An International Centre of Excellence in Public Policy and Research

Unlocking Rural Areas to Curb Rural-Urban Migration among Youth in Kenya

Rural-urban migration of youths in Kenya refers to the movement of young people from rural areas to urban centres in search of better opportunities, such as education, employment, health and access to social amenities. The latest data from the 2019 census by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reveals that Kenya has a youthful population.  About 35.7 million Kenyans (75.1%) are below 35 years, while 32.73 million (68.9%) live in rural areas. However, there is a high rate of rural-urban migration among young people in Kenya. Most of these are youth aged 20-24 years. A report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2020 highlights that the estimated number of youth migrants from rural to urban areas in Kenya was 277,000 annually between 2015 and 2020. This trend is attributed to several factors, including limited employment opportunities in rural areas. The unemployment rate among youths in rural areas was 17.3 per cent in 2020, compared to 13.8 per cent in urban areas (KNBS, 2019).

Rural-urban migration among youth is causing skill development gaps in rural areas, particularly in the agricultural sector, which contributes about 30 per cent of Kenya’s GDP. The National Youth Development Policy 2019 points out that the average age of a farmer was 62 years, yet the youth form the largest population (75%) in the country. Only 10 per cent of the youth are in the agricultural labour force out of the 60 per cent that constitute the total youth labour force. As a result, this has reduced the labour force to work in the agricultural sector in rural areas, leading to reduced productivity and economic activities.

Furthermore, the migration of youth to urban areas leads to reduced investment in rural areas, since investors follow the labour force to urban areas, resulting in under-development. In addition, rural areas are left with an ageing population, leading to reduced economic activities and innovation. This is a concern since most unemployed Kenyans are youth, with 64 per cent being unemployed. Curbing rural-urban migration among youth is essential to enable them develop their skills at the grassroots level.

The National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) in 2019 revealed that youth rural-urban migration facilitates increased crime rates, overcrowding, poor housing conditions, poor sanitation, poverty and child malnutrition. This undermines government efforts towards improvement of the quality of life for citizens.

Initiatives Towards Curbing Rural-Urban Migration

Kenya’s Vision 2030 under the economic pillar aims to empower the youth by creating job opportunities through development of key economic sectors such as manufacturing and tourism. If well implemented, these sectors can help retain more youth in rural areas. However, in the manufacturing sector, the government has not prioritized the establishment of manufacturing zones and industrial parks to create employment opportunities to encourage youth to stay in rural areas. For instance, statutory bodies such as Export Promotion Zones (EPZs) that are mandated to promote exportation of locally produced goods are all domiciled in urban areas, making them difficult to access by youth living in rural areas.

The National Government has devolved 14 functions that have played a key role in mitigating youth rural-urban migration. The creation of County Governments created job opportunities in rural areas that have allowed residents, including youth in different counties, to take up roles instead of migrating to cities. Further, county functions such as health services have minimized youth migration to urban areas to seek medical attention. The creative economy industry, public entertainment, and public amenities such as libraries and museums have enabled youth in the counties to take up positions and work from their places of origin.  However, challenges such as inadequate funding, corruption and capacity limitations in the counties has hindered successful implementation of development projects. This has negatively impacted the ability of devolution to curb rural urban migration by the youth.

The upgrading of National Polytechnics and Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) centres has contributed to improved skills development. This has propelled youth to be financially independent by enabling them to start micro and small enterprises to improve their livelihoods in rural areas. However, the challenge that most youth joining TVETs undergo is inadequate needs assessment by the admission authorities. For instance, youth from the ASALs should be taught how utilize and manage resources in the ASALs and not to undertake trainings that would be irrelevant to areas that would potentially be of benefit to them.

The government has worked in partnership with bodies such as embassies and high commissions to come up with tailor-made frameworks to create jobs for youth in rural areas. For instance, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has worked with the Embassy of Italy to reduce distress migration through local value chain development in Kiambu County in a US$ 1.5 million project (FAO, 2018). The Government of Kenya has partnered with such organizations in their projects by strengthening linkages with social protection programmes such as the Youth Empowerment Programme.  However, government and partner organizations working towards supporting youth in rural areas have engaged in limited demand assessment to understand what youth in various rural areas want. It is important to note that what works for the youth in one rural area may not have the same impact in another area.

Through agricultural extension services, the government has implemented programmes such as the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) to provide financial support, training and mentorship for youth in rural areas. This is a donor-funded project by the World Bank, which is run by the Ministry of Agriculture. Nonetheless, youth continue to face post-harvest losses due to inaccessibility of markets as a result of poor road networks. This discourages them from engaging in agricultural activities.

Through the Ministry of Cooperatives and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, the government has established incubation centres in 35 counties to ease service delivery for enterprises and nurture business startups. However, there has been inadequate sensitization on the availability of incubation centres and how to use them.

The National Youth Council (NYC) has played a crucial role in promoting youth-led industries in Kenya. To support this, NYC has collaborated with different stakeholders to offer training and mentorship to young entrepreneurs interested in starting manufacturing businesses. The Youth Economic Empowerment Programme, launched by NYC in partnership with UNDP and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives in 2020, is an example of such an initiative. It provides training in business management, financial literacy, and market research to equip young entrepreneurs with the necessary skills and knowledge to start and run their own manufacturing businesses. Moreover, the programme also offers funding to support young entrepreneurs in starting their businesses. Still, some youth in rural areas may have limited access to information, resources and networks that would enable them to participate in these programmes.Top of Form

Regarding tourism, the government has not adequately emphasized on community-based tourism initiatives. Such initiatives have the potential to involve local youth in tourism activities to enable them benefit directly from tourism revenues. This approach would have empowered rural youth to be involved in tourism enterprises, hence enabling them to develop their livelihoods at the rural level.

Conclusion and Recommendations

It is important that greater effort is made to mitigate rural-urban youth migration. With only 7 years remaining to realize the objectives of the Kenya Vision 2030, specifically empowerment of youth by creating job opportunities through development of key economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, the government may find it necessary to enhance capacity of rural areas to retain more youth there. There are multifaced approaches that can be adopted to tap into the potential of rural areas:

Government agencies that promote local industrialization may consider giving more priority to youth-led enterprises. There is need to establish more EPZs in rural areas to generate employment opportunities for youth, hence retaining them at the grassroots. Further, industrialization and manufacturing can solve the problem of unemployment and under-employment, which is predominant in rural areas. For instance, cotton ginneries and pyrethrum could be revived in Embu and Kisii counties, respectively. Others include Pan Paper Mills in Webuye, Kisumu Cotton Mills, and Mumias Sugar Company. This would support majority of the youths to engage in cotton and pyrethrum farming instead of shifting to cities in search of employment opportunities. 

Regarding tourism, the creative economy is one of the areas that if tapped into can create job opportunities for the youth. The sector contributes about 6 per cent of the country’s GDP, with many youths focusing on arts, literature, music, sports and beadwork.  The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage may provide scholarships, send the youth for benchmarking and business planning, and talent management. The Ministry may establish a recording studio for them in every county to minimize the distance they travel to urban areas to record their literature. The Ministry of Tourism in partnership with local leaders may establish a range of tourism activities and experiences such as wildlife conservations, guided nature walks and cultural performances. This would enhance community-based tourism initiatives, which would enable youth benefit directly from tourism revenue.

Regarding devolution, funds allocated for youth development projects should be utilized for their intended functions rather than diverting them to other projects that are perceived to be more urgent. In addition, all corruption cases involving funds allocated to youth projects should be dealt with firmly by the government.

It is important for the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology to sensitize the youth and create awareness about the existing incubation centres. Further, they can prioritize training the youth who have very little knowledge about these infrastructure and their utilization. This will help the youth acquire enhanced skills in ICT, innovation, agribusiness, among other technical skills. This will enable them to acquire financial literacy and management of start-up enterprises they are likely to establish in rural areas after their training. Furthermore, TVET is critical for sustainable development and wealth creation for many countries. The Ministry of Education can tailor the courses offered in TVETs to the needs of the community, specifically where the institution is located. This will make the courses offered more relevant and marketable for the geographic areas the youth live in. This would help learners acquire skills that would help them earn employment in the rural areas, instead of migrating to urban areas.

Regarding partnerships between development bodies, the National Government and local leadership, there is need for intensive collaboration to achieve the demand assessment. This will enable them to understand the demands of the youth and introduce projects that are relevant to the needs of the youth.

The government may consider improving infrastructure such as roads to link youth-led farms with markets to enable them reduce the distance they have to cover to take their farm produce to the market. This will further curb post-harvest losses that are encountered by farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture may also consider providing a framework to offer agricultural services in accordance with the interests of the youth. This could range from technology to be applied in farming, new farming approaches, viable crops to cultivate and weather patterns to make agriculture more youth friendly.

The NYC may continuously sensitize youth on available opportunities that help create employment in the rural areas. This can use a hybrid approach of leveraging on social media where youth spend a lot of their time and physical campaigns at the grassroots to sensitize them on available opportunities. This will see more youth into the industrialization and manufacturing spaces because of availed information.

By Joseph Munene and Vivian Omariba, KIPPRA Young Professionals

Image: Courtesy of Kenya News Agency

Share this post

Stay Up to Date

More Blogs