Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rural youth ditch farming for lucrative bodaboda business

Year in, year out, at the onset of every rainy season, Mr James Wanje, a Busia district resident, used to prepare his land for planting. With the help of family labour, the 34-year-old would plough their two-and-a-half-acre piece of land and thereafter sow various food crops.

“I planted maize on about one-and-a-half-acres of the land and other crops on the remaining piece. I used most of the harvest for my subsistence and would later sell some,” Mr Wanje recounted last week.

However, times have changed. Today, as rain clouds gather for another season, Mr Wanje cares less about tilling his farm or planting. He is busy all day long ferrying customers to various destinations using his bodaboda.

His drastic change of livelihood is mirrored by hundreds of young men in rural Kenya who have swapped farming for motorbike business.

The bodaboda industry is fast growing and is believed to be lucrative. It has attracted many young men all over the country, many of whom were engaging in agriculture.

Unfortunately, this has caused a worrisome trend, especially in rural areas, as it is the elderly who now till the land to feed their folk.

This pattern has raised the eyebrows of agricultural experts, who believe that motorbikes harbour a potential threat to food production in Kenya.
Like in other African countries, agriculture is the nerve centre of Kenya’s economy.

Currently, the country relies heavily on food imports from its neighbours in East and Southern Africa. Economic analysts blame sky-high prices of food for last year’s decline in value of the shilling against world currencies, where the local unit sunk to a historic low of 107 to the dollar in October.

A ministry of Agriculture report in January shows that Kenya intends to import over 600,000 bags of maize by June.

“Many youths are no longer interested in farming because there are readily available jobs and quick money in bodaboda business,” said Mr Mark Naimo, an agricultural extension officer in Western Kenya.

First, many youths are selling land inherited from their parents to buy motorbikes. And, second, others have shunned agriculture to seek jobs in the transport industry.

“Since most youths cannot afford about $1,050 (Sh87,360), which is the average price of a motorbike, they turn to land, the only resource available to them, and readily dispose it to buy the two-wheelers,” Mr Naimo said.

He noted that land sizes in most parts of rural Kenya are shrinking fast because of subdivisions. “I sold an acre of my land at $3,700 (Sh307,840) and used part of the money to buy two motorbikes at $1,070 (Sh89,000) each. I have employed someone to run one as I ferry people with the other,” said Mr Wanje. He now has just one-and-a-half-acre piece of land.

Mr Naimo says many youths lack patience — a virtue that agriculture demands. Erratic weather patterns have also weighed in, pushing young people to alternative sources of income.

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