How to lure the youth into agriculture

Let me detour a little bit and share my experience and why I am not in Agriculture despite studying agronomy at the University. 

I joined university to study Agriculture when Emilio Mwai Kibaki was on the campaign trail to inherit former president Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi. I took a bus ride from my hometown in Mombasa with mixed reactions. The Joint Admissions Board (JAB) had forced a degree on me with a ‘take or leave’ attitude.

As a child from the slums it was a great achievement to make it to the university. So, I was excited at the same time to join other comrades in Egerton University. As soon as the bus’s emergency window waved goodbye to the ocean breeze, the faces of famine, cracked lands and maize stalks with kwashiorkor greeted me on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway. I opened the envelope containing my admission letter to read its content and it is then I started appreciating JAB’s Holy-Spirit-led decision to send me to Egerton to study farming. It was quite the right jab in getting more youths in Agriculture.

The inspiration reached hysterical highs when our bus cruised past the capital city and the landscape on Nairobi-Nakuru highway changed to green, sturdy plants. Fields after fields were all green and the people looked healthy and strong like they all descended from the legendary warrior, Luanda Magere.

Njoro campus, Egerton University's mother-campus is a replica of the Garden of Eden; I felt I had arrived to my future.

President Kibaki at the Nakuru National Agricultural Show

December 30, 2002 came and the new president elect was sworn in; Emilio Mwai Kibaki became the President of Kenya and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He promised half-a-million jobs and I was among the most optimistic people in the world. Three years down the line, cracks started emerging, the spark was no more. Comrades before us returned with bad news. They gnashed their teeth wishing they had studied something else, other than Agriculture. I wanted to quit University but it was too late. I hit the Faculty of Arts and Social Studies (FASS) library looking for books I could read on how to write. There were drumbeats of hope that the Internet was opening a megamall called "global village" and the particular Franchise “Social Media” would need wordsmiths.  

Back to the president urging youths to embrace Agriculture, where last Tuesday, while speaking at the 3rd Agricultural Development
Forum, he noted that the average age of the Kenyan farmer is 60 years and yet a large percentage of our population is under 35 years. More and more youths are abandoning the plough with even more applying their muscles on trendy two-wheeler cruise bikes popularly known as “bodaboda”.

The youth do not need stakeholders to formulate policies that will attract and develop a generation of young farmers; what the youths need are shareholders in growing food for this country. President Kibaki’s candy of urging youth to embrace Agriculture is not sweet enough; he needs to follow that up with these four sweeteners:  

1. Give full-ride scholarships to all youths entering the agriculture degree in the universities.

2. Urge his cronies who own large chunks of land idling around to lease for free to youths in agriculture until they gain momentum to pay for the lease.

3. Zero-rate tax on agricultural inputs for ‘Generation 82’ until vision 2030 – this means any youth in agriculture born on or after 1982, after filing their tax returns will get 100% refunds on all taxes on agricultural input purchased until the year 2030.

4. Open up market links to produce from young farmers using the trade ministries.

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