Top 10 obstacles to successful youth agripreneurship in Kenya

Kenya is facing an ever-rising need to invest in agriculture. This trend is driven by numerous factors including the growing demand for food by the country’s increasing population. But Kenya isn’t alone. According to The World Bank’s estimates, the global demand for food will grow by 70% by 2050. On the other hand, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that rapid population growth will push the global demand for food by 60% above the current level over the next three decades.

At the same time, peoples’ dietary preferences are rapidly changing calling for the need to produce more varieties of agriproducts. Needless to mention, over 39% of young Kenyans are currently unemployed and this percentage is going higher each day.

Consequently, youth engagement in agribusiness cannot be ignored. Agriculture is obviously a key alternative source of job creation.

Yet, young Kenyan farmers continue to face myriads of challenges trying to penetrate the agribusiness sector. Let’s look at what I consider the top 10 obstacles to the successful involvement of youth in agribusiness in Kenya.

Low technology adoption

The Kenyan government places much emphasis on technology as the prime mover of the agribusiness revolution. Yet, going to the ground, you’ll notice that primitive technologies such as on-hand hoes and ox-drawn plough remain dominant in our agricultural sector.

In Homa-Bay county, for example, about 80% of farmers depend on these outdated technologies to cultivate their large farmlands. It is, however, not surprising to find a few modern types of machinery like tractors that are nonetheless unaffordable to the average farmer in these remote and low income areas. I recently had to spend over Ksh. 32,000 (US $320) on ploughing as part of the initial land preparation of my 2.5ha piece of land. That’s an investment too huge for a young, jobless Kenyan.

The low technology adoption not only makes agricultural investment unaffordable but also unattractive to young college graduates. You know that we’re in an age and time when farming is beyond using hoes and cutlasses to dig or cultivate the land. If you’re a young Kenyan farmer, you’ll agree with me that our agricultural systems are yet to uptake and adopt scientific knowledge, technologies, and innovations to encourage youth involvement in agribusiness and enhance the growth of agricultural production.

Financing challenges

Effective agriculture finance is necessary for empowering young farmers to increase their wealth and food production. Yet in Kenya, poor agri-financing and inadequate budgetary allocation to agriculture remain important barriers to the successful involvement of youth in agribusiness.

The reluctance to financial empowerment to young people is not a challenge unique to Kenya. In many developing nations, government and financial sector institutions are mostly unwilling to support youth entrepreneurship. Any young Kenyan agripreneur knows that big banks and upcoming micro-financial institutions are never ready to lend a share of their loan portfolios to entry-level farmers.

My other article covers this topic in more details

Poor infrastructure in rural areas

Underdeveloped rural infrastructure is one of the major barriers we face as young Kenyan farmers. Needless to say, infrastructural developments –such as roads and electricity -are key to the success of Kenya’s agri-enterprises.

You need electricity to operate certain farm machines such as feed mixers and poultry brooders. I am aware of politicians who traverse the country, boastfully claiming they have improved the electricity access rate by 75%. Indeed, the government has done a commendable job through its rural electrification program.

The only issue these politicians would not want to mention is that the cost of electricity is above reach for many upcoming businesses. For example, while the global average cost of power is approximately Ksh. 15 per kWh, Kenyans are paying Ksh. 26 (almost twice) for the same quantity!

Good road networks are fundamental to getting your farm produce to the market because, without easy access to the market, you can’t sell your yields.

Unfortunately, most of these critical resources are either underdeveloped, unaffordable, or even entirely inexistent in some rural parts of the country with prime huge agribusiness potentials.

For example, my rural Gwasii constituency in Homa-Bay country is rich in agricultural soil. There are also plenty of large farmlands at very affordable costs. The climatic conditions in this region are conducive for most types of commercial farming –whether it be animal rearing or crop production.

However, the road network in the constituency is pathetic, especially during the rainy season. Electricity is either unreliable or totally unavailable in most parts of the constituency. I don’t want to talk about internet access because it is a thing not to dream of when you’re in Gwasii except for a few locations.

With these limitations, thousands of young people remain jobless in a constituency blessed with an abundance of resources.

Marketing issues

Kenya is a leading marketing point for agriproducts. That’s why the country is one of the main destinations for China’s agricultural exports. Let me cite a few statistical illustrations.

In 2017, Kenya consumed 4.5kg of fish per person according to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute (KEMFRI). The total fish consumption during the year was about 188,000 tonnes based on the 2018 economic survey. This included 21 tonnes of pelagic fish, 23 tonnes of marine fish, and 144,000 tonnes of freshwater fish all locally produced. Approximately 51,000 tonnes were imported according to The Standard Media Newspaper. This means there was a shortage of 1,803 tonnes of fish.

But KEMFRI also reported that in some counties, fish farmers counted losses resulting from fish rot due to poor road networks. Some farmers were forced to sell theirs produces at throw-away prices. For emerging young Kenyan agripreneurs, financial losses arising from marketing issues may have substantial impacts on their ability to progress amidst tough economic conditions.

Thus, while Kenya has a huge market for agriproducts, young Kenyan farmers in remote areas often face marketing challenges due to low accessibility to the market.

A negative perception of farming

Agriculture has historically been considered by many youths a very undesirable profession. In fact, until recently, most of the university graduates in Kenya did not think of agriculture as a profession according to the FAO. Farming is seen as a dirty job and that’s how negative agriculture, in general, is often branded here in Kenya. I will illustrate further:

In high school, I was a business student. My group used to tease agriculture students because we thought they were studying a poor man’s job. Until today, many high school students still hold this opinion. Just like we did, they regard agriculture as an activity for retirees and a career that should appear lowest on your priority list.

However, the mistake was not on the students’ side. During our time, a lot of factors around our immediate environment discouraged, detached, and unengaged us from farming. The disconnect between education and agricultural practices, futile career guidance, unpredictable climatic conditions, and the lack of role models in the farming sector are just a few of the things that make farming unappealing to young people.

In this article, I explain how parents and teachers discourage youth agripreneurship in Kenya.

Lack of information on agribusiness opportunities

To succeed in farming, one needs to access accurate information at the right time. That’s because having the right information will allow you to identify available agribusiness opportunities, resources, aid, trends, and drivers among other things.

Kenya is experiencing a digital transformation. This transition continues to open massive opportunities in agriculture. Unfortunately, many young people especially in rural areas are stills struggling to access agriculture and agribusiness information.

For instance, a huge percentage of young people who aspire to practice farming are unaware of financial institutions giving financial loans to farmers. If you’re one, the list is here. Some of the companies you’ll to expect financial aid from are Barclays Limited, Commercial Bank of Africa, CFC Stanbic Bank (access their loan fact sheet), Chase Bank, Co-operative Bank of Kenya, Juhudi Kilimo, Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in partnership with Sygenta and Technoserve under Mavuno loans program, Sidian Bank, and Kenya Women Finance Trust – KWFT.

Moreover, there are governmental and non-governmental agencies that support large and small-holder farmers. An example is IFAD.

Because of lack of information, many Kenyan youths and local communities can only see barriers rather than opportunities in agribusiness. Minimal campaigns are necessary to raise youth awareness and inspire young people’s interest in agribusiness. This will help to improve productivity and employment creation.

Lack of expertise

Commercial farming commands a great deal of agricultural knowledge and skills. As a youth agripreneur, you to understand some best on-farm practices reducing crop loss. For example, you need to know how to select the right seeds and the best period for planting. You also need to be skilled in managing agricultural loan portfolios and even operating farm machinery.

However, many Kenya graduates lack the practical skills and competencies that are prerequisites for effective agropreurship and this is a big obstacle to successful youth agripreneurship in Kenya. It is estimated that Kenya loses food worth Sh72 billion in post-harvest loss, a situation partly caused by the lack of agricultural skills and technical know-how. For instance, in the Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy 2018 -2022, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation cited bad post-harvest management as one of the leading challenges that hinder effective youth participation in agricultural sector.

Past studies have indicated that entrepreneurship training contributes to farm performance is positively correlated to youth empowerment across Africa. Programs such as Jeunes Agriculture in Senegal, Agribusiness Parks in DRC, UniBRAIN in Zambia, and the Integrated Agriculture and Agribusiness Program in Morocco have contributed to youth empowerment through value addition.

The good thing is that in this internet age, young people have numerous training opportunities that can help them to acquire the agribusiness knowledge and skills they need to succeed in Agriculture. If you are truly interested in agribusiness and ready to pay the price, the lack of skills should no longer be an obstacle to your successful agripreneurship here in Kenya.

Already, a lot of organizations are out there and most of them are willing to train you for free. For example, ENABLE Program implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and co-funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with the government targets youth who are interested in agripreneurship. ENABLE aims to help young people to acquire agribusiness skills through training, mentorship, and nurturing.

Training materials are everywhere on the internet for free. YouTube offers numerous training videos, which you can take advantage of. Millions of articles are available online on different agribusiness topics.

Exclusion of youth in agribusiness policy- and decision-making processes

The successful youth agripreneurship in Kenya is also compromised by exclusion of youth in agribusiness policy- and decision-making processes. In most cases, critical decisions and policies that affect agriculture are made by top government agencies, officials, and ministries without integrating youth input. But Kenya is not an isolated case. In many African countries, youth are often marginalized when formulating and implementing policies that affect the future of young people.

Non-Implementation of Government Policies

This is the root of all agricultural problems in Kenya and Africa at large. Kenya, like the majority of developing countries, is good at coming up with policy initiatives. However, when it comes to implementation, the old saying “easier said than done” always comes true. The Jubilee government, for example, came up with very good strategic initiatives to improve youth engagement and participation in the agribusiness industry. I mentioned the Kenya Youth in Agribusiness Strategy developed in 2017 to address challenges that hinder youth from participating effectively in agribusiness.

It is founded on the Regional and International Policy Interventions, Jubilee Manifesto (2013-2017), Medium Term Plans (MTP) II, Kenya’s Vision 2030, Constitution of Kenya (CoK 2010), National Youth Policy, National Agriculture Policy, The MoALF Strategic Plan (2013-2017), Agriculture Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) 2010- 2020, and County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs). The good strategy, which would have provided new opportunities for millions of young Kenyans in agriculture and its value chains has never been implemented.

Limited access to factors of production

Factors of production including land and financing remain extremely limited hindering adequate engagement of the youth in agriculture.

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