To create worthy agriculture jobs in Kenya, we must develop our upstream (i.e inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, machinery and technology).

Creating quality jobs in the  agriculture  in Kenyan market - What it takes

To create worthy agriculture jobs in Kenya, we must develop our upstream (i.e inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, machinery and technology) and downstream (value addition) and reduce emphasis on the midstream (food production). In Kenya today, anything about agriculture revolves around food production - on the farm.

Agriculture is a critical sector of Kenya’s economy contributing directly up to 26% of country’s total gross domestic product and another 27% through linkages with other sectors. It is also estimated that the sector employs  more than 40% of the total population and 70% of  Kenya's rural people. 

 There is not clear data regarding the level of income of rural population employed by agriculture but it is estimated that  the greatest majority are wage earner. Level of income is a very hard data to obtain mainly because informal farmers, mostly smallholder do not keep records. It is equally very hard to estimate because smallholder farmers practice mixed farming which renders generalization and extrapolation impossible.
Having said that, I am strongly convinced  that the 70% of farmers in rural areas live below the poverty line or slightly above, at least from how I have seen them conducting their lives and how much they complain when I meet them.
Looking at the numbers above, it is clear that agriculture is the mainstay of Kenya's economy given its contribution to GDP and the number of employment opportunities it provides.
 But one question we need to ask ourselves is about the quality of jobs created in our agriculture sector today across all value chains. The answer is a no-brainer - underemployment and low-quality jobs, because most employees of the sector are wage earners. History of agriculture in developed economies puts it clear that quality jobs in the agriculture sector cannot be created on the farm (midstream) but rather in a dynamic upstream activities (inputs) and downstream activities (value addition). Everyone will agree with me that almost 100% of smallholder farming in Kenya starts and end in the midstream-Subsistence farming in other words.

Industrialization in the avenue to creating worthy agriculture jobs in Kenya

Kenya must industrialize the agriculture sector by building capacity of local factories to manufacture agricultural inputs and to process produce for value addition. With industrialization, value chains become complete, from acquisition  of inputs to delivery of finished product to the end consumer. A complete value chain opens door for many players hence increasing opportunities for employment. Industrialization can be a step by step thing. For example, the following can be done to kick-off: 

  1.  Integration of smallholder framers into formal supply chains for them to benefit from economies of scale. A functioning supply chain can employ a lot of people with quality jobs,
  1. Increased production of high-value crops. This may offer incentives to entrepreneurs to invest in processing and value addition,
  1. Mechanization: One tractor can effectively render 200 people jobless on the farm. Only mechanization can relieve the manpower from the farm to the factories. If people continue to be hooked up on the farm to provide muscle power, there shall never be enough manpower to work in the downstream food processing, manufacturing, logistics, etc.

A case in point, one tractor can replace 200 drudges from the farm, but in return it can create over 30 quality jobs in manufacturing, logistics, marketing,  after-sales, servicing and parts.
In summary,  for quality jobs to created in the agriculture sector in Kenya, all stakeholders, development partners and especially the government must focus their efforts on liberating the muscle power held on the farms by putting more efforts and resources in other areas of value chains outside production activities on the farm.

Joseph Wambugu is a consultant on agribusiness
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