The government has launched a new program( KSh1.8Bn) targeting rural agricultural youth employment programmes in Western Kenya in partnership with the German Development Agency. Some 10,000 youths from Bungoma, Kakamega, Siaya and Vihiga counties should benefit from this, if all goes according to plan. The projects should improve the business environment and access to inputs, services and markets.
The Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture commented on the KilimoNiBiz program saying that it:
will increase their employability through competency-based training, promotion of job placement services and strengthening the self-organisation of the rural youthTherein lies the problem. Making people employable is not exactly going to resolve the problems that the youth face. As usual, it is not that the government and donors have not put in enough money in this and other similar causes. The problem is that the focus is wrong and hence the solution is evasive.
The youth should be enabled to become self-employed in collective schemes that have more chance of success. Improving employability is hardly the way to go. Kenya will lift itself out of the crutches of unemployment and poverty if the people can begin sustainable commercial ventures, each suited to the locality. A strong cooperatives movement is lacking and so even those who have fantastic ideas find themselves launching small businesses that go under because they cannot achieve scale.
Providing capital to many diverse businesses each with varying probability of succeeding is like shooting in the dark. I am a firm proponent of cooperatives and the implementation is not overly difficult.
1. Each county should identify its specific strengths. Arable ones can focus on agri-business. Some can focus on tourism. Yet others can be in the extractive sector.
2. Government (both national and county) as well as donors should help in the design and launch of cooperatives, refining the objectives and putting in place the infrastructure that supports the cooperatives. Agri-business areas need cold-rooms, depots for chemicals, trucks for transport for example. These should be provided to the cooperative movement.
3. Periodically (and upon proper evaluation), more capital should be infused into cooperatives so that members are allocated, each according to their needs to expand their operations. For example, if a cooperative sources farm inputs for a new project in bulk for a membership of 10,000 the savings are massive.
4. Technical assistance should also be channeled via the cooperatives and this should include nascent business advisory services and monitoring for the individual members.
It really is time to do things differently.