Kenya has a very young population that as a result of rapid population growth, and almost three-quarters of the population is aged under 30 years. At the same time, employment opportunities are scarce, and it is estimated that each year, over 750,000 Kenyan youth attempts to enter the labour market, but only 15% are able to get formal jobs. For the country to benefit from its youthful population, it is important that the government and partners make the right investments to empower the youth with economic production skills.
Young women showcase part of their farm produce (Photo by WFP Kenya/ Martin Kirimi)
The World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency that addresses promotes global food security and provides food assistance to populations in need, is doing exactly that in Kilifi County. The agency, through the Kenya Youth Economic Empowerment Project (KYEEP), has adopted an approach that deliberately engages youth and helps them to participate actively in efforts to improve food security in Kilifi County. Working in partnership with the county government and other agencies, WFP is working with 24 youth groups giving them skills and resources to participate in horticulture and poultry value chains, aiming to reach 400 vulnerable youth and their families in the county by the end of 2018.
“Agriculture is the biggest contributor to Kenya’s GDP, yet the average age of the Kenyan farmer is 60 years old, this is a worrying statistic. If agriculture is to continue being the main economic driver in Kenya, youth engagement in the sector is pertinent”, says Harriet Tergat, WFP’s Programme Policy Officer responsible for Youth and Gender.
Through KYEEP, WFP facilitates the youth to access training, buyer-market forums and technical assistance through agricultural extension officers. County extension officers, seconded by the county government to the youth project, train the youth groups in good agricultural and animal husbandry practices, financial literacy and business management among other skills. They also counsel the youth to adopt a positive attitude and have an empowered world-view toward agriculture as a business.
“Today’s young people in Kenya don’t see agriculture as a viable economic venture, often termed as the poor man’s trade. Agriculture is more than digging and sowing seeds as envisaged by most rural youths, but agribusiness offers an array of opportunities outside of the physical farm, such as the value addition of agricultural products. We are hoping to change these mindsets by showing that agriculture can be a pathway to economic empowerment for young people in this country” says Ms. Tergat.
The youth groups in the Kilifi project grow crops and foodstuffs that are on demand in the market such as tomatoes and watermelon and also keep poultry. The project also assists eligible youth groups to access production inputs and assets through an affordable credit arrangement accompanied by support for financial literacy. Through this arrangement, the youth get a grace period before they start repaying the loan advanced – those growing crops get a three months’ grace period, long enough to allow the crop to mature and be ready for market, while those keeping poultry get 6 months. To promote a savings culture, the youth are also guided on how to form savings groups.
One of the WFP-supported groups, Umoja Youth Group, received credit worth KSHS 500,000 (US$5,000) to start a poultry project, buying the baby chicks in phases to ensure that they can supply the market consistently throughout the year. “One of the reasons that we came together is so that we can collectively and consistently supply the market,” says Jane Kenga Mlewa, a member, adding: “Currently, we are not meeting the needs of the market. None of us can single handed supply the hotels and butcheries. So we need to work together.”
Building on the lessons and success achieved in Kilifi, WFP will be implementing a similar activity in Makueni County, which has shown great interest in empowering its youth. “WFP’s mandate, which is anchored on SDG 2 – Zero Hunger – cannot be achieved without the meaningful and strategic involvement of young people. When you empower young people and give them the necessary skills and tools, the benefits spill over to the communities they belong to, and ultimately translates into a future where Kenya is food secure”, says Ms Tergat.