In a remarkable effort to address the challenges the youth face in agriculture, Joseph Macharia, proved that social media has the power to effectively engage young people in agriculture and that agribusiness is indeed a viable alternative to formal employment.
The New Idea
By using social media platforms and a crowdsourcing strategy, Joseph at once engages a new generation in the agricultural sector as well as creates a database of cutting edge best practices for all to use. Joseph aims to increase the number of young people participating in agriculture so as to promote food security, create new opportunities for sustainable development and contribute to the realization of Kenya’s national development strategy.
Paired with his crowdsourcing strategy, he identifies outstanding young people that are engaged in entrepreneurial agricultural activities and disseminates their ideas and success through radio, Facebook and Twitter. An SMS feedback system is paired with radio programs, allowing regular feedback from target listeners to shape the content and continue honing the best practices.
Joseph believes that both increased adoption of smart farming technologies by the youth as well as effective marketing of the produce - which is core in agriculture - will enhance productivity in the sector and attract more young people to venture into this space. With Mkulima Young, Joseph has created the “one stop shop” for information, marketing and finance for youth in the agricultural sector.
Agriculture continues to be the country’s most dominant economic driver in terms of gross domestic product and employment rates. With 75% of the Kenyan population under 30 years of age, young people have the potential to continue this trend well into the future, preserving their families’ farming techniques fo generations. This large portion of the population is potentially a major driving force not only in agricultural development but also in climate change mitigation. However, the average age of farmers in Kenya is 55-65 years old. Additionally, older farmers don’t listen to younger farmers, as the older (more prevalent) generation thinks their timed-tested ways are best.
Given the levels of youth under- and unemployment in rural areas, this low level of explicit focus on rural locations and on youth gives cause for concern. Farmers and agricultural extension officers are aware of the risks presented by the lack of youth engagement in agriculture; however, solutions to overcome this issue have not been forthcoming.
In Kenya, about 23.5% of the working poor are young people and the majority of these poor youth live in rural areas. Because of limited job prospects, many young people leave rural areas to seek employment opportunities elsewhere, or worse, stay “idle” in their towns and turn to drugs, alcohol and crime. Despite the potential of agriculture and the rural economy to be the engine of inclusive growth and youth employment, younger farmers have come to see a job in the agricultural sector as a “punishment” - a job you get when you failed to receive a full education.
Several things need to happen to reverse this. Firstly, young people must first change their negative perception towards the agricultural sector, something that must be done in tangent with the enactment of an enabling environment, access to information and services and good infrastructure that facilitate smart production and access to markets. This would contribute significantly to increased employment and increased income for enhanced food security, poverty reduction/ economic growth, and overall sustainable development. In addition, young farmers are plagued with problems affecting their productivity and marketing like middlemen offering meager prices for their produce, delays with payments and expensive farm inputs.
Existing efforts to provide smallholder farmers with information have largely failed to target young people. Initiatives such as Farmer Voice Radio and M-Kilimo provide smallholder farmers with current information on new farming techniques through radio and mobile phones. However, they have not effectively targeted the youth and as such their impact is limited to older farmers, with the youth feeling that the programs do not ‘speak their language.’
Joseph began by identifying critical segments in the agriculture value chain that are attractive to the youth before developing content for the various Mkulima Young platforms. The content is verified for accuracy and then disseminated in a targeted and frequent manner. By leveraging feedback from listeners, Joseph is able to provide follow up in terms of additional content, individual and group linkages as well as market information. The platforms also feature young farmers who are profitably engaged in agriculture in order to inspire others. Finally, the platform provides opportunities for peer-to-peer sharing, question and answer forums and marketing of agricultural produce and products.
The Mkulima Young Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/mkulima.young - acts a platform for the youth to ask questions, share advice and also buy and sell products and services on the interactive website. In an effort to capture the full potential of the idea, and taking into account the high penetration of mobile technology in Kenya, Joseph has designed a mobile version of Mkulima Young as well. The page has attracted over 32,000 followers thus far, with the most popular age group being between 25 - 34 years old. Similarly, the Mkulima Young Youtube Channel provides young people with video content for learning about various farming practices. The channel has over 300 subscribers and viewership of the videos ranges from 300 to over 5,000. In a country that is still rapidly growing its access to technology, these numbers are unprecedented.
In a multi-pronged strategy, Joseph also utilizes other media platforms, particularly vernacular radio stations, to reach young people who may not have access to the internet. He holds a widely popular radio program on Coro FM, airing daily in the early morning hours. This is in order to catch as many listeners as possible before they engage in their daily activities. During these sessions, Joseph answers the audience’s questions and provides them with advice on their specific agribusiness ventures.
Finally, Joseph selects Mkulkima Young “Champions::” young people already succeeding in agribusiness. Joseph features these young champions on all his outreach platforms as role models for other young people. The Champions also offer advice to young people who may be looking to venture into the same line of agribusiness. Currently, Mkulima Young has over 50 Champions in different fields of agribusiness, ranging from rabbit farming to mushroom farming, hydroponics, and even aquaponics.
All in all, Joseph is changing the way farming is perceived by youth – from an antiquated practice only carried out by their grandparents to a viable form of employment and a lucrative source of income - in modern Kenyan society.
Joseph was raised by his uncle, a small-scale farmer in their village, and thus his passion for agriculture grew from a young age. He bought his first rabbit while in fourth grade, which introduced him to ownership in farming. With this newfound interest in the sector, Joseph started breeding rabbits and chickens, earning enough money to pay for his own clothes and other necessities throughout school. While in university, Joseph carried out a breakthrough research project in the domestication of stingless bees in Kenya, an endeavor that won him global accolades. He was thereafter engaged in a teaching job at a local university (which he later quit in order to pursue his passion for community development).
Joseph holds a BSc in Agriculture Education and Extension from Egerton University and is a Master of Science graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. His field of competence is in agricultural advisory services, extension, communication, organizational development and institutional strengthening, as well as strategic planning for farmers’ organizations and planning, designing, implementation, monitoring and evaluating of training programs for rural development.