We will blame it all on our parents; but we must move on! African youths on Agribusiness

The question of why agribusiness has not yet had a stable footing amongst the African youths has been asked a million times. The most recurring answer is that the youth were misled by their parents from childhood. A young man in Migori, Kenya was recently asked why it is only at 29 that he is thinking agribusiness.

The following is the response he gave:

“Actually, it is not voluntarily that I have thought of engaging in agribusiness. This is an idea born of joblessness. It is after some years of absolute lack and despair that I have come to spot this opportunity.”

When pressed further to elaborate why agribusiness had to come as his last option, Mr. Perminus Olwak (not his real name) explained that from his childhood he has grown up to get a good job and live a good life. He says that this is a mind-set that was planted in him by his parents from when he was a small child.

The parents would encourage him to work hard in his primary school education so that he could get a good grade to earn him an admission to a popular high school, which he did. Getting to high school, now the encouragement team expanded.

Parents would always remind him that he needed to put more effort in his studies if he ever wished to have a good employment. The school would invite motivational speaker to come speak to the students of the numerous opportunities waiting for them in the ‘out-of-school (always referred to as ‘outside there’ in Kenya)’ life.

Believing that his life was a linear path moving from studies to a good employment and hence a great life, Olwak never disappointed at any given point of the journey. Even during his studies at Kenyatta University where he pursued a bachelors degree in Economics, this young man still held tight on the (blind) optimism that he was completing the programme to go get a good job and live a desirable life.

It is only after leaving the university with his degree certificate and traversing the Kenyan cities from one company to the other for about three (3) years with no single success  that the Kenyan Economics graduate started questioning the ‘from school to employment’ system.

Benson Muuru, another young Kenyan from Murang’a County confirms that he also suffered the same kind of a brainwash. In his third year of study, a finance lecturer asked him how much he anticipated to earn as his first salary. In his innocence and naivety, Benson said Ksh. 30,000. This response ‘shocked’ the lecturer who told the class that that was quite low a value for a finance graduate. He went ahead and told them that the least an employer should offer them as a first salary should be nothing below Ksh. 120,000.

In a way, this lecturer sounds ambitious, motivational, inspiring and helping. Unfortunately, that statement earned Benson at least a whole year of joblessness as he never came across any employer who was willing to offer him even half of his mention. It is until he realized that the job market is flooded that he ‘lowered his value’ and got a job which paid him something close to Ksh. 30,000.

I hope the two stories have opened your mind to the unemployment situation in Africa and how a wrong perspective (‘from school to office’) has accelerated it. One of these days pop in a 4th grade and ask those kids what they want to become in future. That is where you will meet all employees with no single employer in a class of forty.

 At that level, no one sees any danger. Actually, the best that is done is to encourage them that seem to mention the ‘not so desirable’ professions, such as policing, driving and teaching to upgrade their ambitions to something more enticing, for instance, Engineering, Aviation and Medicine.

These children leave their homes on one important mission (we can as well call it a commission from their parents and the society at large)- to go study so that they can get a good job in future and live a beautiful life. They get to school and their teachers confirm that indeed that is the purpose for which they are in school.

Some parents and teachers are often heard warning the young ones to work hard lest they find themselves ending up in the farms doing agriculture. Do you now see why Agribusiness has become the last option for the African youth? No matter how we ‘baptize’ things related to agriculture with such terms as Agribusiness, agripreneurship, commercial farming amongst others, we will not achieve much before we change the (traditional) perspective.

It is time we made it clear to our children that indeed there are jobs in our African nations, but these jobs are never enough for all learned people. We need to let them know that there are important terms in life, for example, business, innovation, entrepreneurship and others. Let our children learn that all people cannot become medical doctors same to other professions. Let them understand that agriculture is a dignified profession just like any other; the only thing that’s needed is the proper skills, adequate information and patience.

Agribusiness must be insisted on amongst the youth. These are people who have grown up knowing agriculture as an affair of the ‘illiterates’ and the older generation. A lot need to be done to make them change the perspective they have grown up with and embrace agribusiness.

Networking would be so essential in doing these agribusiness motivations. Let us have the few youths already in agribusiness on the forefront. It is easier to reach the youths with practical examples of those of their age that have succeeded in the same.

One critical area is the support needed to engage in agribusiness. African governments must look into it to ensure that the youths receive adequate support at least at the start. These support areas include, finances, information, market, technology amongst others.

We must walk the youth this agribusiness journey as they are somehow willing (or rather have been forced by situations) to venture into it. A couple of them have come to understand that their parent’s ‘commission’ is almost unachievable in this era.