Industry players have decried the disconnect between what universities offer to their graduates in terms of skills and what the industry requires. Attaining a university degree is not a guarantee for a job in a competitive market and employers are now challenging learning institutions to produce graduates who have a wide range of problem solving skills that appeal to the industry.
To address the skills gap in the agriculture industry, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture (JKUAT), has partnered with local farmers and other industry players mainly in agronomy to mentor students on the agricultural value chains through providing them with seedlings and chemicals required to grow plants, while guiding them through the phases of plant development into the market.
The initiative which is spearheaded by JKUAT alumni led by Mr. Dennis Nyandaya, is aimed at giving Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Horticulture students a smooth transition to employment and self-employment, either before or after graduation.
Under the programme, a student is given the responsibility to take charge and nurture a specific type of a plant under the guidance of a farmer, who has successfully reared the plant while learning from each other’s experiences.
Some of the plants under student management at the University’s demonstration farm include; okra, sweet potatoes, curly kale, butternut, capsicum, onions, cabbage, mfalme new and old crop.
John Wesonga, a professor of entomology at JKUAT and the Programme Coordinator said the initiative is a long term project aimed at building confidence and experience among the students before being released into the job market.
Prof. Wesonga observed that exposing the students to the challenges and the agriculture value chains will enable them to start their own businesses at an early age and become self-employed rather than wait for employment.
He emphasized that universities need to adopt an inclusive training in order to improve the agricultural sector and make sustainable changes.
Catherine Kamanu, a tomato and okra farmer from Murang’a County, said the initiative was not only beneficial but also a learning opportunity for local farmers.
“This is an opportunity for the University to have a demonstration farm for local farmers who instead visit the renowned farms which are far away for learning experience,” said Ms. Kamau.
Dennis Nyandaya said employment opportunities were available to the best performing students in several agro-input companies, stating that the industries have shown an interest in absorbing the best performing students.
Joseph Kinyua, a third year student at JKUAT pursuing Bachelor of Science in Horticulture expressed his delight for participating in the programme saying it was an opportunity to learn in preparation for self-employment.
“I am planning to be self-employed when I graduate. During the long holidays, I’m planning to use this normal scale to start a small scale business,” he concluded.