Kiambu County is one of the 47 counties in Kenya, and the former central province. With a population of approximately 2 million people, agriculture is its major economic activity and also the leading sector in employment and income generation for the people. The total area of the county is approximately 2500km2 with about 40% being rural area and 60% urban. However, the urbanization of the county is taking over food production and sustainability with real estate becoming the new trend of investments in the county.
With the continued urbanization and reduced investment in agriculture, and increased investment in real estate, the county may soon be faced with problems of mass unemployment, insecurity, low or reduced income and standards of living and also severe food insecurity. Kiambu County, according to World Bank report, was ranked as the richest county in Kenya with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $1785.
In order to prevent and eradicate the potential threat of food insecurity and to increase income and wealth from agriculture, there are various ways that the county can promote the sector and as a result also improve the livelihood of its people.
The agriculture practices in the county are many and diverse. Various co-operatives that have been earlier developed have worked well for some sectors and have failed in others. For example, the milk production of the county is very high, effective and beneficial to the people both direct and indirect. With about 85% of both large and small scale farmers being linked together to different co-operatives, the sector have employed many people where youths are mostly in the processing stage and the older people (45-70yrs) in the production stage. Other co-operatives are coffee and tea co-operatives.
In my study, I am going to focus on one of the most critical and earliest commodity produced in the county i.e. coffee. Large farms are owned and controlled by foreigners who initially got the estates and the plantations during the colonial times. Locals are mainly small scale farmers and are joined together to create larger output by co-operatives.
With a perfect climate for coffee production, the county mainly grows Arabica coffee which is the preferred type of coffee both locally and in the international market. Despite the upcoming and continuing trend of cutting down of coffee trees, especially by small scale farmers, coffee is a significant employer of the people in Kiambu county especially the rural.
However, the sector does not attract many people, especially the youths, a factor that has led to rural-urban migration in search of better jobs. This is mostly because, the locals are only involved in the pre and post production level activities like planting, watering, application of water and fertilizer, harvesting and loading. A level, which is though significant, least in the value chain.
The value chain involves many sectors each entailing potential opportunities for the youths to work in. For example, from production the next stage is processing. This is a more technical stage of the value chain that involves use of machine and machinery operations. With the establishment of polytechnics and technical institutes in the county, e.g. Ndumberi Technical Institute, the can be trained on mechanical engineering and operations and thus increase their chances of employment in the coffee processing sector.
One of the largest farms in the county is Sasini limited which was initially involved in production but now also takes part in processing, packaging and marketing of its coffee.
Employment opportunities for the youths also lie in the transport industry. Thousands of metric tonnes of coffee are transported from the farms to respective storage places on daily basis. Most of the transportation is done by contracted logistics companies who apply and win tenders for the work. Organised youths groups from the county can apply for the tenders and then seek relevant capital e.g. from banks and own savings then lease or hire trucks for the transportation of coffee. This is a major career and job opportunities for the youths both as company owners and drivers respectively.
Youths are also employed as drivers and loaders by the existing and working logistic companies. In prevention of coffee theft, which is one of the major risks in the industry, it is a requirement by the government to have a coffee movement permit. This is a legal document that grants the transporter the permission to carry the commodity from one point to the other. The document contains; name of the driver, identification number, vehicle registration number, number of bags loaded, destination and the source of the commodity. Youths are employed as messengers who get the document from coffee directorate in Nairobi.
The coffee is then transported to warehouses for storage. One of the biggest warehouses in the county is NKG warehouse located in Ruiru-off bypass. Not much technology and machinery is employed in the warehouse and therefore many youths are employed as off loaders of the commodity (bags of coffee) from the trucks and containers and arranging the bags in the warehouse. Since different farms and factories store their coffee in this one warehouse, comprehensive data entry and record keeping is important. Many educated youths can be employed for the data handling as well as the company offering a chance for casual labourers.
Being one of the leading cash crops and exported commodity in Kenya, coffee selling is controlled and not done in open air market or at the farm gate. Selling is done in form of an auction that happens every Tuesday of the week in Nairobi, Wakulima house. The highest bidder gets to buy with prices varying with grade, quality, seasons and demand. A bag of 50Kgs ranges from $350 to $500 in low and high demand respectively.
Within the county, the youths are not involved in coffee beyond production level. Great potential of wealth generation however lies in the county that will benefit both the youths and also raise county revenues. This can be done in various ways which I am going to discuss. First, since devolution was effected in 2013, the county agricultural devolution department can introduce policies, rules and regulations that can help eradicate both the middlemen or the intermediaries and also the cartels that have for a long time been controlling the commodity.
Kiambu County has the potential to rejuvenate the dead co-operatives, improve management in the co-operatives, increase security in the farms and factories and even market the coffee produced in the county both locally and internationally. Both increased production and improve quality produce can be achieved by training the youths in breeding, grafting, propagation, farm management and other related skills required in coffee farming. This can not only be done in the universities but also in Coffee Research Institute (CRI) which is located in the Ruiru, Kiambu County.
Direct sales will enable the farmers to become the major beneficiaries of coffee as a result of exporting directly to international buyers rather than first selling to middlemen and brokers in the auction in Nairobi who exploit the farmers by buying at cheap prices.
The county can also develop an ownership mark for its produce. For example, it can introduce Kiambu Mark of Origin that would be branded on all its quality produce including coffee. This would be a mark of high quality that will secure a spot in both the local and international markets. As results, demand for the county’s produce will increase and this will increase its revenue and wealth generation.
I would recommend that the county establish training programs for the youths in agricultural sector so as to secure its food security, improve on quality produce, increase production and develop agricultural marketing strategies for its produce.
The county should invest more money in purchasing roasting machines for coffee. This will ensure that the county takes part in all the processes in the value chain of coffee and hence increase employment opportunities.
Extension services should be increased e.g. number agricultural officers per area. This can be done by being aggressive and fully devolving the agricultural sector and training agriculture students as early as high school.