44-year-old Millicent Oriro reminisces about her childhood and youth at Khwisero Social Accountability Network office in Kakamega County.
She vaguely recalls the curiosity that came with public barazas in her village.
Children and the youth were not allowed to attend, especially young girls, she always wondered what was discussed in such meetings.
As she grew older and bolder, she discovered that the ‘forbidden’ meetings had another name.
Majority of the village or public barazas were what we today call – Public Participation meetings.
“When I was younger, the environment and culture could not allow young people to attend public barazas. The meetings were exclusive. That has changed, the civic space has evolved, it is more inclusive. Today young people can walk into such meetings, participate and engage with the older members of the community and other stakeholders like government. This is the right time for the youth to take their space, participate and let their voice be heard.” Millicent Oriro – Chair, Khwisero Social Accountability Network.
Millicent is a civic education advocate who, among other issues, champions for the inclusion of youth smallholder farmers in decisions that impact on agriculture and the socio-economic well-being of communities.
She believes that youth inclusion is a key recipe for sustainable development.
Sentiments reiterated by Kakamega County Chief Officer for Agriculture, Irrigation and Cooperatives, Jeremiah Okello Namunyu.
Speaking during a consultative meeting with Civic Engagement Alliance (CEA) members he noted that the County’s five-year integrated plan puts emphasis on inclusion with a focus on youth and women.
“When it comes to public participation, in agriculture, there is still very little youth representation. The question is have we structured youth legally in a way that they can participate in such forums? Other sectors are always represented, we need to help the youth claim their space, help them to be organised in a way that they understand their role. We need to engage and position them as key stakeholders in the agriculture sector” Namunyu added
According to one of the CEA members- Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation-Kenya (ICCO Kenya), the youth in Kenya form up to three-quarter of the entire population, yet they are increasingly excluded from decision-making processes with regard to equal access to power, food, education, jobs and natural resources.
“The youth are citizens, they are not citizens of the future, they are leaders now not future leaders. Youth inclusion, therefore, is not something we can wish away. It is of absolute urgency that county governments consider youth-friendly policies and regulations that promote and govern meaningful involvement of youth in agri-business and use of innovative technology in the food systems and value chains.” Susan Githaiga – Country Manager – ICCO Kenya
The over 30 Participants who took part in the three-day civic engagement meeting indicated that, understanding or supporting, youth in small-scale farming is not enough if they don’t take part in decisions that affect their well being and that of their communities.