Thursday, 24 January 2013

Youth would embrace farming if parents stopped clinging to land

By Patrick Mbataru

Young people are increasingly finding agriculture appealing. Unfortunately, they face enormous problems, and that is where policy makers must step in.

Most people under 40 years have moved away from on-farm activities. Actual production has been left to the parents, mostly aged 60 years or more.
The dichotomy of labour roles in the countryside, between the young and old, mirrors the emerging orientation of economic productivity away from basic farming. Young people are engaging more in the profitable stages of the value chain, mostly in value adding activities like processing, packaging, brokerage and transport.

 In fact, government policies targeting young farmers should focus more on value adding activities. Yet the grave problem is the gripping control of farm production by ageing parents.
Cultural attitudes make it difficult for young people to participate in long-term agricultural production. Parents in many places do not allow eligible children full land rights, mainly because it is considered a bad omen to “be inherited” when one is still living.

Many parents fear that if they give land to their children, they will be abandoned as their children exploit the land. Parents therefore cling to land even in their twilight years as financial insurance, yet this greatly limits productivity.

Many parents are growing too old for meaningful agricultural production. They lack modern skills and the entrepreneurial attitudes necessary to enhance quantity and quality in the face of diminishing acreage.Watching them labour out with hoes and pangas does not inspire much hope in meeting food security. Besides lack of production skills, they may not understand the intricacies of the global agribusiness value chains.
To compound the problem, parents in Kenya actually socialise their children away from land. They educate them so that they can move out of what they consider farm “slavery”.
To many young people in central Kenya, for example, coffee is the symbol of rural drudgery. Few youths want to be associated with the rigours of coffee production — the disciplined husbandry, the grading that starts during picking in the rainy season, to the pulping factory — only to be paid peanuts at the end of the year. The glittering city is more alluring.

And that is not all. There is the punishing waiting for payment. Even if the younger generation would have the land rights, few would have the patience to wait for months to be paid. Most prefer to cultivate “three-month-crops”, like tomatoes that guarantee prompt payment.
This is the appropriate industry model for the highly fragmented rural firms. Being more educated and exposed, young people are aware of the folly of blind production. Their mantra is “you produce what you can sell” and not tie to selling what you have produced. Luckily for them, wealth creation in Kenya is steadily leaning towards off-farm activities.

Globalisation and liberalisation have gradually opened up international markets for high value agro-products. Emerging issues related to traceability, quality control, certification and even carbon crediting need a whole new schooling on the way we do agriculture.

A ballooning middle class, said to now stand at 32 per cent of the population, offers a huge market for quality agro-products. Note the increasing space for greens and agro-products in major supermarkets. Any supply manager in these supermarkets will tell you that a major constraint is to get reliable suppliers, both in quantity and quality.

There is an emerging market opportunities for carrot, wheat grass, cabbage juice and millet-ugali as a new health consciousness takes root. The new drive based on organic foods represents another wealth-creating opportunity.

The good news is that the older land-clinging generation is thinning out. In the high output highlands of Central, land is slowly being released through natural attrition, leaving their more entrepreneurial children to take over. Many young farmers also lease such land.

By Dr Mbataru teaches agribusiness at the School of Agriculture, Kenyatta University (

Reblogged from the Daily Nation Wednesday January 23, 2013

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