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Youth have a big role to play in creating sustainable food supply chains

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In 1999, in its resolution 54/120, the UN General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth that every 12th  August be declared International Youth Day. The Assembly recommended that public information activities be organized to support the Day as a way to promote better awareness of the World Programme of Action for Youth, adopted by the General Assembly in 1995.

This year, the theme for International Youth Day was “Transforming Food Systems through Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, and development agencies and relevant authorities are keen on rallying the world to recognize that the success of such a global effort will not be achieved without the meaningful participation of young people.

It has been acknowledged that there is a need for inclusive support mechanisms that ensure youth continue to amplify efforts collectively and individually to restore the planet and protect life, while integrating biodiversity in the transformation of food systems.

With the world’s population expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years, it has become recognized by numerous stakeholders that simply producing a larger volume of healthier food more sustainably will not only ensure human and planetary wellbeing but also is a key strategy for poverty reduction; social inclusion; health care; biodiversity conservation; and climate change mitigation.

According to a UNDP study, youth unemployment in Kenya is higher than the overall national unemployment rate. While the latter is around 10% it goes as high as 35% for youth, depending on the age group. 80% of the currently 2.3 million unemployed are young people between the ages of 15 and 34 years. 

Agriculture remains the backbone of Kenya’s economy directly contributing 24% of the annual GDP and another 27% indirect contribution (ASDS, 2010 – 2020). The sector is therefore critical in creating employment and uplifting the living standards of the Kenyan people.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries National Youth in Agribusiness Strategy Report (2017-2021); there are a couple of strategic issues which have contributed to a low number of youths taking interest in agricultural activities. These issues include negative perception about agricultural activities; limited knowledge and information; limited participation of youth in agricultural innovations and research and limited access to financial services among others.

However, to salvage the situation, there are a handful of Kenyan corporate organizations which have taken the mandate to rally youths to invest in the agriculture value chain and take interest in agricultural activities by providing them with the necessary support they need. For instance, Equity Group Foundation through their Education and Leadership Development Pillar and the Food and Agriculture pillar has invested in training and mentoring youth thus encouraging them to take agriculture related courses, invest in the agriculture value chain and innovate within the same space.

Through Equity’s TVET scholarships, 98 scholars have undertaken or are currently pursuing agriculture related technical courses from various institutions within the country while another 150 Equity Leaders Program (ELP) scholars are pursing almost similar undergraduate degrees both locally and internationally.

Kenya, which is many times, hit by natural disasters in form of drought, floods and locust infestation often finds itself with a shortage of food supply with many people and livestock suffering from the same. In fact, according to the recent drought update report by the Kenya Red Cross, nearly 2 million people in 12 counties face server food insecurity following prolonged drought. This has resulted in malnutrition and long-distance travel in search of diminishing resources. Such issues call for innovation in how we store food and how to plant and grow food amidst the harsh climatic conditions.

This can only be done when agriculture stakeholders come together and work towards creating sustainable food supply chains.

Governments ought to invest in research and in creating policies and systems that promote innovation particularly among the youth, education stakeholders need to demystify the myths around agriculture related courses and show young people that agriculture remains essential in the success of economies and finally banks and other financing partners need to find ways of financing agriculture startups and think tanks to promote agriculture entrepreneurship and technology innovations.

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