Agatha Thuo is the general manager of the Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET), an umbrella body of the industry formed through a partnership between Kenya Private Sector Alliance and Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others. She spoke to Rachel Kibui on what can be done to ensure more youth get into the industry
Many youths have taken up jobs, especially in the boda boda sector. Has this stifled availability of labour in the agriculture sector? What is the situation?
Yes, not as many young people as one would wish are working in the agriculture sector. For some, they think farming is all about tilling land but there are many opportunities along the different value chains like in marketing, transportation, value addition and sell of agro-inputs. Even boda boda riders can become transporters or suppliers of agricultural produce and products.
Like other sectors, agriculture has been affected badly by Covid-19. Is there hope for employment in the industry that is the backbone of Kenya's economy?
Interestingly, as other sectors recorded a big drop due to Covid-19, the food sector kept growing. Many people who had lost their jobs turned to farming. We witnessed some private schools owners turning classes to poultry houses.
Other people turned their vehicles into mobile shops, selling agricultural produce along roads. Basically, agriculture is a very resilient sector and has stood the tough times. There are numerous opportunities for employment.
There has been push for mechanisation in the sector, doesn’t this threaten jobs?
If you look at the business side of agriculture, labour accounts for about 70 per cent of total expenses. For this reason, there is need for mechanisation. Smallholder farmers need to access sustainable mechanisation and this calls for innovation. Already, coming up with machineries that can benefit smallholder farmers is an opportunity for jobs creation. Embracing mechanisation means there will be increased production, thus, more opportunities in rhyming sectors.
Your organisation has been working with learning institutions to link agriculture students with industrial attachment and jobs. Tell us about it.
Asnet acknowledges that young people undertaking agricultural courses mainly get theoretical trainings in classes with minimal practical input. Asnet is thus stepping in to offer hands-on experience. So far, we are working with five agricultural technical and vocational education and training (ATVETs) institutions and 32 medium agri-food companies. Through the Rural Youth Employment (RYE) project, the students are linked with agri-food companies, including farms, for them to get practical skills and knowledge.
So far, some 61 students have gone through the Asnet attachment and internship programme since September 2021. We receive details of students who are due for internship from collaborating institutions. We then seek from agri firms opportunities available and link them. Available opportunities are also announced on Facebook and WhatsApp group both which go under the name ‘Asnet Internship Program’. Lucky students have gotten jobs.
What's your advice to anyone who wants to take a course in agriculture?
I find courses such as horticulture, animal husbandry and agriculture economics quite marketable. Second, one should not just focus on being employed. Have a mindset of creating employment or being self-employed. Think about courses that are geared towards value addition for example. Lastly, follow your passion. Do not shy away from taking agricultural courses. There are opportunities all over.
What's the role of digital technology in job creation in the sector?
Digitalisation is key in all sectors. Young people should be curious to learn new trends in the digitalised world and use them in marketing, offering extension services and precision agriculture, among others. High-tech farms are opting for digitalisation to create opportunities for creative youths not only in agriculture, but also those with other professional backgrounds such as information technology.