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Tackling youth unemployment through horticulture

11 September 2019

Tackling youth unemployment through horticulture

Rachel Njoroge has an unrivalled sunny disposition. She laughs easily and occasionally stops to answer phonecalls from clients placing vegetable orders from her farm. As she recounts how she got into horticulture, she points out with a chuckle that she was well aware that with good husbandry practices, one could make a fortune through agribusiness.

However, she was oblivious of one factor: that horticulture could create significant employment opportunities for jobless people in her area in Trans Nzoia, western Kenya.

“I was elated when I realised the potential of my venture in creating employment opportunities. It’s interesting how employing yourself can end up offering limitless opportunities to young unemployed people,” says the mother of three.

As a participant in the Growing Futures project, which helps young farmers in Trans-Nzoia and Elgeyo Marakwet Counties, Rachel received support from Farm Africa to grow export-quality crops, set up sustainable relationships with buyers and run a profitable farming business that has created jobs for many others in her community.

Workers on Rachel's bean farm in western Kenya.

In 2016, nearly one in five young people of working age in Kenya was jobless. With agriculture contributing 26% of the GDP, providing 65% of the export earnings, and employing more than 70% of rural people, farming should be offering a solution to youth unemployment.

Rachel’s first harvest on half an acre was 2,100 kg of French beans after planting 6 kg of certified seeds. She hired 24 people to plant, spray, weed and harvest her beans.

Before she learned about export farming, Rachel used to farm maize, the traditional cash crop in Trans Nzoia. Currently, only a small portion of her land is dedicated to maize after she realised that horticulture has a shorter production cycle and is more profitable.

She supplements her income from French beans by planting tomatoes, black nightshade, cabbage, potatoes and kale, which she sells locally.

Rachel brightens up when she recounts November 2018. Just when the short rainy season was subsiding, she decided to plant tomatoes on two acres next to a river. Envisioning a looming water shortage, she hired labourers to dig a reservoir where she harvested rainwater for irrigation.

“After seedlings in the nursery bed had sprouted, I hired 15 people to transplant. Afterwards, I would get someone to spray the crop against pests and diseases occasionally. Diseases and pests are prevalent during the dry period. I thus invested in expensive chemicals to maintain a healthy crop. I also hired labour for irrigation once a week.”

In March 2019, harvesting commenced. Rachel observes that this was by far her best tomato yield yet. During the one and a half months of harvesting, she hired 100 casual labourers.

Thanks to market-led horticulture that the Growing Futures project promotes, Rachel’s produce was ready for the market when the demand for tomatoes was high, thus fetching a good price. The demand was so high that buyers picked the produce at her farm, saving her the transport cost.

“From the profit, I have bought a farm vehicle to ease transportation of produce to the market. I also ploughed back some of it to farming, paid school fees for my three children and saved another portion for future investment.”

Susan, a worker on Rachel's bean farm in western Kenya.

Susan, one of the workers now employed on Rachel’s farm, commented: “I can now raise money quickly to pay for my children’s school fees. Previously, my children used to stay home for whole terms at a time, but now they are in constantly in school. Their performance at school has improved. If this works continues for a long time, then I will be able to earn constant money, I see a good life.”