Farming, like any other business requires research, business planning and market analysis before launching it. The challenges with youthful farming majorly stem from access to low quality information in this first stage of the business. Youth in Kenya have been brought up in an age where there is accessible cheap internet. As a result, the internet is their go to medium for learning about agricultural activities, best practices and markets. However, the internet has all sorts of information which has not been curated to filter out the genuine and authentic articles from the creatively written pieces.
Over the last 5 years since 2014, there has been an increase in websites that claim to offer agricultural advice. Most of them have sought the services of university students on 5 USD per 500 page article to flood their websites with all sorts of agricultural advice. These are especially geared towards promoting the next wonder crop that will “guarantee” abnormal profits. Other websites are busy on desktop research develop content. I am not against desktop research, but the effects that this information has on prospective farmers who believe it wholesomely are dire.
The biggest mistake a prospective farmer would do, is to read up on his enterprise of choice online. Then go forth and implement the idea without benchmarking with an actual farmer within the locality they plan to set up the farm or in a similar climatic area. In most instances, the projections done in online articles are optimal case scenarios which very rarely happens in real life. There are a myriad of intervening factors that are case and context specific that come into play. For example, soil pH, irrigation dynamics, disease and pest outbreak and cultural dynamics at the farm level all have to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Whilst most of these online articles focus on the costs and profits associated with the business, contextual factors mentioned above are the real determiners success or otherwise. The best source of advice on how to deal with these factors is best given by farmers who have actually done it in the area supported by professional advice from agronomists. Having this 360 degree knowledge beforehand will enable the farmer make informed decision on the venture.
It is sad that professional associations associated with agronomists and plant protection specialists and soil scientists don’t have an online presence where the youth can engage them on their areas of expertise. They remain a niche expertise area, rarely referred to and only accessed physically mostly within research institutions. With the breakdown in government agricultural extension services, one would expect that national agencies dealing with agricultural production would be thorough in putting out educational material online as an alternative medium of accessing information. Sadly, they have followed agricultural blogs by following the riches story. Agencies that put out informative material have slow updates and the articles are mainly research publications, not easily digested by the average youthful farmer.
In conclusion, there needs sustained push by the government for agricultural extension services online in the absence of the officers on the ground. Similarly, there needs to be concerted efforts by players in the agricultural sector to validate and list/rank blogs/websites that offer genuine advice to farmers. This will offer some guidance to the youth on authentic sources of information online. Hopefully, this can lead to fewer youth bowing out of agricultural activities due to huge losses.