Monday, 6 November 2017

What Exactly Happens at a Climate Summit?

Climate scientists, lobby groups, business community, and government delegations are at #COP23 and this is what actually happens there.
Those with interest in capacity building and technology can read this blog that outlines progress made so far and what will be happening these two weeks. The author has also written about the discussions around adaptation and loss and damage at COP 23.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Nature-based solutions to youth livelihoods and economic prosperity in Africa

Source: IUCN
To truly address the issue of youth livelihoods in Africa, we have to concentrate our efforts on the diminishing natural resource base that equally demands our attention for sustainable management. Among the pillars to be considered in a nature-based framework for youth livelihoods include climate change, biodiversity, and agriculture. Such a framework shall ensure that policies, programmes and investments are contextualized to respond to youth unemployment, poverty reduction, and ultimately, they contribute to shared economic prosperity in Africa.
Nature-based solutions is an evolving concept of living solutions inspired by and continuously using nature to address various societal challenges in a resource efficient and adaptable manner and to provide simultaneously economic, social and environmental benefits. A proposal for youth-responsive nature-based solutions is informed by two interconnected realities of global change and achievement of sustainable development in Africa. Firstly, according to the FourthAssessment of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Africa is warming faster than the global average and temperatures could increase by as much as averagely 3-4°C this century. This, coupled with other impacts of climate change, makes climate change a major economic challenge as the effects of warming translate into increased health challenges, reduced agricultural productivity, water scarcity, and displacement of people etc. Secondly, the demographic dividend is an integral part of African development; youth are both victims of poverty and inequality as well as key actors in driving inclusive and sustainable growth. By 2050, young people below 34 years will form the largest cohort of African population. This implies that majority of African leaders at local, national and regional level will be young people making decisions based on the capacities and resources at their disposal.
If these two issues were indeed the drivers for Africa’s prosperity, it then means that the growing youth population are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts but they are also have two mandates for the continent: first, as victims, to address their vulnerability and marginalization in the economy; and secondly, as leaders, to drive adaptation and resilience of African communities because they have the potential in their numbers, dynamism, and in access to new knowledge and technologies. Consequentially, sustaining youth livelihoods should not be pursued as stand-alone ‘youth’ programmes; rather, they should be integrated into existing policies and programmes. I explore the different approaches that nature-based solutions could take in climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and agriculture to address youth livelihoods, poverty reduction, and inclusive growth in a new framework.
Climate change adaptation
In nature-based climate adaptation, the goal is to preserve ecosystem services that are necessary for human life in the face of climate change and to reduce the impact of anticipated negative effects such as intense rainfall, frequent floods, heat waves or drought. Currently, climate adaptation policies do not explicitly consider young populations as key drivers and actors in adaptation strategies. Firstly, researchers, policy makers and investors ought to provide data on the economics of including youthful populations in climate change adaptation. Such should account for the diversity of young people, including their education levels, geographical distribution, mobility capabilities, population growth projections, gender, talents, and innovation capability that can be tapped towards adaptation strategies. This should be followed by an assessment of existing case studies of youth-responsive climate adaptation strategies in developing countries, examining their suitability for scaling up, and designing an appropriate way of integrating them in national and regional adaptation plans. On the other hand, working at local, national and regional level to inform policies and financial instruments that include youth-responsive adaptation strategies.
Biodiversity conservation
Loss of biodiversity will be a major consequence of the impacts of climate change in Africa. Addressing the socio-economic needs of poor communities directly and indirectly dependent on biodiversity reduces the pressure to exploit the resources and increases a conservation ethos. However, little is known about the contribution of young populations to biodiversity loss (or preservation), and how this population cohort can be supported to drive conservation efforts that are remunerative to the youth while significantly addressing biodiversity and socio-economic needs in the face of climate change. Specifically, we ought to invest in a framework that guides our investments towards providing data on youth populations dependent on biodiversity, directly and indirectly, and use this in designing conservation-poverty reduction strategies for young people. Such investments should also be directed towards developing pilot studies that address youth inclusion in programmes such as payment of ecosystem services for example renewable energy value chains, maintaining and regenerating natural habitats, or incentives for sustainable use of biodiversity.
Climate-smart agriculture
Agriculture remains a backbone of most African economies and a major source of employment for rural populations. Success stories of agricultural systems that sustainably increase productivity; enhance climate adaptation; reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions; and enhance achievement of national food security and development goals have been documented around the world. However, there remains a challenge of scaling up these CSA especially because of the ageing African farmers, most of who lack the know-how and flexibility for adaptive measures, and few have the social capital to inspire innovation. Investing in Africa’s youth dividend promises real benefits to CSA by providing the numbers of new, innovative, well-educated, and flexible farmers. The proposed framework should ensure a strong collaboration among diverse stakeholders in ensuring that CSA is scaled up by prioritizing investments in further understanding of which CSA approaches would be most suitable and beneficial to new and young people. This must be followed by quantifying and including youth-responsive CSA practices to benefit from climate change investments such as carbon markets further propelling CSA adoption and increasing youth employment opportunities. And finally, designing context-specific financial instruments that meet the needs of CSA and address overall economic development needs of the countries.
The move towards nature-based solutions is valid because most are often lower cost, longer lasting, and have multiple and synergetic benefits for a variety of sectors and political goals. Since most African countries are largely reliant on natural resources, nature-based youth livelihoods are timely and relevant for economic prosperity and sustainable development.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

#Collections: 'Green Curtains' is an idea worth spreading


Are there limits to teaching and learning? No. Are there limits to how far transformative ideas can spread? No. In the past few weeks, I have been studying the Green Curtains of Japan, an initiative of the government to reduce energy consumption by planting climbing plants on commercial and residential buildings.
What strikes me most, however, is how this idea has the potential to be replicated in thousands of schools in some regions of this continent where it would achieve multiple benefits beyond those in Japan. where not only would such green curtains reduce classroom temperatures, they would also reduce the dust entering classrooms, provide vegetables to supplement school meals, while also providing a living classrooms for the pupils.
Specifically, in arid and semi-arid regions, where I have had a chance to work with primary schools in the past, school compounds are often bare, and there is minimal rainwater harvesting. These two challenges would be addressed as water from roofs is captured to maintain the growing of climbing plants while the once bare compounds would be greened with decorative and edible plants.
Unlike in Japan where certain plants have already been identified for the purposes of Green Curtains, replicating this idea to different parts of the continent would require identification of what climbing plants would do well in what climatic conditions. Of course this is agricultural information already available with extension officers, and the effort would be in accessing and ensuring the right practices are adopted at the school level.
Importantly, would be the integration of Green Curtains in not just the teaching and school meals, but also the inclusion of the wider school community including the school management and the community members who would learn and replicate such ideas in their homes. Hence, Green Curtains would address much bigger challenges of food security and nutrition at a household level, and if scaled up, might even result into an income-earning activity for households as they sell the produce from their curtains!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Encouraging Collaboration for Land Restoration, Experiential Learning, and meaningful Youth Livelihoods

As a youth researcher, I am always interested in asking deeper questions on how development-environment policies interact with the youth demography, particularly the need to create meaningful livelihoods amidst complex challenges of sustainably using our natural resources. While there is increased effort to engage young people in agriculture, there is little concern for connecting issues of land use with land restoration policies and initiatives in the context of young people as actors. Yet, to truly achieve agricultural transformation, land restoration and improved livelihoods, we must ensure that all actors using the land resources are engaged and considered in policy design and implementation. It’s therefore imperative to consider aspects of how and whether land is obviously available for young people (either for agriculture or restoration), who holds the tenure rights, and who will benefit from the land use and restoration practices. Initiatives such the African Forest Landscapes Restoration Initiative (AFR100), or closer home, the Kenya’s Farm Forestry Rules of 2009 which stipulate a 10% tree cover on farms, stand to yield real benefits in they indeed factor in the potential of working with and including the 70% of Africa’s youth population in their implementation strategies.
Land tenure and access rights in Africa are complex. Thus, pathways to land restoration and meaningful youth livelihoods must first demystify the claimed land-based opportunities and then design innovative solutions to the multiple and complex challenges. Because land tenure issues are a conglomerate of political, economic and social-cultural complexities, we might not achieve much with streamlining land policies in the short-term. However, there are multiple other opportunities for engaging young people in land restoration and agricultural transformation while also providing a platform for experiential learning and widening the opportunity space for meaningful livelihoods. Here are two proposals:

Land Restoration for Experiential Learning
Given the increased efforts to implement SDG4 on Education, majority young people aged 7-24 years will be found in an education institution. Most of these institutions are endowed with tracks of land which is often under-utilized. Given the need to make learning more experiential, land restoration policies present an opportunity for creating living labs in all forms of education institutions for both the learners and surrounding community. My experience as part of the team implementing the Healthy Learning Programme in Kenya taught me that there is great potential in using learning institutions to demonstrate how different actors can work together to address challenges that cut across education institutions, households, communities and even local governments. As schools identify and design solutions to their localized challenges, they become aware of how their challenges are also reflected in their society and hence the need to collaborate with different actors in designing solutions. Internally, they are also able to bring such challenges into the classroom as live teaching aids and opportunities for connecting learners to the outside world.
Land restoration is so significant for education institutions that it can be taught from the lowest grade to the highest grade such as university research and industrial application. For instance, a simple activity like tree planting becomes integrated in the teaching curriculum and an extra-curriculum activity as well as a community service initiative. As learners in lower levels learn how to identify, plant and care for trees, those in high schools and universities can engage in designing land restoration enterprises, conducting research projects, and even leading advocacy campaigns. The trees themselves have multiple benefits – fruit trees, shade trees, source of firewood, timber, medicinal, and the list goes on and on. They provide a living lab for teaching of science subjects, developing soft skills and as well become a symbol for other engagements in society such as environmental activism. For instance, learners are able to design land restoration activities as a social enterprises where they develop mobilization, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Furthermore, students are major influencers, providing a bridge between science, policy making, and implementation on the ground.

Land restoration for decent youth jobs
It is crucial that land restoration policies address the most critical issue with regards to young people in Africa: unemployment. In Kenya for instance, what does a 10% tree cover on a farmland mean to a household in need food, shelter, and better health services? Where land policies prohibit certain land use practices, how can marginalized individuals be included in restoration activities that yield an income? How should we design business models that address land restoration while also improving the livelihoods of the individuals and communities with limited land use rights? There is need to open up this conversation on how young people, who obviously have limited access to land, might proactively engage in land restoration initiatives as income-earning activities. Who might be right actors to bring on board? What kind of investments might be required and what additional policies might be worth pursuing?
Fundamentally, land restoration is not just about planting trees in schools. It is about the whole system of maintaining the soil health, conserving agro-biodiversity, preventing land degradation, conserving water, among others. It would then require actors willing to think in systems to design initiatives that result in multiple benefits for both land restoration and youth livelihoods. For instance, in a changing climate, linking land restoration with climate adaptation and mitigation could attract climate financing which would then create livelihood opportunities for young people.
It is also about behaviour change which has often been left out in the discussions around land restoration. There has been increased focus on the science of restoring African lands, with little discussion on the social aspects of land degradation and need for campaigns that can effectively promote a culture of sustainable land use practices at all levels.  These moves, what one would call a multisolving approach, are essential in ensuring collaborations in policy design and implementation yield multiple benefits for the people and the planet.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Options for Promoting Youth Engagement and Employment in Climate-Smart Agriculture (Part One)

The global food demands will double by 2050 as the population increases. Concurrently, climate science suggests that our agricultural production methods need to adjust to less predictable rainfall, warmer temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events. Several major research reports demonstrate that agriculture could address climate change, unemployment, urbanization, desertification, water pollution, among other environmental challenges.
With these escalating challenges of food and climate change, it is in the interest of development organizations, governments, private sector, and communities to invest in agricultural practices that are adaptive to climate change; that lower or prevent associated greenhouse gas emissions; that generate income for farmers; and that ensures food security. 
Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) fulfils these needs; champions the international development community. It is agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces or removes greenhouses gas emissions (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national/global food security among other development goals. Its elements which comprise of effective practices - ranging from conservation agriculture, agroforestry, watershed management among others - are already practised by pockets of smallholder farmers across the globe and could be scaled out to increase productivity . 
With increasing vulnerability of communities to climate change impacts and projected future impacts of climate change, it is urgent to adopt and scale out the CSA practices and innovations across the world, particularly in developing countries where most of the food is produced. However, the ageing population of farmers is less likely to understand this urgency, let alone develop the capacity to adopt these innovations. A new generation of farmers is required. 
There is increasing worldwide momentum that recognises young people as the new generation of food producers. Smallholder farmers in developing countries supply up to 70 per cent of the world’s food . In these countries too, over 40 percent of the population are young people, who face increasing unemployment rates. For instance, two-thirds of the population across sub-Saharan Africa are below the age of 25 years. Of these, 44 per cent are below 15 years of age. As food demand increases, there will be a growing pressure on these younger people to feed the future and contribute meaningfully to their national economies.
Young people can substantially contribute to agriculture and rural development, but often, systemic challenges  hold them up:- 
  1. The prevailing perceptions and attitudes towards agriculture mainly acquired when growing and schooling. The current generation of young people have been socialized to look down upon agriculture as a dirty, unproductive, and poor man’s activity for the unschooled, and instead value white collar jobs. Unfortunately these are not forthcoming, and the world populations continues to increase demanding more food ;
  2. Lack of an enabling environment for prospective young farmers including access to productive like land and capital, markets, research and partnerships; 
  3. Lack of a favourable political environment for the agricultural sector at a national, regional, and international level, for instance in trade, infrastructure, transfer of technologies etc.;
  4. Inadequate skills and skills mismatch among the youth (e.g. in production, processing and business skills). Education reforms have failed to produce skilled workers, while the teaching of entrepreneurial skills and behaviours is often not properly integrated into school curricula and may not teach students self-reliance and risk-taking;
  5. Generational gap, for instance in the transfer of indigenous farming knowledge from adult farmers to young farmers; 
  6. Labour market discriminations often result into a high rate of young women unemployed, or underemployed. The lack of employment –promoting strategies in most countries and culture often  further compounds this challenge; and
  7. Other impacts of globalization that hinder prospective young farmers including urbanization, economic uncertainties, and price volatilities among others. 
These notwithstanding, young people bring several thrusts to CSA as a solution to food security, climate change, and inclusive economic growth. To start with, they easily adopt and adapt new knowledge to fit their needs. The current generation of young people are leading in ICT innovation and application in varied sectors of health, finance, education, security, and agriculture among others. Young people are energetic, dynamic, with an increasing number getting educated. This means they are effectively on a pathway to obtain appropriate skills in CSA and related livelihood enhancement approaches. The third thrust comes from the youth dividend. Offering over 40% of the world population, particularly in developing countries where most of the food is produced, and where there are approximately 11 million youth joining the labour market every year, CSA promises opportunities for youth self-employment and job creation. Finally, the need for young people to create independent spaces of action well fits into the context of CSA as they create employment through the value and supply chains, as well as in diversified investments in CSA. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Are youth entitled in a world of uncertainty and crises?

For those who research and develop strategies for youth development, it is a good thing that ‘youth’ has progressed into a global agenda. But our work does not stop there, we need to do more to ensure that this idolizing is actualized in creating meaningful opportunities for young people.
In particular, youth unemployment has gained the attention of global leaders such as within the World Economic Forum and as evidenced in the outcomes of the Annual Global Shapers Survey assessing young people's perception and action in technology, economy, values, governance and business. This report reveals some truths yet to be addressed and which  Simon Sinek has alluded to in his viral video on ‘what’s wrong with this generation’. Fundamentally, the claim that the current generation of young people feel entitled to everything might not be necessarily true. Their everyday lives portray a generation that is continually denied any opportunity to make meaning of themselves in a rather uncertain and neoliberal world.
We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future - Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This is the very claim that Pope Francis addressed in part of his end year message. Just as his 2015 Encyclical, Laudato si, challenged the world to care for the planet, the Pope has again helped focus the world attention on this century’s issue: young people. Pope Francis argued for the need to create opportunities ‘so that they [youth] can be capable of dreaming and fighting for their dreams’. He observed that ‘we have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future’.
Indeed, these marginal opportunities for young people have been written about previously, for instance, the Precariat by Guy Standing (focusing on developed countries, and further explained here), The Time of Youth by Alcinda Honwana (focusing on African youth waithood and aspirations), and the Global Futures for East Asia Youth by Ann Anagnost et al (focusing on youth meaning making in East Asia).
The lack of opportunities, poverty, conflicts and disasters have influenced the rate at which young men and women despair and move elsewhere to find hope. Take for instance North Africa where youth unemployment was near 30% in 2016 according to the ILO. Almost 5,000 people died attempting to reach Europe by boat from North Africa in 2016 alone. Of the 181, 000 boat migrants - mostly African - who reached Italy in 2016, 25,000 were unaccompanied minors, double the number who came in 2015. However, migration is just one piece of the puzzle; there are million other youth engaging in illegal activities, hustling in meagre informal sector, joining cartels, becoming rebels, or just waiting for opportunities to come by. Yet, the society continues to idolize them as the future and the demographic dividend of developing countries.  

He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future - Adolf Hitler.

 Pope’s argument that the world owes these young people ‘a debt of dignified and genuine work’ is then valid. The quest for ‘true inclusion’ should be hastened both in understanding and in action. How can we genuinely include young men and women in growing economies without seeming to be tokenistic or creating technologies of control and manage? How can governments and other actors create opportunities for work that is worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary? How can political and economic systems transform to include the marginalized, especially the young men and women who would have a huge influence on these systems anyway? It is about opening the doors that have remained closed to young people; bringing them at the negotiating table, not to hear their voices, but to include their views in planning, budgeting, evaluation, and forecasting.

This should be the end of leavening our youth for the future. They are here. They are knocking the doors. They are waiting. They are aware of what they can do, what they need, and what the world needs to do to assure their hopes and aspirations. They are entitled to the opportunity of having a chance to be productive citizens of this world. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why we need to investigate young farmers as new actors in the Food-Water-Environment Nexus

As an environmentalist carrying out research in the agricultural development and youth livelihoods, one of the things that struck me most was the lack of awareness among many young farmers on the need to conserve the natural resource base for sustainability of their agricultural activities. The challenge of water is never highlighted in the world of youth agricultural livelihoods that I currently research. 
Young farmers setting up for flood irrigation on their tomato farm.
Photo: Grace Mwaura
However, water, just like land, is essential in determining what livelihood opportunities will be available to young people now and in the future. In Kenya, young farmers, who had failed to find jobs after completing their education engaged in horticultural farming for local and export markets. A commendable self-employment initiative to earn them a living and support their families, but their practices had an adverse impact on the water resources and the wider landscape. 
Crossing the river from which the irrigation water was drawn
Photo: Lynette Achieng
Their continued drawing of water from the already shrinking rivers for flood irrigation meant that they were not only wasting the scarce resource, but also, they were risking the livelihoods of others who relied on the same river downstream. In addition, their excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides would result in loss of agrobiodiversity and pollution of the same water bodies, increasing risks to downstream users. 
One of the farms practising drip irrigation and crop rotation
Photo: Grace Mwaura
Taking an action research approach, I later got involved in exchange visits between these kind of young farmers and others whom I found using water sustainably. My aim was to ensure that all young farmers were aware that not only a livelihood was important, its sustainability mattered, and therefore, smart approaches such as water conservation and organic farming were essential. There was a small group of young farmers who had invested in rain water harvesting technologies and used the water for irrigation and agroforestry practices. Others practised drip irrigation ensuring water efficiency and overall protecting the soil from forming a hardpan. Planting drought resistant crops, which were also indigenous, was not only a water conservation strategy, but also a practice that contributed to agrobiodiversity conservation and increasing the resilience of the farmers.
Thriving agroforestry trees watered with rainwater in Kitui Kenya
Photo: Grace Mwaura
Overall, my biggest lesson was that conservation efforts, in the context of sustainable development goals, need to consider the challenges of creating new sources of livelihoods; involving new actors such as young farmers, often disenfranchised and seeking quick sources of income; but also often unaware of the need to engage in sustainable practices. With collaborative programmes embracing the food-water-environment nexus, we will be better positioned to address unemployment and livelihood challenges, safeguard our soils, conserve water, conserve agrobiodiversity while at the same time, increasing the resilience of the young people and the landscapes to the impacts of climate change. 

This article was part of the Water Flows stories submitted to the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Three Big Questions Before Engaging Youth in Agriculture Transformation Agenda

Pupils harvest kales from their 4-H project,Mbagathi Primary School.
Photo by Jamila Abass
At the AGRF2016 IDRC sponsored event, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau Rutenberg set the scene for the discussion on deeper questions to ask if we are to meaningfully engage African youth in agriculture. In this article, I elaborate some of hers and other presenters’ questions. The emphasis here is that, it is not just about agriculture being a source of employment for a growing youth population, but it’s also questioning what the real issues are with a youth bulge and how we can tackle them within an agricultural transformation agenda. It is about unpacking the Africa rising narrative, questioning the contribution of agricultural growth to inclusive economic growth, devising innovative ways of closing the gender gap, and measuring agricultural growth relative to other sectors, and hence, better understanding how to seize the youth opportunities therein. Here are some of these explained:-

First, understand what Africa’s transformation really means for prosperity and sustainability. Whereas statistics from the AfDB show that agriculture is the second largest industrial sector in Africa projected to grow by 6% p.a. by 2030, an important question is yet to be addressed: Is this growth or extraction? Is this a factor of prosperity or it’s just a new phenomenon of growth following the old path of extraction and scramble for African natural resources? Are African agricultural policies structuring this growth to ensure that it is first beneficial to African economies before exporting nutrients from the African soil to the rest of the world?

Second, speaking to those outside the agriculture sector if we really want to achieve inclusive transformation, therefore asking: Which sectors complement and/or compete with growth of the agricultural sector? While the agriculture sector is growing, other sectors such as construction and transport are growing even faster meaning there is need for diversification and complementarity. This growth must also be understood in the context of increasing food imports into Africa even as claims are made of African agricultural growth. How can we reverse food imports while sustaining agricultural growth?

Third, view agricultural growth in the context of inclusive transformation and therefore ask: Is our agricultural growth a magnifier of inequality? It is important that countries position themselves so that this moment of agricultural growth is also a moment to fix the structures of socio-economic inequality that already exist and result in inclusive transformation. Does our current trend of agricultural growth addresses issues of poverty alleviation and improving the livelihoods of those at the bottom of the pyramid and the marginalized? In a particular context of women and youth, it will be fundamentally crucial to apply the concept of intersectionality that allows us to appreciate women and youth contribution within a large context of rapid transformations on the continent. For instance, we already know that closing the gender gap would increase agricultural productivity by 30%, and particularly would attract more young women.

In the light of these three issues, where do we then see the opening and closing of youth opportunities in agriculture? Such opportunities have to be contextualized in the ongoing changes such as the growing Africa-China trade, the expansion of free trade areas in Africa, urbanization and the growing middle class, technological advancements in Africa as well as opportunities provided by democratization in Africa. Importantly, all actors must be willing to recognize and invest in capturing the responsibility, alertness, imagination, and willingness of young people to take action.

A study on expanding business opportunities for young people in agriculture by USIU found that young people are three times more likely to be unemployed. The same study, however, also found out that, when young people are provided with a set of activities, resources and mentoring, they change their behaviour towards becoming entrepreneurial and may even engage in other agriculture-related activities such as research and policy. In fact, women when supported emerge more resilience than men do, and young people are more likely to use their personal savings and borrow from family to start a business.

Our understanding of youth aspirations offers us new insights over the claim that young people are sitting down waiting for things to be done for them. This idea of passive waithood is far from truth as many researchers have shown. In fact, they exhibit a desire to emulate others who are making it in life. However, such testimonials and mentors are few in the agriculture sector, leaving most youth to imagine agriculture as an uncool venture, and the outsiders to understand young people as uninterested in agriculture.

Therefore, we have to rethink this ‘uncool’ nature of agriculture. Fundamentally,  what would we get by unpacking the ‘uncoolness’ and stigmatization of agriculture?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Leveraging STI to Transform Informal Sector Youth Opportunities

Because innovations can be as easy as this hand-washing technology
for schools in Kenya. Credit: Healthy Learning Programme

A Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) framework is important in a country where most young people rely on the informal sector for their livelihoods but which are threatened by the economic uncertainties, poor policies, and lack of incentives. Over 70% of Kenyan youth work in the informal sector, a majority in poor working conditions and underpaid. A shift in this sector resulting in improved employability, improved working conditions, creating new jobs and changing existing ones, while transforming the informal sector for future generations is then a priority. How can advances in STI transform youth livelihood opportunities in the informal sector while reinforcing the framework for implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs)? Some of the factors to consider include measuring the impact of STI on the informal sector, scaling up STI best practices, incentives, and capacity building.
It makes economic sense to link STI to the needs of the informal sector and to the achievement of SDGs. Through its national development blue print, Vision 2030, and its new constitution, Kenya is indeed one of the progressive countries in aligning its national development agenda with the SDGs. Articles 41 to 43 outline the labour, environment, social, and economic rights of Kenyan citizens, which are central to Agenda 2030 targets and integrate the principles of sustainability namely, environmental integrity, economic development and social justice and equity. The current economic statistics clearly show that there is little distinction between informality and formality, and in fact, Kenya’s economic growth thrives from informality. It is the smallholder agriculture employing millions of rural dwellers, the informal trade in local markets, the retail kiosks selling cheaply manufactured goods, the bodabodas[1], waste recycling, and the bourgeoning service sector work in small and big towns such as salons, barber shops, and mobile money kiosks etc. that fuel the economy. These, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, account for over 60% of wage employment. Technological advancements and innovation must address such every day and localized hustles to improve micro-economies and hence, address social injustices of those living at the bottom of the pyramid.
Examples of how the informal sector benefits from STI already exist: mobile-based agricultural extension tools, solar-powered irrigation systems, mobile money services, improved seeds for dryland regions, online marketing platforms, local cottage industries, and increased number of technical and vocational training institutes among many others. However, their scale remains inadequate to meet the demands of the millions of youth in need of basic means of survival. Furthermore, these solutions need to move beyond protecting and preventing individuals from immediate calamities, and address long-term improvement of their well-being. This calls for enhancing their long-term resilience to respond to ongoing changes in the economy, society, and environment. Additionally, there is a gap in how we measure their impacts and design and implement replication and scaling strategies. National policies are needed to elaborate the informal sector development pathway, facilitate technology transfer, intellectual property rights, and provide incentives.
Capacity building grounds the capabilities and confidence of young people to pursue opportunities offered by STI in the informal sector. Even though this generation of young people is more educated than past generations, there are disparities in skills required by the labour market and those possessed by the young people. Efforts to address these push-pull factors have been addressed by, among others, increasing technical and vocational education and training institutions (TIVETI), promoting new forms of skills learning; and introducing entrepreneurship training in formal and non-formal education. The mushrooming of start-ups and incubators in Kenya is an indicator of increasing opportunities for capacity building and youth-led job-creation. These platforms offer training, mentoring, networking, and financing opportunities for young entrepreneurs. However, these efforts must be commensurate to the changes in the market to expand the opportunity space for the absorption of young people and in national policies to create an enabling environment for youth businesses to thrive.
Importantly, we must address the significantly low investments in research and development that limit the extent to which STI research is adopted to advance informal sector and improve livelihoods, hence constraining youth opportunities. Kenya invests less than 3% of its GDP in research and there are very few incentives and/or political will to implement policies that facilitate an STI-based economy. This blurs the vision of a sustainable economy and just future for the country and its young citizens.
First published on Rhodes Scholars Blog