Youth Direct: Young People’s Participation in Agriculture – Stories and Experiences

Reaching young people is a fundamental goal for Producers Direct and for five years, we have been working with youth groups across our network to provide platforms and opportunities for young people to interact with their peers and other strategic partners and establish thriving agri-enterprises in Kenya and beyond. 

One of these groups is The Youth Innovation Hub in Kayonza, Uganda, which was created to work with young people, inspiring them to start their own agriculture businesses and supporting them to create thriving enterprises. Started in November 2016, the youth-led initiative has continued to be a place where young people share ideas, learn and continuously innovate solutions to show their peers that when powered by a generation of young people and with the right support, the youth can make a significant contribution in this crucial sector.

This September, a few members of the Youth Innovation Hub shared what their experience has been since becoming part of the network.

 

Saviour Natukunda  

Age: 27

Location: Kayonza

Before I joined the Youth Innovation Hub in 2019, I had just completed secondary school and was at home. Becoming part of this network was one of the best decisions I made because I felt like my eyes were opened. I have learnt about leadership, about different modern techniques that can be applied in farming so that smallholder farmers can benefit from their enterprises. All of these lessons have made me change my mindset about agriculture. Right now, I know that there’s a lot of value in agriculture and it is possible for farmers to make profit through farming.

As a youth agent, I act as an intermediary between farmers and buyers by enabling farmers to sell their produce to buyers in different markets. Through the platform FarmDirect, farmers in Kanungu district have sold bananas, vegetables and avocados.

I’m glad that I am able to help farmers and at the same time add a little more money in my pocket. I have learnt a lot about agriculture and through the trainings I have attended, I see a lot of opportunities that young people like me can explore in the field of agriculture and so I always try and share some of these tips and lessons with some of my friends to encourage them to be part of the Youth Innovation Hub.

 

Birahira Joachim

Age: 29

Location: Kyeshero, Kanungu – Uganda

I became a member of the Youth Innovation Hub in 2021. Before that I was a student. I have learnt a lot since joining other young people in the Youth Innovation Hub. Here, we work together as a team to conduct  farmer training for our farmers in Kayonza and we also encourage communities to participate in different activities that are agriculture related. Being part of the YIH has enabled me to build my confidence, because we are always interacting with different people every day, and I’ve built relationships with the community around me and beyond.

I have also learned a lot about saving and about agriculture. Some of the things I’ve learnt are how to grow vegetables in kitchen gardens, I’ve learnt about using plastic bottles for irrigation, growing vegetables in sacks especially where acquiring land is a challenge and I’ve also learnt about fish keeping. I have also managed to save some little money in my bank account and now I am sharing this knowledge with my friends and other young people like me in my community.

I love the YIH because our teamwork has helped us to achieve success in our projects and I am grateful to Keneth for his leadership and I look forward to continuing to build more innovations and learning more from my team, because together we all win. My goal for the next three years is to start a union where I’ll continue to work with farmers where I can support their work and engage even more farmers. 

Niwahereza Abias

Age: 28

Location: Kayonza

I have been a part of the Youth Innovation Hub (YIH) since February 2018.For these past four years, I have been inspired by other young people like me to grow my leadership skills because we are always exchanging ideas, and trying out new innovations. I have also had the opportunity to represent young people in agriculture conferences and forums in different regions in Uganda.The opportunities I’ve had to travel through the YIH have given me a chance to see the many amazing innovations in the agribusiness sector, some of which we’ve also tried to implement here in Kayonza. 

 

My network continues to grow because I now interact with more people and because we are always learning from each other, I keep meeting new people as I build my network. In these four years, I have attended many farmer demo-trainings, where I have learnt about urban farming and how technology can be applied in agriculture. One of my biggest lessons is about the power of teamwork. It is through teamwork and being in a group like the YIH that I’ve had all these opportunities to learn and meet new people and so my encouragement to other young people is to not shy away from being part of a community or a group like this, because there are many opportunities to share, learn and grow. 

 

Name: Turyakira Bruce,

Age: 27 

Location: Kataburaza kayonza, kanungu District

 

Before I became a part of the Youth Innovation Hub in 2016, I was a student. At the time, I had very little knowledge about agriculture, especially knowledge about how a young person like me can have a business in agriculture. My network of friends was mostly the people I knew around my village and very little beyond that. Literally, my whole world existed in my village and it ended there. 

When I joined the Youth Innovation Hub, it opened my world and I began to have a different view of the world. I started attending agribusiness tours and leadership seminars sponsored by the hub. I was among the few members who got selected to attend a one-week agribusiness tour in 2017 in Kenya. It was one of my most memorable experiences because that’s one of the events that really gave me a different view of agriculture and helped me change my mindset. The exposure I got from the trip was amazing, and I learned a lot and by meeting different people from across East Africa, I began to build my confidence. 

From this conference, I was able to raise money that paid for my first semester in university. The Youth Innovation Hub  has given me a chance to meet many people both young and old, who I’ve learnt a lot from. I now have a strong network of friends beyond my local community, which is great. From the many agribusiness tours and training that I have received, I’ve been able to start my own enterprises. I grow coffee and keep poultry and pigs.

When I joined the youth innovation hub I didn’t think that I would be part of this network of other young people like me. I remember our coordinator Keneth would encourage me to work hard and that if I continued to be persistent, I would join him and other young people and that we would work together. Now, I am here as an employee of the YIH and it feels really great because this is something that I love doing. I really don’t know what I’d be doing if I hadn’t become part of the YIH.

I encourage other young people like me to join such networks where they can engage with other young people like them, share ideas and set long-term goals which together they can achieve. Being part of the Youth Innovation Hub has made me see that when people work together, they can achieve even their long-term goals.

Q&A WITH OUR CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE MANAGER

Smallholder farmers in our network are organised into cooperatives or producer organisations which we refer to as Centres of Excellence (CoEs). Our CoEs are a farmer-run enterprise hosted by producer organisations. They ​support farmers through ​farmer-led training, ​funding through a farmer-led credit fund, ​market ​access, and farmers accessing applicable data to help them make better farming decisions. Through this model, we continue to grow thriving smallholder communities where each smallholder can realise their vision.

Agaba Keneth is a manager at one of our Centres of Excellence (CoE) – Kayonza, Uganda. Keneth has vast experience working with farmers and young people in Uganda and together with a team of youth agents, Keneth leads the day-to-day management at Kayonza. We spoke with Keneth who shared with us his experience working with smallholder farmers in Kayonza, the highlights of his work and the ways farmers can be supported to strengthen their enterprises and why more needs to be done to encourage youth participation in agriculture.

 

Take us through a day with you as a CoE manager. 

I am a passionate farmer and enjoy learning about farming, sharing my experiences with farmers and anyone interested. I am keen to understand the impact we can make in our communities, especially in agriculture. I enjoy working with young people and I work closely with the farmers in my community every day to understand what they do,  their challenges and how best to support them. I also like working with agriculture-related organisations that support smallholder farmers. I have previously worked with farmers in different communities as well as young farmers here in Uganda.

 

How many farmers are in your network in Kayonza?

Kayonza Growers Tea Factory has around 8,000 smallholder farmers, and we have around 3,000 smallholder farmers in our network. Some of these are part of the Youth Innovation Hub. They grow bananas, avocados, vegetables and do poultry keeping, dairy farming and beekeeping. There are also farmers who have ventured into value-added products like using bananas and pineapples to make wines.

Kayonza is mainly known for tea production, but farmers have begun introducing diversification products. Has this had an impact for the farmers?

Farmers have seen increased production because they’ve been applying a lot of the learning from the training sessions we have been having. They are selling more and adding a little more money into their pockets. Working with the youth agents has also been a great way to provide market access for these products. Through peer-to-peer learning, farmers can build a network of farmers they can learn from.

I’m also glad to see many more farmers in our network keeping records to help track the progress of their businesses. Another thing that has worked for us is our zonal groups. Grouping our farmers into zones has made training more structured and effective and we are able to monitor the progress and support the farmers more efficiently. The best thing about these zonal groups is that they were all created by the farmers. They mobilised amongst themselves and formed groups that work for them, and selected a committee that is responsible for ensuring the smooth running of all the activities of all the zones.

 

What challenges do smallholder farmers experience and in your opinion, what can be done to help break down these barriers?

Training is key. Farmers need information and skills about how best to use their land, how to make their farming a business and the many opportunities that exist and they can take advantage of. There are many subsistence farmers with big chunks of land that they can use to grow commercial crops and the thing standing between them and having these enterprises is a lack of training and skills. So in my opinion, this will be a good place to start. 

We also have seen many farmers who have excess produce from their farms, but lack the markets where they can take their produce. For these farmers, we can help provide access to markets and for others like banana farmers, we can train them on the benefits of value addition. 

Because of a combination of customs, policies and laws, young Ugandans are unable to own land. And getting parents, who are the land owners, to trust them with doing any kind of farming on their land is a challenge. And so, some young people lose interest in wanting to start something in agriculture. If young people could access land, they could earn a living from the industry.

 

From your own observation, what comes to the minds of young people when they think about agriculture as a profession?  Do they see it as an area where they can make money?

In a country like Uganda, with a population of more than 48 million people, most of our food is produced by older farmers – our parents and grandparents who make sure that we have food every day. If you take a look at previous years, despite it being the backbone of our nation, agriculture hasn’t been the sector that attracts young people. But what’s exciting now is the innovations we are beginning to see in the sector. Young people are now getting interested in the modern forms of agriculture, opening up the opportunities for younger farmers to consider this as a field where they can get into and actually earn an income from.  

For example, in the last five years, young people have ventured into a few areas across the agriculture value chain, like marketing and production. While acquiring land is still a challenge for most young people, a few farmers have started projects where they lease land to young people, where they can grow avocados. There are those who run their own micro- enterprises like pig farming, keeping goats, poultry, beekeeping and fish farming in small plots of land that do not require a lot of space. We have a Youth Innovation Hub in Kayonza where about 24 young people are doing commercial farming and they are also shareholders in our tea cooperative.

 

And what in your opinion can be done so that more young people can consider opportunities in agriculture?

I have been working with people for over 10 years now and throughout the years, we’ve tried different approaches to motivate young people to venture into the industry, and while some approaches have not worked and some have, I’ve learned a lot.

While lack of finance to start is a huge barrier preventing young people from wanting to consider a career in agriculture, I think we can first start by providing a platform where young people have a sense of belonging and they feel they can contribute. It is for this reason that we formed the Youth Innovation Hub in Kayonza. When young people came together to share ideas, we saw many more young people engage and that’s how all the micro-enterprises I’ve mentioned started.

My dream is to have an Africa Youth Innovation Hub, where young people from across Africa can showcase what they are doing in their countries, their innovations and inspire other young people like them. This way, we can learn about the gaps that exist and by working with young people, identify solutions that will enable the creation of more opportunities in the industry. If supported, young people can become successful agri-preneurs, designing innovations that will power the agriculture sector now and in future.

Tell us a little about your experience working with youth agents. 

Working with youth agents has made it possible for us to reach many more farmers in a day. We are able to allocate tasks in a way that is efficient and allows us to best support our farmers. Right now we are able to monitor farmers’ activities and monitor their progress as well. Working with youth agents has made it possible to deliver on a lot of our projects in good time.

Our youth agents facilitate sales between farmers and buyers. Our goal was to ensure that the farmers in our network and the surrounding communities understand the value of our Centre of Excellence in enabling farmers to access markets, and youth agents have been our champions in driving market access and training farmers and buyers about how to navigate the platform. We are proud of the work they do every day.

 

Please share with us how farmers in Kayonza were affected by the pandemic and how they were able to cope during the difficult period.

Our farmers were not exempt from experiencing the negative effects of the pandemic. Because of the lockdown measures, everyone had to stay home, making it difficult for our farmers to sell their produce and even when they could, they sold at very low prices. Tea prices went down and farmers who depend on a single cash crop were greatly affected. 

One of the ways that we worked together with farmers to reinforce the health measures from the government and to ensure that our farmers stayed safe and protected during the pandemic, was through sensitisation, using the training materials that farmers co-designed with the Producers Direct team. 

We are grateful that things began picking up after the measures were lifted. As we speak, I am aware that there are some organisations that closed down during the pandemic and they have never reopened. And while some farmers are still paying some of the debts they incurred during that period, they are glad that things are slowly going back to normal.

 

We’ve seen how climate change is affecting the agricultural sector. How are you helping farmers in your network deal with these negative effects? 

Climate change is a major challenge for farmers and they are noticing the negative effects too. One of the ways we are working with farmers is through reforestation. Farmers are planting trees and are learning about how to conserve natural forests. The introduction of diversification products has also greatly contributed to address food security.

 

Finally, what have been your highest and lowest moments working with smallholder farmers in Kayonza? 

The pandemic was the lowest moment for me because everything was closed, farmers couldn’t sell their produce like they normally would and things were difficult for them. 

Another low moment for me, which we are working on, is to increase the participation of female farmers. While we have female farmers in our network, their number is low when compared to that of men, and so one of my goals is to work closely with more female farmers to increase their participation and interest in agriculture. 

Our youth agents love working with farmers. It is always great to see farmers learning from the trainings. The peer-to-peer training in the farmer demonstration sites has greatly contributed to farmers learning and putting into practice what they learn in their farms.

One of my highlights is whenever I see farmers working together during meetings and training on the demonstration sites. It always gives me joy because I know that they are not only learning directly, but that they are implementing what they are learning on their farms and in their agriculture enterprises.

Q&A: Young Kenyan Agri-preneurs developing tech solutions for bee farmers

When three engineering students from Dedan Kimathi University of Technology saw the challenges bee farmers experience every day, came together and developed a solution. Jackline Tum, a tech enthusiast with a passion for using technology to solve community challenges was interested in helping bee farmers because growing up in Nandi County, she had seen first-hand how farmers would incur losses and fail to get value from their beekeeping ventures. Together with her fellow student, Joseph Musya and Clinton Oduor, they started IBees – an automated non-invasive method to help beekeepers remotely monitor the state of their beehives in real-time on their phones.

This way, farmers get notifications via the IBees mobile application that inform them about any potential risks to their hives, enabling them to act fast and deal with the challenges. Using the mobile application, farmers can also keep apiary records such as harvests and beehive operations tasks and schedules that allow them to track progress and stay up to date.

Last year in partnership with support from UK-Kenya Tech Hub and UK aid, Producers Direct held a Youth Direct na AgriBiz Digital National Innovation showcase to provide a platform for young agri-preneurs to showcase their work in the agriculture space and share their successes from these innovations. IBees won the best innovation award. We spoke to one of the co-founders Clinton about their brilliant innovation, their learnings as they develop it and their future plans for IBees.

How are bee farmers responding to the IBees innovation?

Clinton: At the moment, we are working mostly with bee farmers in Nyeri County and we just recently began to work with bee farmers in Murang’a County and so far, we’ve received positive feedback from the farmers we sampled. They’ve told us that there are a lot of challenges they are facing and having the IBees device is helping to provide solutions to some of  these challenges.  

 

Are there examples of farmers who have shared their challenges and how IBees is helping address these challenges?

Clinton: There is a farmer from Nyeri County who told us that she kept having issues with honey badgers and this was a big problem for her. The solution we offer using our device is the ability to detect vibrations, knocks and also tell if a bee hive has been toppled. Having near real time alerts for her was a much needed relief that helps her respond to these threats in good time. So, whether a farmer is close to the hives or not, they can receive alerts from anywhere in the world. 

We also spoke to a bee farmer in Kitui County, where there are many bee farmers, who told us that a lot (about 14%) of hives destruction is caused by honey badgers. This is a big number considering the number of bee hives that are currently in Kenya, so it is a big problem. We’ve also noticed honey badgers coming to our bee farm at the research centre, further reinforcing that they are a big problem for many bee farmers and farmers need to be able to detect their approach before they get to their hives. 

 

Tell us a little about the farmers in your network

Clinton: Most of the farmers in our network are above the age of 35, but they are also not very old. We have a few young farmers aged 35 and below, but most of them are still trying to understand the business of beekeeping, so they have not done it for a long time. Some of the farmers in our network do beekeeping at large scale for commercial purposes, but some just keep bees as a hobby. There are also farmers from counties like Laikipia County, where they experience human wildlife conflict, who keep bees as a form of protection against destruction by wild animals like elephants. 

 

 How have the farmers in your network embraced using digital tools in their day-to-day farm activities?

Clinton: Today,a good number of Kenyans can access digital technology. But we also acknowledge that this is not so for many farmers. Because of that, we’ve ensured that the device we have designed can be used by any phone user. For example, we have enabled alerts on SMS texts, so for farmers who own feature phones, using our device is not a challenge.  Besides, even bee farmers with traditional bee hives can still use our device

  

What winning the Youth Direct na Agribiz competition meant for IBees

Clinton: Winning the Youth Direct na Agri Biz competition last year was huge for us. First, it showed us that we are contributing towards improving the lives of farmers and helping increase their produce and in turn their incomes. It also made us know that we are enabling sustainable beekeeping practices and  playing a role in bee conservation. We are currently losing bees at a very high rate and this threatens things like food security going forward. The win also enabled us to buy some of the equipment and tools  that we needed to take our project to the next level. At the moment, we are doing extensive active learning before we begin to do this at scale, so that win was a great boost for this project.

 

What are the challenges you’ve experienced when trying to get more bee farmers to use your product?

Clinton: One of the biggest challenges that we have had so far is that some of the components needed to put together our device aren’t sourced locally, and so when we factor in all the costs incurred, the device becomes expensive for the average bee farmer. Because of this, it is difficult to convince a farmer to buy it. So we have invested a lot on our prototype to ensure it works really well before we take it for mass production. And we are hoping that if we produce it at scale, because many farmers will need it, the cost will reduce, making it affordable to many more farmers. At the moment, the device goes for 5000 KSH (USD 50), but after mass production, we are hoping the cost will reduce significantly. And after purchase, the only other cost the farmers will incur will be an annual subscription fee that’s about the price of a jar of honey, like 800-1000 KSH (8-10USD)

What, in your opinion, can be done to make young people consider opportunities in agriculture?

Clinton: As a young person with a technical background, I’ve seen a lot of innovations by young people in the agri-tech field. This is encouraging because it shows young people have an interest in developing innovations that farmers and the agriculture industry can benefit from. And while not all young people can be directly involved in agri-tech, I think there are many opportunities in this industry. The value chain is broader than just taking a jembe and going to dig. And I think if organisations and stakeholders in this industry can make the opportunities available for young people by offering the skills and training required, many young people will take up jobs in this sector.  

 

What’s next for IBees?

Clinton: Like I mentioned, we just expanded into Murang’a County and our goal is to scale beyond Kenya into other beekeeping countries. The challenges bee farmers are facing in Kenya are also common with bee farmers in other countries, so we believe we can help provide a solution. Aside from making profit from selling our device, we want to gather the data we receive from the devices from beehives in different locations and work with institutions to use the data to learn about how we can save our bees. We want to make an impact on our planet through saving the bees because the importance of bees for our environment and to our crops and food systems cannot be understated. So, aside from IBees being something really cool that my two friends and I designed, we want our work to make an impact in the world.