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First youth in agribusiness conference in Kenya

The first Kenya National Youth in Agribusiness Conference was held on 18 – 20 July 2017 at the KCB Leadership Centre, Karen in Nairobi Kenya.

The conference themed, “Positioning the youth at the forefront of agricultural growth and transformation” and with a slogan “Vijana Tujijenge and Agribiz” translating to “Youth, let's grow with agribusiness” was attended by over four hundred young people from across all the forty seven counties in Kenya who are engaged in agribusiness. The event was aired live on Kenya Television Network (KTN) with the news distributed to all the other major television networks in Kenya.

Youth demographics in Kenya and alignment with the global food agenda

Looking at the current statistics in Kenya, young people between 18 and 35 years of age make up 35% percent of the population which presents an opportunity to not only create jobs through agribusiness but also contribute to food and nutrition security in line with CAADP – Africa Agriculture Transformation agenda 2025 and also Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda 2030.

The conference also saw the unveiling of first ever National Youth in Agribusiness Strategy 2017 – 2021 which is now being validated and domesticated at the counties to ensure alignment to County Investment and Development Plans (CIDPS). This youth in agribusiness strategy was developed by a team of experts from the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, Council of Governors, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United States Aid (USAID) through the Africa Lead II Programme, GIZ, World Vision and the Swedish Embassy in Kenya.

Why the strategy?

The National Youth Policy (2006) provides a framework on youth matters, including employment creation, capacity building but does not specifically address youth engagement in agriculture. Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries and the County Governments, in collaboration with development partners, have developed a National Youth Agribusiness Strategy [2017-2021] aimed at addressing the creation of innovative, attractive and sustainable employment for the youth through active engagement in agribusiness.

The strategy recognizes the numerous challenges that the youth encounter in their agricultural sector venture, namely: insufficient financial support, inadequate technical capacity, limited access to pre-established markets and weak implementation of policies among others. Agribusiness or the business of agricultural production encompasses agrichemicals, breeding, crop production, distribution of inputs and the food value chain. New technologies in an expanding food industry are creating numerous opportunities for the youth, not only to find employment and entrepreneurship but to also help grow Kenya’s food industry.

The conference

Key speakers and participants at the event were Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries, Hon. Willy Bett, the United States of America Ambassador to Kenya H.E Robert Godec, Senior officials from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, and representatives from the Council of Governors.

Development partners representatives present included Mark Carrato is the Chief of the USAID Kenya And East Africa Office of Economic Growth, Dr. Gabriel Rugalema, Country Director FAO Kenya, World Food Program, Kenya Country Director, Annalisa Conte, Coordinator German Development Cooperation, Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mathias Braun, World Vision Kenya Interim National Director, Mr. John Makoni  among others. The youth led Agribusiness networks in Kenya were led by Mr. Emmanuel Ngore, YPARD Kenya representative and Ms. Annie Nyaga of 4H Kenya.

Rich conference sessions

The sessions in the conference were rich and well engaging all participants. The design of the conference was to ensure active participation of all participants through the opening plenaries and in the breakout sessions. Each session had clear guidelines of what was expected to make participation easier and more comfortable.

The opening plenary preceded the unveiling of the strategy and engaged Mr. Emmanuel Ngore of YPARD Kenya and Ms. Annie Nyaga among two other young panelists on the need for youth to engage in agribusiness. This session also brought out in detail, the aim and future prospects of the organizations the panelists represented. This plenary session was moderated by Ms. Anne Onyango, the Director State Department of Agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries.

This plenary was then followed by highly enlightening keynote speeches from U.S. Ambassador to Kenya H.E Robert Godec and the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries Hon Willy Bett who then officially unveiled the Youth in Agribusiness Strategy for onward validation domestication at the counties. In his remarks, the U.S Ambassador H.E Robert Godec stated that, “Agriculture can make young people make a successful life.” Hon. Willy Bett, Cabinet Secretary highlighted the important fact that agriculture is a profession.

A prominent musician by the name King Kaka, who identifies well with Kenyan youth was also invited to not only entertain the participants but to also share his inspirations and the other side of the coin, which apparently was rabbit farming. It is from rabbit farming that he coined his stage name King Rabbit aka Kaka Sungura aka King Kaka.

His message was very clear, “As an entrepreneur and as a young person running several businesses, seeing young people gather to talk opportunities, especially in agriculture excites me. It shows that we as young people are ready willing and have made a decision to transform agriculture in this country. I would like to take this chance to encourage you all, it doesn’t have to be the Jembe it can be the transportation of goods to markets outside your county, it can be supplying eggs or even processing.  Just find your spot and work on it. Put in the work!”

In continuing his speech, he used the Swahili language saying that, “Agribiz inaweza wasee, Mi kama King Kaka lazima nikule carrot, na hiyo carrot lazima mtu akue ameipanda.” This translates to “As King Rabbit, I have to eat a carrot and someone has to grow this carrot.” He therefore closed his speech by asking the youth in attendance to seize the moment to learn, network and make the most of the potential in the room. King Kaka’s message was well received.

The proceeding sessions were broken down into breakouts which critically looked at the entire agriculture value chains and were graced with renowned experts and personalities in Kenya private sector and other non-state actors.

Next steps

Forty-seven county conferences will be held soon after the August 2017 National elections. This conference will aim at further creating awareness on this strategy and reaching out to more youth at the counties.

The second youth in agribusiness conference will then be held alongside the third intergovernmental forum in November to bring together youth from all counties. This conference is being held in line with the 1st Youth in Agribusiness Conference communiqué which asked the National Government and the County Governments to convene a Youth in Agribusiness annually alongside the annual Intergovernmental Forum on Agriculture.

This will therefore, be a start of annual youth in Agribusiness conferences in Kenya going forward to take stock of progress as the Youth in Agribusiness Strategy is implemented. Development partners and the government also made commitments to ensure the strategy is implemented through its period 2017 - 2021.