Isaac Mukonyi makes his way along a dirt path between several garden-sized plots of land, pointing out various crops growing around him on either side. In one patch, researchers are testing a water-efficient drip irrigation system. In another, there are rows of carrots, and behind that, a jungle of climbing beans.
All of these 10-meter plots represent one of One Acre Fund’s field trials -- meant to determine what plants grow best in the hot, dusty climate of Western Kenya, and what varieties the organization will ultimately offer to farmers. Some crops have more potential than others, says 23-year-old Isaac, who’s a supervisor at the research station in Ekero. There’s an upland variety of rice that requires very little water that looks promising, he says. The sesame crop, growing in the far back corner of the research station, is also doing great. Isaac pops an oblong pod off of one of the sesame plants and pries it open with his fingers, revealing a hundred tiny white seeds lined up in rows.
Working at the research station allows Isaac to get his hands dirty -- he likes to be outside, “talking to the plants,” as he puts it. He’s a quiet guy, but answers questions eagerly. He graduated from university last year with a degree in agronomy, and it’s easy to tell how much he loves his work.
“Agronomy has been my passion since maybe primary school. I always loved agriculture so much,” Isaac says. His parents were farmers, and aside from his time at university, he’s spent his whole life around Ekero. He can even see his grandmother’s house from the back of the research station. “Most people want white collar jobs, working in an office. Here, it’s nice because you spend most of your time outdoors.”
Young people like Isaac represent a huge source of potential for the agricultural industry. All over the world, agriculture has a demographic problem, which is compounded by urbanization. From Africa to Europe to the U.S., the farming population is aging, and young people will be needed to replace them.
More jobs and opportunities are expected to become available in coming years, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where populations and food demand are rising. The region’s agriculture and agribusinesses markets may triple in size by 2030 to an estimated $1 trillion, according to the World Bank. Africa’s workforce is also increasing, with 25 million young people entering the job market by 2025.
More investment is still needed in many countries in order to create a thriving agricultural industry, especially one that is inclusive of smallholder farmers. Increasing access to financial services and training are key ways to support agricultural businesses and encourage young people from rural areas to find employment closer to home, instead of leaving for cities to look for work, according to Root Capital.
One Acre Fund, for its part, believes in the potential of agricultural communities -- we’re currently hiring for more than 50 open positions, many of which are located at rural offices in the six countries where we operate. The organization has several initiatives to support youth employment and career advancement, including an internship program, mentorships, and a leadership development program.
Young people can be innovators within the agricultural industry, especially if they have access to education and training, according to a recent statement from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.
“Investing in rural transformation and reaching a world free of hunger and malnutrition go hand in hand,” said José Graziano da Silva, the director general of the UN FAO. “Promoting better education, skills development, and decent employment is vital for this transformation in Africa.”