Agriculture is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy, employing more than 70% of people in rural areas and contributing 26% of the GDP. However, youth unemployment in the countryside, as well as in the cities, is growing. Some 30% of Kenyans between the age of 20 and 24 are currently out of work. Increasing youth employment in agriculture could do much to address this problem, and it is one of the main aims of CTA’s ‘Youth Economic Empowerment through Agribusiness in Kenya’ (VijaBiz) project.
The project was devised by CTA and a Kenyan organisation, USTADI Foundation, in response to a call for proposals from the International Fund for Agricultural Development. It is implemented and co-funded by CTA and USTADI. “We believe there is huge potential to get more young people into profitable agriculture in countries like Kenya, and it is crucial to support the growth of their businesses,” says CTA’s Ken Lohento, manager of the project. “Many young people have innovative ideas and they’re willing to take risks, but they often lack the skills, knowledge and assets they need to establish viable agribusinesses.”
Following an invitation to join the project – shared via radio, newspapers and on the internet in September 2018 – 380 youth groups from Kilifi and Nakuru counties responded. It was stipulated that the groups should have a minimum of 10 members, with at least 30% being women. Ninety percent of those who responded were under the age the 35, including the group leaders. After a comprehensive selection process, and with the support of the two county governments, CTA and USTADI chose 165 youth groups, which between them represent about 2,400 young farmers and 1000 small agribusinesses.
The national launch of the VijaBiz project was held in August 2018 in Nairobi, in the presence of officials from the two county governments and from the National Ministry of Youth. Under the project, the selected groups are receiving support to help develop their businesses. Training sessions are already helping young people identify market opportunities in three value chains – cereals, dairy and fisheries – providing them with the skills required to add value to agricultural products. The youth groups will also benefit from training in leadership and a range of other skills required to strengthen businesses along the food chain, such as the use of ICTs for agribusiness. Mentoring and business operations reviews, as well as access to finance and various growth opportunities, will be offered throughout the project’s timeframe.
Examples of the selected groups include the Blessing Hand Self Help Group from Nakuru. This is composed of 12 members, nine of whom are women. They are involved in cereal value addition, grinding, packaging and selling. Another group is the Greenbelt Youth Group, composed of 12 members and engaged in dairy value addition, which involves the sale of fresh milk and locally produced yoghurt. Another is Kibao Kiche Fish Farmers Group, based in Kilifi and composed of 25 members, nine of whom are women. The group is raising fish in ponds to sell to the public.
VijaBiz will be providing the youth groups with grants worth between US$1,000 and US$20,000. These will enable them to buy hardware, such as machinery and cold storage facilities – for vegetables and fish, for example – and to hire the services of business consultants. The two-year project will develop the entrepreneurial skills of 2,250 young people and the enterprises, which benefit from VijaBiz support, will indirectly support at least 10,000 young people.
According to the United Nations, Kenya’s population is expected to rise from 50 million today to around 85 million by 2050. Projects that focus on transforming the agricultural sector through youth and women empowerment provide a template for tackling the twin problems of low productivity and high unemployment.