By Magdalene Mukami
NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) - Unemployment rates in Kenya are at an all-time high, currently at around 40 percent - it was 12 percent in 2006.
Economic experts from the Federation of Kenya Employers, in the capital Nairobi, have described unemployment -which affects mainly the youth, 18-35, who make up about 35 percent of the population - as a ticking time bomb.
Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta has in the past vowed that he will provide job opportunities to the young people of his country who make up about 67 percent of Kenya’s unemployed workforce.
But some are tired of waiting and have opted to pursue an unexpected path.
In the agricultural town of Nakuru, about 160 kilometers (nearly 100 miles) from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Anadolu Agency caught up with 25-year-old Samuel Maina who had just graduated from Egerton University, in western Kenya, and had been looking for a teaching position. But unable to find a job, he decided to head back to his parents’ to become a farmer. In Kenya, it is common for people to be given land by their parents for farming.
And unemployed Samuel became Samuel Maina, one of Kenya’s top digital farmers, earning around 270,000 Kenyan shillings ($2,675) a month.
“What could I do in Nairobi town, just sit around without a job?” Maina tells Anadolu Agency while feeding his cows at his farm.
“Nowadays we as the youth are moving back to the rural areas to farm because there are no jobs in Kenya. Instead of sitting there and hoping that a miracle will happen, we employ ourselves,” Maina explains.
Samuel Maina is among the many youths in Kenya who have gone into digital farming, which uses technology such as drones or phones, tablets with apps to monitor the farm, be it identifying weeds, the type of sickness that is plaguing plants and animals (using the camera on the phone), feeding patterns, etc.
Maina is involved in hydroponic farming (growing plants in water, not soil). He says his crops – tomatoes, vegetables, spinach, peas and others - use 90 percent less water, compared to those of a traditional farmer.
He is also able to grow four times the amount of crops in the same space as traditional soil farming, he says.
Armed with his Ipad, Maina opens an application made for farmers, which scans the plants to identify potential weeds; he is delighted to find out that, for now, his farm is weed-free.
“The older generations refer to us as dotcom farmers because we use technology,” Maina added.
He closes the application and opens another one which has an electronic map of his farm,” As you can see here I have a complete database of all the plants in my farm, from my device I can easily monitor all the activities on my farm,” Maina explained.
A peek at the application and one can see a diary of farm operations that Maina has registered, noting down areas of interest; a notification pops up from a poultry applications saying, “Weekly cleaning recommended, chicks in shed 1 to hatch in 2 days, recommend purchasing chick starter [feed] if not available.”
Maina quickly reads the message and says, “I had even forgotten that I needed to buy chicken feed. You see, this is why you can never compare digital farming to traditional farming.”
Through digital farming, he has become his own boss. He is among the 79,000 young farmers who sell their products on the “Mkulima [Swahili word for farmer] young” Facebook page.
The application called “Mkulima young”, which connects farmers to buyers, has over 50,000 active users - an indication of the potential number of digital farmers in the East African country.
“There is employment out there, we should not sit back and wait for the government to create jobs for us,” he says. “Those jobs will never come. My advice to the youth is they should join me to feed the nation by becoming digital farmers, it is a job with little to no competition.”
Maina tells Anadolu Agency that, so far, there are 15 young digital farmers from the surrounding areas who are as successful as he is. Some of them, he says, were like him, unable to secure employment after completing their university education.
With the growing number of college graduates in Kenya on the job market, 26-year-old Beatrice Nyambura was in a similar bind but a single post on social media changed her life.
“I just saw a friend share pictures of cows on Facebook commenting that he had made more than 120,000 Kenya shillings ($1,190) from selling them. I sent him a private message and he agreed to add me to a group [of digital farmers],” says Nyambura.
“Nowadays, I am always busy, I earn more money that I would have earned if I had landed a teaching job after graduating from a teacher’s college, it is all about perception my dear, it is not that there are no jobs, most of us just don’t want to get our hands dirty,” she says, gesturing with her mouth to her hands, red with a thick layer of soil from weeding in her strawberry farm which bears thousands of fruits.
Like Maina, Nyambura always has her smartphone which has all her vital mobile applications.
"My phone is my life, this is what differentiates us from traditional farmers, we are the farmers of the future and I can assure you that you will always make profits from agriculture,” she says.
Nyambura says that with the growing population in Africa, digital farming is the only way that the African continent will be able to feed itself in the near future. She adds that digital farming addresses major problems affecting African countries such as water scarcity, pollution and land degradation.
Kenya’s economy relies heavily on the agricultural sector, which directly contributes 25 percent to the GDP.