Until recently, many young Kenyans saw farming as an unskilled, unrewarding profession, suitable only for the retired or the uneducated. Now, however, a group of determined young farmers are challenging traditional prejudices and trying to explain the attractions of farming as a profession. They are the ‘Mkulima Young Champions’ and have become figureheads for a digital initiative to change the way farmers are viewed by young people. Using a range of technologies, they are proving that farming in Kenya really is a profitable 21st century career path.
The group – Mkulima means “farmer” in Kiswahili – was founded by Joseph Macharia, a farmer and agricultural expert, and is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Its aim is to draw more young people into farming, help them learn from each other, trade, and overcome the challenges of agriculture together.
Daniel Kimani, one of the Mkulima Young Champions, is a typical example of the new breed of Kenyan entrepreneurs who are starting to see the opportunities farming offers. A trained engineer, he set up an aquaponics system to rear fish and grow strawberries. Now he earns KSh300,000 (2,600€) a month from it.
His system is resourceful and ingenious. Ammonia produced by the fish is filtered out of the ponds through stone-filled towers, providing free fertiliser and water for the strawberry plants that grow on them. Daniel is one of those proving to a generation of Kenyans that technologically-enabled farming is clever, lucrative and not necessarily labour intensive.
Since Mkulima Young started featuring champion farmers like Daniel and others, Joseph Macharia has noticed an appreciable change in young people’s attitudes.
“By having Mkulima Young Champions who are educated and young,” he says, “the attitude of the youth [towards agriculture] has changed, from viewing it as an activity for the old, to a profession that they can mint millions from.”
The initiative is about far more than publicity, though. Using radio, SMS and social media, it engages young Kenyans to discuss agricultural topics. Listeners to radio programmes can give feedback online, helping to shape the content and making it more relevant.
Meanwhile, Mkulima Young’s Facebook page, which opened in January 2013 and already has 19,000 followers, has become a vibrant place where young people post links, photos and videos, ask questions, discuss issues and interact with other young people who are passionate about agriculture.