Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has consistently told us that these are abnormal times and that we should act accordingly.
For young people, this comes amid hundreds of thousands of job losses, on top of six million unemployed Kenyans as per the last census. Furthermore, this makes cities unlivable, with rent and food prices being costly ventures for one without a job. Kenyans are broke and even if the economy was opened today, it would take a while for it to recover.
But all is not lost. We have an opportunity to focus on restructuring our nation in ways that are more sustainable. And there is no sector that provides such immense opportunities like Agriculture. Less than a month ago, Tanzania and Kenya’s squabbles led Tanzania to threaten to cut off supply of Kenya’s food.
Given that Kenya buys food and other goods worth over Sh50 billion annually from Tanzania, this was no small threat. And the Kenyan millers have been decrying the lack of sufficient grains in the country, with reports that they are importing millions of tonnes of maize from Mexico to cater for the deficit.
These factors point to the urgency of making Kenya food secure. And with the youth making up 70 per cent of the population, it is only right that they help feed their country.
Their innovativeness, creativity, skills and energy should be used to turn the 80 per cent of Kenya’s land mass that is arid and semi-arid into productive pieces of land.
Areas like the former Eastern province do well with fruit farming; vast potential that hasn’t been realised yet. If Israel has managed to find ways of growing apples in their desert of a land, there is no reason the youth cannot turn the country into a food producing basket, not just for itself but also for its neighbours.
They can come up with water harvesting techniques that suit their geographical context and diversify from maize farming to more lucrative crops and trees. Value addition is also another way of revitilising the sector.
For example, in rainy seasons, farmers in Central Kenya throw away tomatoes either due to bad prices that brokers give them or lack of markets. These are raw materials that the youth could harness to come up with their own tomato sauce companies.
And given that agriculture has been devolved, this presents a good opportunity for other areas of the country to open up as commercial centers too.
However, for all this to happen, the national and county governments need to be heavily invested. One major problem facing the sector is the lack of protection from cheap imports from other countries.
Young people invest in chicken rearing and eggs, but the country gets cheaper chickens and eggs from Uganda and South Africa. They invest in oranges but cheaper ones come in from Tanzania. This can’t be the case if Kenya is to be food secure.
The government must put its agricultural sector first, either by not taxing inputs or by ensuring trade agreements do not undermine Kenya’s agricultural products.