By Verenardo Meeme, Rootooba, 17 July 2020
An article published by a leading daily in Kenya caused uproar among Kenyans after it framed farming as an ‘odd’ job.
The newspaper attracted sharp criticism, particularly from the youth on social media for what they termed as a demeaning remark towards the industry that employs almost 60% of the workforce in Kenya and contributes directly to about 26% of the country’s GDP and another 27% indirect contribution through linkages with other sectors. The remark was used to describe how hundreds of teachers rendered jobless due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 are coping to earn a living, where majority have opted farming to ease the economic turbulence.
“The jobless teachers have had to take up odd jobs like farming and businesses to make ends meet. Equally affected are teachers employed in public schools by the boards of management,” the local daily reported.
The Oxford Learners Dictionary defines odd jobs as “small jobs of various types.” The argument by the writer was that teachers from private schools are now indulging in odd jobs such as farming. Yet, high youth unemployment is one of the salient challenges currently affecting Kenyan youths.
In response, young farmers proliferated twitter and Facebook with messages, stories, and pictures of what they do best, flashing out some of their best yields in their farms, with some arguing that during COVID-19 pandemic, what mattered was food.
Kenyans protested that the publication amplified negative perceptions around farming. This, at a time when various actors in the agricultural value chain are encouraging young people to embrace agriculture as a career or business venture.
But this should be treated as an isolated case as mass media has been pivotal in educating, informing agricultural value chain actors on various important information about beating agricultural production challenges as well as linking them with various markets.
“Is farming an odd job”? Wondered Paul Chege, a PhD candidate in Plant Sciences, Cereal Breeding and Biotechnology and researcher at Szent István University in a social media post, adding: “Should we not be encouraging more of our youth into productive agriculture ventures? We can do better,” he said.
“I thought COVID 19 pandemic would make us appreciate agriculture as an essential sector in the country’s economy,” posted Rogers Kirwa, Chief Executive Officer Agribiz Africa.
“It is what it is… Ever wondered why at times, our agriculture has never realized its full potential? Unfortunately, that is the general thinking countrywide with most folks, whereby it’s treated as a by the way hence no much zeal is put to it”—posted Brayan Hasman on social media.
“Unfortunately, the activity that feeds the nation and generates significant income for many is being referred to as an odd job. The isolated media piece is out rightly peddling the outdated mentality that one must be employed in a white-collar job to be respected. We must encourage youths-the future of any society to take up agriculture and feed the nation,” said Maingi Mingi.
According to Moses Abukari, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s Country Programme Manager and Youth Focal Point for West and Central Africa, when youth cannot find viable jobs in their communities, they begin to migrate from rural areas in search of opportunities in bigger cities or different countries where they face an uncertain future.
“Young people are usually not interested in this field of work, largely due to the perception that farming is antiquated and unprofitable,” said Abukari.
“The image of agriculture has traditionally been more about subsistence; you produce enough for you to eat. It is not seen as a business.” he added.
More than half of Kenyan’s population is below the age of 35 years, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) census report on socio-economic demographics released in March 2020. It further shows high dependency rates; rural youth’s ability to engage in productive agricultural and non-agricultural activities has social and economic benefits for young people and the economy.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Rootooba’s standpoint.