Kenya’s planting season hands rural youths income amid COVID-19 battle


When Kenya restricted operations of various businesses including open-air markets, hotels and bars to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a large number of Kenyans lost their jobs.

Faced with the tough option of living in urban areas without income, dozens of Kenyans thus relocated from the capital Nairobi and other towns to their rural areas.

While relocating to the rural areas, the situation appeared grimmer for the citizens since most jobs are created in urban areas.

But the movement has turned out a blessing for the hundreds of farmers in the East African nation, who have witnessed a surge in labor force, which has boosted their activities during this planting season as they have people to work on their farms.

The farmers across the country have thus employed hundreds of people amid the COVID-19 crisis, giving hope to young men and women, a good number who have retreated to rural areas.

While some farmers are offering planting jobs, others who planted early are currently weeding as their crops flourish due to ongoing rains.

Gilbert Wandera, a businessman in Nairobi, is among those who have employed people on his farm in Busia, a district on the border of Kenya and Uganda.

Wandera is currently coordinating with his parents in western Kenya to farm their six acres of beans.

“We decided last week to till the land and plant after seeing the rains were heavy. I hired seven people to clear and till the land before planting started this week,” the businessman who sells computers in the capital, said on Saturday.

He is paying the workers 250 shillings (about 2.5 U.S. dollars) per day, with the work starting from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m..

“My estimate is that the job would take about 10 days which means each would take home some 25 dollars which is not bad money at this time of crisis,” said Wandera, who pays them via mobile money.

During the normal times, labor charges hit as high as 4 dollars per day due to scarcity of workers, discouraging people from farming large-scale.

“My parents for the last two years have been growing crops only on one acre due to the high charges but the crisis has come as a blessing. It is a win-win situation for all of us,” he said.

And as they work on farms, farmers are striving to ensure they follow all measures to curb spread of the disease, including wearing masks and social distancing.

“I bought for all the workers face masks and keep reminding my parents to ensure they maintain social distance,” he said.

In Rift Valley, Kenya’s breadbasket, activities on farms have hit fever-pitch, as farmers plant wheat, maize and beans, alongside vegetables and other crops.

Some farmers this season have done away with the use of machines like planters and harrowers to employ dozens of people in the rural areas.

“It has become faster and cheaper to work with the youth than wait for days to hire a machine like tillers or planters,” said George Ambuche, a farmer in Kitale, Trans Nzoia.

Kenya’s agricultural sector is the backbone of the country’s economy, contributing about 25 percent of the gross domestic product and employing millions of people, according to the National Treasury.

While the sector has been hurt by COVID-19, it has emerged as ground of hope through job creation and enhancing food security especially as the country battles the virus.

Acknowledging that many Kenyans are in economic and livelihood distress, President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday announced a program to boost mass employment.

The National Hygiene Programme, which will commence on April 29, will see 26,148 workers employed to earn some income, with the number expected to rise to over 100,000.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy in Kajiado, noted that the COVID-19 crisis has come with mixed blessings.

“Most people lost jobs due to measures to curb spread of the virus, but that they have found jobs on farms shows how key the sector is especially in times of problems,” she said.

Macharia forecasted that the east African nation may witness a rise in food production due to coronavirus as some people who never farm because they are in urban areas have grown crops this year after relocating to rural areas. Enditem

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