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Kenya's future hinges on making agriculture cool

Kenya is known for its agricultural wealth, but it's younger generation is less and less interested in agriculture. If agriculture isn't made relevant and profitable, the country could suffer.

By Limo BankeleleGuest blogger / November 12, 2010

A worker collects roses at a flower farm in Naivasha. Kenya's flower industry has shrugged off political violence in its Rift Valley heartland, drought, and the global recession to record improved export volumes of 93,000 tons in 2008.

Antony Njuguna/Reuters

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Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya has traditionally been perceived as an agricultural country, and a lot of government initiatives are focused on rural areas and food production. Yet trends show that Kenyan populations is getting more urban, and younger, as shown in the 2009 census.

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John Githongo wrote in this article: "We have to rethink what Kenya is. Three-quarters of Kenyans are under 30 and want to live in towns, but we are ruled by farmers and trapped by land disputes."

The urban population does not grow food, has little interest in agriculture. They want to make their lives in cities (such as Nairobi, which generates over half of the country’s GDP) and build applications for mobile phones that do A, B, C, D, etc.

One way to increase interest is to make agriculture relevant to a young population, farmers employing new techniques and new crops, not just traditional maize and beans.

In the technology space, there has been a shift, deliberate or not, towards rewarding innovations and projects in the field of agriculture, including:

  • Apps for Africa, a contest for mobile phone innovation, which was won by i-cow, a voice-based mobile phone application that helps dairy farmers manage breeding and feeding of cows leading to better yields.
  • The Chase Bank/Enablis Business Plan competition, in which agri-business proposals overtook ICT both in the number of entries received and list of top 100 picked. Of these, 35 percent of the entries submitted came from Nairobi and 30 were from people aged 18 – 25 years.
  • M-farm, an information resource for farmers, scooped the top prize in last week’s IPO48 entrepreneur contest.

The best way to make agriculture cool is for it to make money, but by also making agriculture relevant for the youth. Using best practices, new technology, and high profits (such as in the tea sector), Kenya won't go the way of Nigeria – a country capable of agricultural production but for which almost all urban foods are imported, not from the rural side, but from other countries.

– Limo Bankelele blogs on banking and business trends here.

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