several proposals, among them, they proposed that the government policies should be reoriented to shift agriculture from subsistence to commercial (to increase potential for profit); agricultural productivity should be stabilized to reduce risk eg through irrigation; enhance cooperation between youth and the agriculture line ministries, enhance institutional support for provision of inputs and

related agricultural services; Also career counseling and youth awareness campaigns in primary and secondary schools should be encouraged. And a few further suggested that parents should give their children kitu kidogo for working in the family farms at least to cater for individual needs.

Travelling from Lungalunga to Kwale, Kinango, Kilifi, Ganze, Malindi, Garsen, Kipini and Mpeketoni, it was very illuminating getting the views of the youth. We realized that many youth are not aware of the opportunities existing within various sectors of the agriculture value chain especially in processing. Innovative approaches should be used to sensitize the youth on the youth fund and the various youth development initiatives (eg youth fund, kazi kwa vijana) undertaken by the government and other stakeholders.