L'Emploi rural décent

“Should I stay or should I go?” Migration through the eyes of young agripreneurs in Kenya


Growing up in a rural area and having seen his parents work on their farms for years with not much to show for their efforts, Paul never considered a career in agriculture. Like many other youth in Kenya, he perceived agriculture to be a dirty job full of drudgery that does not belong to younger, educated generations.

“We have been raised up doing farming, although it looked like some form of punishment, so it never rung in my mind that I could do agriculture” he said.  

Leaving his family behind, Paul decided to move to Nairobi. He established a business with a vision of gradually expanding it. However, five months later the business collapsed, and he lost all his money. Left with no alternatives, he moved back home empty handed but Paul’s desire to migrate did not fade away. He was convinced that a better future was only possible away from rural areas, in big cities or in other countries. Having done his research, Paul felt like Canada was a good country to migrate to and had even prepared his travel documents:

I wanted to fly away. We have a mindset that certain countries are better than ours and we think that if we go to those countries we can make it big” he added.

Unfortunately, his plans did not materialize, and  Paul became one of the beneficiaries of the Italy-funded FAO project ‘Addressing the adverse drivers of migration through local value chain development’ that seeks to address the root causes of rural youth migration by generating employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agri-business along selected value chains.

FAO trained Paul on good agricultural practices, entrepreneurship, value chain analysis/mapping and market research in support of his agricultural enterprise. In addition, the Organization went further to provide agricultural inputs and assets as a seed investment for his business. Through this support, Paul has been able to diversify his crop and improve the productivity of his farm, installing a drip irrigation system that allows him to also produce in the dry season, when he can sell at higher prices. He is also now a lead farmer in his area and uses his farm to train other youth interested in learning about good agricultural practices. Paul has employed a fellow youth to support him on the farm, given the growing demand for fresh produce and a heightened interest in exploring value addition for indigenous vegetables.

When asked why, in his opinion, youth prefer to move away from agriculture and rural areas he said:

“I think one of the reasons why agriculture is not attracting youth is low adoption of technology. If technology is brought into agriculture, it will bring high yields and more incomes. I have come to learn that most people who go abroad don’t really make a lot of money, because once they come back they are back to square one. Agriculture has the potential to create many jobs”.

In Kenya, youth represent 70 percent of the population (52 million people), a dynamic and tech-savvy group that could contribute to boosting the country’s economy. Addressing the youth employment challenge is critical, especially as nearly one million young people enter the labour market each year, and Kenya’s economy is not creating enough jobs to absorb the growing supply. With more than 75 percent of Kenyans living in rural areas, agriculture holds a huge potential for the creation of decent jobs for youth that is yet to be harnessed. 

More and more, the agricultural sector is looking at how to make the sector inclusive by creating an enabling environment where the most vulnerable and marginalized groups can be engaged.

Initially, people thought that disability was a curse” says Alex, a member of one of the youth groups supported by FAO, “but now I’ve changed the perception of the community and they are accepting that disability has only a few challenges […] I do my things differently, but I am a person like any other person” he adds. 

A family man and an avid pig, herb, spice and vegetable farmer, Alex has been able to carve his niche in agribusiness, where he supplies traders in the local markets. He was initially reluctant to engage in agriculture, like many young people of his age.

“My dad used to tell me to do farming, but I was not interested. I thought it was very dirty. That's why I did IT. I wanted to work with technology and computers, behind the desktop. Now my IT background helps me a lot, because I can learn and market my produce online. Technology has come to change what my dad used to do. I can sell online. Instead of taking my vegetables to the market, they are collected from home”.

Reflecting on youth migration, he says: Young people believe that Nairobi is the only place where you can make money or you can get employed. I take advantage of being next to Nairobi, because most of the population in Nairobi feed from here (Kiambu). That’s another reason why I decided to do farming. Youth should know that agri-business is also an employment. If you excel well in agri-business you can get as much as you wish to get”.

Access to finance remains a bottleneck for youth’s participation in agriculture. Through the FAO project, youth are being supported to access agricultural finance from both informal and formal channels. Hilda, a 25-year-old single mother, holds a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration.

“Every parent’s dream is to see his or her child being successful.  [For my parents] The main issue with taking a lot of money to allow me to go to university was to see me as ‘a big person’ maybe working with the government. They asked me – How can you spend four years in campus and end up doing what we are doing?” she said, explaining that at the beginning, her parents were not happy about her decision to set up an agri-business. There is a perception that farming is for old or uneducated people. But I am proud to say that I am a graduate and I opted to do this business. It’s important to be an educated farmer because you can’t sit there and wait for losses. You’ll see things coming before”.

The project has employed a savings group model, commonly known as Village Community Banks (VICOBAs) as a key strategy to enhance financial literacy and introduce a trackable savings culture that enhance youth access to financial institutions for future borrowings. In addition, these savings groups can be used as a delivery platform for training on agriculture, entrepreneurship, employability, life skills and financial literacy. They can also be used as platforms for financing agri-business activities and as marketing associations for agricultural products.

Through the community banks, Hilda was able to get a Ksh. 80 000 (USD 800) loan with which she bought 10 pigs to expand her pig farm. In February 2020, FAO took the youth groups on a farm learning tour. This is when Hilda learned from a pig farmer that making her own pig feed is cheaper and better for the pigs compared to buying from the agro-dealers. With the proceeds from the sale of 11 pigs, she bought a miller that she now uses to mix her own feed. This has reduced her feed costs from Ksh. 15 000 (USD 150) a week to Ksh 4 000 (USD 40).

Hilda is proud and determined to grow her business and make it successful: “Giving up is not a part of me. I know this is where my future is, and I’m the best the next big thing”

Ruth is an educated young woman who pursued the dream of migration and a career away from agriculture, but things did not go quite as she expected. “When I was a young girl, my dream was to be a teacher. Then later, I decided to join the hospitality sector. After my diploma, I decided to look for greener pasture. I got an invitation from a friend who is in the US. I went to the embassy, and I was denied visa twice. I was heartbroken […] then I had to make up my mind to rise up and walk”. Ruth has received training from FAO and set-up a poultry farming business. She said: “My friends were telling me – you are doing this job of poultry farming, it’s dirty – but now after joining FAO’s trainings showing us the right path, we have come to realize that it is business, it’s a source of income, it’s a source of employment”.

About her initial desire to move abroad, she said: There is no need to move to other countries. We have seen some youth going to Dubai, Qatar to look for jobs. Then they come back frustrated, and they are like - oh I wish I stayed in my country. This is our home, we can do it, the market is with us, wake up and go for it!.

It is undeniable that migration is key to transformation of the rural economy and a pathway that some rural youth will continue to choose. Efforts are therefore needed to see how the skills, knowledge and technical know-how that migrants and returnees offer can open up new opportunities in the agricultural sector for those who choose to stay.