To fellow African youth, I tell you this: Farming is not your last option.

School children practice farming. Photo by: Georgina Smith / CIAT

My passion for agriculture began at a very young age. As a young Kenyan girl, I loved going with my parents, both of whom are agriculturists, to our family’s maize and bean farm next door.

That farm symbolized security for me. I knew no matter what, my family would have something to eat.

We were even able to share the produce from our farm with some members of the community; they in turn would share something with us that we might not have, like onions. I thought that’s a nice way to live.

I also believe that agriculture is a sector that can propel Africa out of poverty.

As evidence, young African graduates who have decided to go into farming strawberries or mushroom are right now very well off. They also employ fellow youth.

We need more young people like that.

Culturally, though, most African youth grow up not being told to be interested in agriculture. Often parents tell their kids that once they graduate from the university not to come back to take up farming; instead, they should get a white collar job and send money back home.

The education sector can help change the way things are, by highlighting more of the positives than the negatives of going into farming and incorporating in the curriculum some of the innovative approaches that can make agriculture a worthwhile venture.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is one such approach. It aims to increase farm yields but at the same time help farmers adapt to and mitigate the risks of climate change.

CSA is an approach that I and my colleagues at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture are promoting in Kenya and beyond. We do this by developing documents known as CSA country profiles, following consultations with major actors in all the stages of the agricultural value chain. That includes the youth.

Those country profiles provide a snapshot of the conditions within the agricultural sector and the challenges it now faces, forecast impacts of climate change, and suggest CSA practices. They also indicate possible areas for research or of investment by governments and donors.

For Kenya, we have also developed so-called climate risk profiles for 31 counties. These profiles outline the value chains, farming systems, and geographic areas that are highly vulnerable to weather disturbances. They spell out these counties’ specific needs to help farmers and pastoralists adapt to the changing climate.

Not a long time ago, I had the pleasure of engaging with patrons and members of the CSA Youth Network. Many of them are young professionals. The goal of this volunteer group is to teach the youth about how they can practice climate-smart agriculture.

That for me is the way to go — youth inspiring youth. In general, I’d be more convinced to take up something if I’ve seen someone else doing it.

For my part, whenever I get the chance to speak with fellow youth, I always tell them that agriculture can be a lucrative business.

Hopefully, that message will spread far, so that one day the youth in Africa will think of farming not as an option they take because there’s nothing else left, but the first option they can take to propel them to great heights.