A typical day at the office for 29-year-old Program Manager Daniel Omondi doesn’t necessarily have to start at the office. It might start testing out new seed varieties at the One Acre Fund crop research station in Kakamega, Kenya, or supervising trials for soil acidity tests at the soil analytics lab at our Kenya headquarters. Pretty early on in his career, Daniel found himself wearing various hats, from running product trials to managing people and the projects that made them possible. This, he says, is he how he grew his knowledge in the agriculture sector.
Daniel is one of a growing number of young people working in agriculture. The sector is the largest employer on the planet, employing just under a third of the world’s labour force in 2018.
Yet the sector, which can be perceived as old-fashioned, is not an obvious choice for many young professionals. According to research commissioned by the Aga Khan University in Kenya, only 11% of youth aspire to work in agriculture despite its high potential for employment.
Many of our staff, who were raised in cities and trained in professions outside of agriculture, never expected to end up working in the sector. Here’s what drew three of them to agriculture.
It might come as a surprise that Daniel isn’t an agronomist or an academically-trained agriculturalist. He’s a Political Science graduate and generalist who’s found that a career in agriculture offers unexpected opportunities. He spent the first couple years of his career at an agroforestry NGO in Nairobi and that’s what got his feet wet in agriculture.
“I was raised in Nairobi and I guess we did some farming for home consumption when I was growing up but not the farming that is typical in rural Kenya. I actually never thought I’d get into agriculture full-time,” he says.
However, as unexpected his career in agriculture was, Daniel says it's a common tale among his colleagues. “My story isn’t unique at One Acre Fund. We’re looking for people with high growth potential, who can create and improve systems, and who are flexible and adaptable. I applied [to work] as a Program Associate, but I was able to grow in my department, and now I am a Program Manager with two direct reports.”
Daniel has also embraced new opportunities across the organisation during his time here. He’s the Diversity & Inclusion Lead at his department and says his career has taken him to new parts of Kenya.
Many organisations in the sector aren’t always looking for specialists in agriculture. They require a wide range of skills and specialisations in order to function. “One Acre Fund is an agricultural organisation but it has a lot of roles that aren’t necessarily in agriculture,” says Daniel.
Dilanthi Ranaweera, a cheerful 34-year-old, leads a team that manages Field Staff at our Kenya headquarters. She found that a career in agriculture was a great way to follow her passion in rural development, and her work has taken her to places far afield from her native Sri Lanka.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Dilanthi took some time off to work for development and civil society organisations in her country before heading to graduate school. Although she had grown up in the suburbs of the island’s second city, Kandy, Dilanthi decided she wanted to work for communities far from the city, which were previously devastated by a long civil war, to help them build better livelihoods.
“I fell in love with the international development sector,” she says. “It’s so broad, but I really wanted to work in livelihoods and in rural areas. I wanted to work towards increasing the incomes of households in communities that were relatively speaking ‘poorer’ than the ones I grew up in. I wanted to contribute to helping them become more prosperous. In fact, ended up going to graduate school to study international development focusing on completely on rural livelihoods.”
It was that drive to improve rural livelihoods that drew her into the sector. “If you really want to create more opportunities in rural communities, you cannot ignore agriculture. It’s the largest employer in a lot of these areas,” Dilanthi says.
Agriculture gave Faith Kirua, a Procurement Specialist, a chance to apply her skills in a new sector. She moved to Kakamega from Nairobi to work with One Acre Fund in 2019.
“Procurement professionals are trained to thrive in any context. The processes and policies are standard whether you’re at an agricultural company or at a railway company, like where I used to work,” she says.
Like Daniel and Dilanthi, Faith also doesn’t have a background in agriculture, but she’s enjoying her switch to a new industry. She and her husband are even planning on starting a farm of their own one day.
“I have a big interest in agriculture and so does my husband. We have farmland near our home in Meru [Eastern Kenya]. This job has been an avenue to learn and see what else is out there and what new techniques can be used. I don’t have any expertise or specialist skills in this area, but it’s something we’d both like to get in to,” she says.
Agriculture has careers for a wide range of skill sets and interests. Working in the sector, you can make a lasting social impact, apply your professional skills in a new context, or even hone new expertise.
For Daniel, his time in agriculture has not just given him a rewarding career but a chance to reflect on his own links with the sector.
“Connecting my childhood experience [with farming] with where I am right now, it touches so many people. I’ve learned to see it as a way to improve livelihoods across the board,” he says.