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Sustainable Development Goals and their link to Opportunities in Agriculture Value Chain: Shouldn’t Youth Explore?

Emmanuel Ngore and his chickens

I’ll do anything to make money, as long as it does not get me into problems with the law.” A Kenyan youth, I’ll call him Paul, once told me. Paul and I met in late February 2016 at an Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya organized by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) in which more than 85% of attendees were Kenyan Youth. Of course such an event had to attract more young people than it would the older folk. The remaining less than 15% were above the youthful age and were in attendance to accompany the area’s county governor. As expected, they spent most of their time politicking and dozing off during the summit’s information loaded session. Invited speakers were renowned business men and investors in diverse sectors; agriculture, manufacturing, banking, transport, education as well as information technology, whose presence was to lure government players in the development sectors to attend. Indeed the governor of the host county was in attendance accompanied by his counterparts from other counties. Youth participation was motivated by three main factors; there was no fee required to attend, the great personalities to speak in the summit and an opportunity to empty their many needs for employment and seed capital for their business proposals.

Enough about the summit. I want to talk about Paul and many other youth globally. Youth unemployment is a global issue. We all agree. Agriculture is the backbone of most African economies. Many will allude to this too. As economies grapple with solving global development problems including food insecurity, the contribution of youth becomes a key ingredient. Youth have opted to unscrupulous means of making money, quick money so to speak, in order to cruise smoothly through life huddles.  They would care less of what sources of money making to consider needless to mention robbing a bank just as long as they are not caught. Paul’s statement made me wonder how many crude ideas competed for consideration in his young mind. Of course selling drugs would suffice as he is based in the Coastal part of Kenya; a drugs haven.

As a young person representing youth in agriculture, I immediately visualised fertile soil to plant my seed of agri-preneurship. “Have you considered agriculture?” I asked expecting a specific answer which indeed came. “Yes, and lost big time. Agriculture is a waste of time.” He quickly responded.  As a young person, he needed quick money to solve his many problems which includes taking his girlfriend out to dinner, renting a beautiful house, buying a good car and living a good life. You must be wondering how misplaced Paul’s priorities are, but yes, many young people think along the 1,2,3,4 formula of success. Now that I have introduced the 1,2,3,4 formula, allow me to give a sneak preview of what the figures stand for.  1 – One wife, 2 - two children, 3 – three bedroom house and 4 – four wheel drive car. Give any young person a means to acquire this 1,2,3,4 formula, and he/ she will grab it instantly. As a matter of fact, agriculture should be able to give Paul this result. Paul went ahead to give me an account of how he planted rice in 2 acres land only to be exploited by middle-men who came for his produce at the farm. Paul was made to believe that selling his produce at the farm without incurring transport costs is a sure way of avoiding further losses at the market. This made him fall for the low returns for his produce which would have fetched up to four-times more. Mark you, Paul had leased this piece of land using some money he had loaned from a local bank in Kenya. He is still struggling to pay this loan. Loosing most of his investment in this middlemen ordeal dampened his spirits of ever engaging in farming.

Many young farmers are exploited by middlemen in countries with policies to guard against such exploitations. In my daily activities as a young farmers’ representative, I realised that middlemen took advantage of any farmer who was in a hurry to get money. Young people fit best in this category. They are not keen to getting better markets for their produce. In Paul’s case, he would have opted to drying and storing his rice and selling the produce for a better price. Paul wanted money instantly and the drying and storing process would take some time.

Paul and other young people in agriculture need to understand the dynamism of markets and the different values exhibited in the entire agriculture value chain. This is where the money is. In as much as more farmers are needed to fill the gap of aging farmers, not all youths can do farming. Some need to venture into the value chain and explore value addition and middlemen roles. This way, Paul would best understand the efforts of farming and pay a reasonable fees for agricultural produce purchased.  Agriculture is already sexy to the youth, packaging it into valuable value chains is the next step to attract more young people. This can be done through mentorship, capacity building, financing youth participation in agriculture related initiatives such as GCARD3 and creating friendly financing platforms for start-ups. Paul needs this kind of support, so do all other young people. Experts in the entire agriculture sector should focus on packaging agriculture in its entirety. As a young person, we already know the “what it is” – it’s a profitable venture, we now need to understand “the how to do it” – benefits in its value chain. If the ‘How’ question is resolved, young people like Paul will erase ill means of acquiring wealth and embrace agri-business.

The third Global Conference for Agricultural Development (GCARD3) is such a platform that would provide young people with greater insights into innovative agriculture for development. Innovative agriculture coincides with best practices in agriculture which would be worth replicating. Young people need to embrace peer to peer learning as a post GCARD3 resolution. This way young people like Paul would find an opportunity to be innovative and create agri-business initiatives that pay. This peer to peer learning resonates well with GCARD3 theme ‘No one left behind: Agri-food innovation and Research for a Sustainable World.’  Sustainable Agriculture is a subject of interest considering the endorsement of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly.  In my analysis of GCARD3 objectives, main theme and sub-themes, resonates well with; Goal 1: End Poverty in its forms everywhere, Goal 2: End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture and Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. These goals underscore the importance of sustainable agriculture to meet prevailing climate change worries. In responding to Paul’s needs of a profitable agri-business, the main sub-themes of interest in GCARD3 are ‘Sustaining the business of farming’ and ‘ensuring better rural futures’. These 2 sub-themes emanate from the global interest on climate change issues and the need to ensure sustainable agriculture through climate smart agricultural systems that are environment friendly. There is also the need to put into practice evidence based solutions to problems in the agriculture sector. This best fits into the sub-theme ‘Scaling up: from Research to Impact’. If Paul understands the entire agriculture value chain and the dynamics of climate change and sustainable agriculture, he would be in a better position to make a decision on which part of the value chain to engage in.

This blog post is part of the GCARD3 Youth blogpost applications. The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.