Food politics: Youth deserve a seat at the table
The country has been alive with talk of empowering and encouraging youth – many of whom suffer silently under the weight of food insecurity and the high cost of living – to participate in agriculture. Numerous workshops and seminars targeting youth have been held in the hope of fostering a generation of productive and prosperous young farmers. But are these efforts yielding any results?
In my interactions with young people especially those living in poor urban centres, I have learned that many of them are aware of opportunities to participate in improving the food situation in the country. They understand that food security starts with developing innovative ways of improving agriculture and changing their perceptions about the sector as a source of employment. They understand that when it comes to food security, the government has a bigger role to play than providing food aid or food handouts for politicking, although it is not always immediately clear or obvious how we as citizens, hold our leaders accountable to their obligations in our everyday lives. I have learned that youth need knowledge, information, skills and platforms for engagement around food security issues.
There are a myriad of reasons why many public and private sectors players are unwilling to take the risk and invest in this group. The result is that a significant portion of youth, who account for a third of the Kenyan population, has been conditioned to think that their time has not yet come – that they are tomorrow’s leaders who have a lot to learn before they can have a seat at the national table. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Contrary to popular opinion, many young people are agents of their own lives – they know what they want to achieve and will take the initiative to get there. There are numerous examples of young Kenyans who have proven their capabilities and whose contribution to social, economic and political progress should therefore not only be recognised but supported. Youth are an underappreciated resource especially in the realm of sustainable agricultural development and environmental protection, where I believe they would make a meaningful impact in ending systemic hunger.
It is inconceivable and shameful that millions of our countrymen and women, not only in arid and semi-arid areas but right here in Nairobi are going to bed hungry when we have an enthusiastic and energetic segment of the population that is bursting with untapped potential and ideas. A recent study by Well Told Story indicated that there is an increasingly large constituency of young people who are ‘disillusioned, apathetic and angry’ due to their inability to make ends meet. This is a ticking time bomb that must be addressed with political priority and urgency.
We must take action to harness the potential of Kenya’s youth. I believe an important starting point is for young people to learn that chronic hunger is a violation of Kenyans’ right to food as stipulated in Article 43 of the Constitution. Furthermore, youth should learn that increasing agricultural production – i.e. increasing the quantity of food in Kenya – is an oversimplified solution to a complex problem. We need to factor in issues surrounding the equal distribution of food and who has access to affording food, nutrition, education, transparency in the use of public funds and government procurement processes, environmental protection and the list could go on.
To do this is to empower youth to advocate for change in food rights. It might inspire a youth-led movement that raises awareness, especially among powerless and socially marginalised communities that the right to food is a fundamental right like any other human right. Such a social movement would play an important role in breaking down the barriers that Kenyans face in putting food on their tables and move youth from being apathetic spectators to active participants in policy-making decisions promoting workable solutions.
Instead of handing out placards and encouraging youth to go out on the streets to show support for their political leaders, we should be providing the resources, platforms and guidance to achieve meaningful causes. The ‘kazi kwa vijana, pesa kwa wazee’ era needs to come to an end, fast! We need to get to a point where we view all youth not as the clichéd ‘leaders of tomorrow’ but as indispensable agents of change.
Only then can we build a critical mass that is engaged positively in providing sustainable solutions to food needs for a ballooning national population that is projected to stand at 65.4 million people by 2030.
Juliani is a renowned hip-hop musician and founder of Dandora Hip Hop City (DHC) – a space to develop holistic individuals via music, art and tech.