Agricultural project for disenfranchised youth in Kenya
In one of the most troubled counties in Kenya, 2017 Tutu Fellow Samuel Kariuki has launched a project called Fort Hall Eye. Located two hours from Nairobi, Murang’a County is one of Kenya’s more densely populated rural districts. Historically, the county was a leading coffee producer, accounting for the bulk of Kenya’s world famous Arabica exports. However, mismanagement has led to a decline in the county over the last two decades, with a majority of farmers, often small-holders, abandoning the crop and resorting to subsistence farming. The resulting increased poverty levels over the last 20 years has had a significant impact on the social fabric. The Fort Hall Eye Project is an agro-entrepreneurship program coupled with micro-loans for vocational training offering skills training and mentoring, starting with a 15-acre farm being used as a kind of live incubator.
So far, the first crop has been planted by 50 farmers growing French Beans. One farmer is propagating mint for the rest of the group.
In the county, the economic decline has negatively affected educational outcomes. Poverty and low educational levels have in fueled an alcoholism crisis in the county. In Murang’a, perhaps no homestead is unaffected. So significant is the issue that the number of children enrolling in kindergarten and Year 1 in some schools has reduced by 80% in the last decade, as a result of perennially intoxicated young men who are unable to start families. It’s not uncommon to find a class that struggles to enroll 10 students. An entire generation of youths in the county has fallen to the alcoholism menace and a deliberate intervention is required. The county needed a practical pathway out of hopelessness, and the Fort Hall Eye Project is seeking to be that.
The Fort Hall Eye Project empowers youth through economic empowerment, vocational training and mentoring. It has three pillars:
- Employment, through an agro-entrepreneurship program, focusing on high value herbs under an outgrower scheme with an agribusiness corporate. This addresses the inherent problem of small land holdings through production of a crop that yields more monetary value per acre. An off-taker agreement with a corporate addresses the perennial marketing problem, a significant issue in rural Africa farming. Under this pillar, the project is supporting the youths through linkage to the offtaker who is providing training and loans for initial infrastructure investment.
- Scholarship for basic vocational skills training (plumbing, masonry etc) through a micro-student loan scheme
- Coaching and mentoring on life skills.
A critical success factor for the Project is initial funding and long term sustainability. Accordingly, at project conceptualisation, Samuel invited five youths from the county who are successfully running businesses in Nairobi to be founding board members. Together, the Board will invest an initial $10,000 USD in the project. This investment will be used to create a fund from which micro-loans will be disbursed to the youths either for vocational training or for required small scale agribusiness investment. The youths will then be monitored and supported to run profitable enterprises from which they can repay the microloans to make is sustainable. We are also embarking on fund raising initiatives, targeting corporate Corporate Social Responsibility budgets.
The Project has also leased a 15 acre farm that will be used for exotic herbs farming. Profits from this activity will be directed towards funding the project activities. The vision of project leaders is to extend this project to the wider county, which has a population of about 1 million. They aim to create a Development Fund that will support young men in farming of high value exotic herbs and link them to corporate off takers, while also supporting vocational skills training.
The first cohort of 34 youths, mainly recovering alcoholics, have been recruited and have started work on the farm. Project leaders have started workshops with the youths and five yourths have started vocational training at technical institutes. Additionally, a market for the mint has been found.
There are updates about this project in the News section of the site: