By Proscovia Alando, Alex Akidiva, Safina Musa and Ruth Lewo
Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of the Kenyan economy, having recorded 7.6% annually in the past two decades. The growth is fueled by increased demand for protein amid a declining fish supply from the natural stock. For the growth to be sustained and the potential of this sub-sector to create employment, improve household incomes and reduce hunger maximized, there must be a significant increase in the involvement of young people. The youth have desirable qualities, including the physical strength and innovation, required to develop aquaculture, but most of them have a strong apathy towards it.
Many young people find aquaculture unattractive because they are mostly involved in the informal, poorly paid and stigmatised roles in the value chain such as casual laborers in pond construction, harvesting, and post-harvesting chores and rarely in sales and marketing. There is also limited incentive, with the amount of money paid to workers of fish farms as wages or salaries not enough to make it appealing and lucrative. Therefore, the majority of them see farm jobs as a symbol of poverty.
Access to Land
The biggest barrier to youth involvement in aquaculture remains lack of access to land. In many communities, the predominant way of accessing land is inheritance, as many youths cannot afford to purchase land. However, owning land is also seen as a mark of adulthood. As the age at which a person is considered a youth rises -- in most case when marriage first takes place -- young people find themselves waiting increasingly longer to access their pieces of land. As they await their turn to own land, young people might work on the family land, but with limited roles in management and power on decision-making because of the gerontocracy prevalent in many societies.
For a long time, Kenyan education system has not emphasised competency- based education and training (CBET) promoting aquaculture. Many of the youth therefore lack the technical skills and knowledge necessary for one participate productively in the sector. Even college graduates of related disciplines do not have sufficient practical knowledge.
Then there is also the question of capital investment. Every business requires a capital investment, and aquaculture enterprises are no exception. For instance, substantial capital is needed to purchase costly fish feeds. But most youth who have interest in aquaculture find it difficult to raise the funds needed to start business. The youth also face difficulties getting loans from financial institutions in Kenya due to lack of collateral.
Preference for the white-collar jobs
The youth form 60% of the country’s total population. Out of this, about 54.1% are unemployed while just about 5.9% are gainfully employed. But they tend to prefer “neat” white-collar jobs with attractive working environments to farming, explaining why we have more older people involved in all types of farming activities, including aquaculture. The people who sell or advertise aquaculture have also portrayed it as a dirty job, unlike careers for doctors, engineers and the like.
Many farms have failed to attain profitability due to disruptions in their production process. Lack of stable government policies such as fish feed subsidy and skills training to cushion farmers against losses has made the sector unattractive to the youth.
Related to this is access to market information, which is key to the success of any enterprise. Many farmers, including young people, do not readily access information due to lack of extension services.
The aquaculture sub-sector in Kenya is also missing out on innovations that could make it look lucrative the youth. Youth are leading technological revolution in the country, remolding many sectors of the economy, but this disruption is yet to impact fish farming at scale.
Ways to improve youth participation in aquaculture
Widening youth involvement is essential to the future of aquaculture. It is therefore crucial to understand how youth can be better engaged in the sub-sector to access decent and meaningful livelihood opportunities. There is need to address the equity issues that hinder the youth from tapping the factors of production, finance, knowledge and decision-making. The government, private companies, development partners, research institutes – everyone— should support initiatives promoting meaningful engagement of the youth in aquaculture.
To create the mindset of being enterprising in the youth early enough, entrepreneurship development should be added to the curriculum in school. More attention should be paid to skills development through agricultural technical, vocational education and training programmes.
Setting up credit schemes for the few youths engaged in aquaculture, graduates and school leavers and building their capacity to run their enterprises will encourage their peers to participate in the sector, and build the production capacity of the few who are already in it.
Programmes aimed at boosting fish production through provision of training, infrastructure, inputs and extension services will also go a long way in encouraging the youth to participate in aquaculture.
To make aquaculture lucrative to the youth, areas along the value chain – other than low- wage production activities -- which possess high potential of employment opportunities must be looked into and developed. Youth can be involved in the distribution channel, as wholesalers to the retailers, fish processing or other value additions, marketing of products and consultancy or extension services on fish farms.
They can also participate in aquaculture as input suppliers, selling or distributing fish feeds and fish seed, for example.
There is an opportunity to supply feed ingredients to feed mills and packaged feeds to fish farms. The youth can actively get involved in new feed technologies such as BSF (Black Soldier Fly) and single cell protein production. Those with technical knowledge in fish production meanwhile can be contracted to help with research work such as data collection.
The writers are Aquaculture Fellows at the African Food Fellowship (firstname.lastname@example.org)