Wind of innovation is blowing, can we harness it?

By Ng'ang'a Mbugua
Friday, January 29th, 2021
An elderly man undergoes a COVID-19 nasal swab test. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

How can policy makers and county governments harness the potential of youth and women-led agricultural enterprises to drive job creation and increase household incomes?

This question is becoming increasingly important in Kenya today given that Coronavirus has adversely affected traditional income streams in an economy where men have been the default bread winners.

The latest Human Development Report by the UN earlier this month indicates it is important to empower people, especially in weak economies, to be become agents of change if governments are to improve economic fortunes of individuals, households, communities and countries.

However, people engaged in these economic activities need to have the power to act.

They will need not only the right tools and technologies, but also policies that will make their efforts both meaningful and profitable.

The report warns that addressing inequality may not be achieved if some sections of the population feel left out or if relevant technologies are not available them.

For far too long, this has been the challenge facing youth and women who have sought to make a gainful contribution through economic activities.

Due to skewed social and cultural factors – which for instance conspire to keep girls out of school or to consign youth to menial jobs – these disadvantaged segments have not had as much impact on the economy as they should have.

Yet, youth are the biggest drivers of innovation, and given an opportunity, have the potential to scale it up.

That is why it is important for county governments to be more deliberate in supporting youth and women enterprises, particularly those linked to agriculture, as these hold the key to reducing income inequalities between individuals, households and regions.

There is need for an elaborate and measurable programme that promotes training, coaching and mentoring of these groups in entrepreneurship and business skills.

With this knowledge, they can make a significant contribution to the economy.

In turn, through this, the country can develop a long-term strategy for sustainable employment for both youth and women.

Indeed, various counties, such as Kisii and Uasin Gishu, have woken up to this reality, taking the first and crucial step in the journey to empowering their young people.

Only this week, they signed up for a Sh5.1 billion agribusiness programme to be funded by the European Union and Denmark, signalling their intention to support youth and women agro-enterprises.

For such programmes to have meaningful impact over the long term, policy makers at the devolved and national level should be tasked to come up with policies, rules and regulations that will make agriculture profitable.

For far too long, agriculture has been regarded as an activity for the unemployed and unemployable, with no deliberate efforts made to engage in a cost-benefit analysis of agriculture as an economic activity. This must change.

Secondly, those engaged in agribusinesses should be encouraged to move away from traditional modes of productions and embrace technology in how they produce and process harvests.

For instance, there is no reason why counties have not been giving incentives for investors to put up more milk coolants in rural areas and in factories that can process products like butter and fruit juices.

Besides creating an environment conducive for such investments, counties should also consider setting up business innovation and incubation hubs.

As has been demonstrated in more robust economies such as Europe and Japan, micro-industries ultimately feed the large conglomerates, thereby creating shared prosperity and value, from the smallest hamlets in the pristine valleys to the industrial behemoths in large cities.

However, for all these grand ideas to work seamlessly and feed into each other, policy makers need to encourage financial institutions to develop packages for financing agribusinesses as well as youth and women enterprises.

If need be, such packages can be guaranteed by government institutions to provide a safety net for lenders so that they do not burn their fingers in the quest to do good. — The writer is a Partner and Head of Content at House of Romford