If you are young and happen to be interested in agriculture, more often than not you will hear the phrase, young people are not interested in agriculture because it is not an attractive venture. Or because they have no capital. Or because (insert the youth lack of interest in agriculture phrase you have heard of late)
Being a leading youth force in this sector, we have heard these phrases more than you can imagine and that is why in late 2014, we as Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) commenced some processes to find solutions to this challenge. We identified mentorship as one of the probable solutions and so we conducted a desk review of possible mentoring approaches that we could pilot.
A great diversity of mentoring models were studied to understand how mentoring can best benefit its diverse global network. In early 2015, YPARD decided to pilot different mentoring models namely face to face, virtual, blended and group/peer mentoring. This saw the birth of the YPARD Face to Face mentoring program as a partnership between YPARD and AWARD to help bring about transformational change among young people (young entrepreneurs, researchers and development practitioners) who in return would become successful role models for young people around the world.
The program was piloted in Kenya with a total of 15 mentees from an initial pool of 150 applicants paired and matched with 15 mentors. It's main goal was to unlock the potential of budding young agriculturalists in Kenya by providing them with opportunities to engage and connect with senior agricultural professionals in business, research, extension services and ICT to help them reach their full potential in agricultural development.The support and guidance to realise their potential was done through face to face workshops, provision of ongoing coaching and meetings between mentees and thei mentors for at least two hours each month either by phone or face to face.
The transformation from mentorship
After a year of challenges, many ups and a few downs , it was really interesting to witness the transformative nature that mentorship can play in the young people lives.
The Cultural shift
The effect of mentorship sometimes is felt far more than it was initially intended. This rings true in the case of Esther Ndichu one of the mentees who together with her two friends started a greenhouse farming venture as part of achieving her entrepreneurial goals. Little did she know that the soil in her farm was infested with the fusarium wilt and this resulted to a loss of produce. After talks with her mentor Nicholas, she was advised to plant cowpeas which naturally help clear the presence of fusarium in the farm.
In a few months, the land was deemed fusarium wilt free and she embarked on tomato farming. Her tomato crop concided well with the season when Elnino rains had destroyed most of the open field tomatoes. She was not only able to supply tomatoes to her local area in a time of scarcity but also created a cultural shift in her family and village. Her dad didn't want her to create a greenhouse but she did anyway and it proved to him the value of modern agricultural techniques. Her neighbors too were convinced to change their farming practices after seeing the impressive results. Indeed seeing is believing!
The nurturing of entrepreneurial skills
Part of the goals that the mentees set for themselves was to delve into the entrepreneurial side of agriculture. Cognisant to the fact that business ventures might take more than one year, the mentees drew their long term vision of agribusiness firms. Allan Migaili registered his company Kings Agricultural Services with the intention of using it to educate farmers on how to change the mindset of their ventures from farms to firms. He believes this in the only way young people could appreciate agriculture in totallity. Emily Ongus on the other hand started her extension providing consultancy firm which would focus on the provision of consultancy services to young people in agriculture.
With the help of his mentor Justus, Duncan Cheruiyot successfully applied and received a PhD scholarship to study at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Nairobi. Duncan's confidence grew exponentially over the 12 months and he was super proactive in taking online courses to build his own skills. He also received a PhD scholarship.
Improved Networking skills
Many of the mentees reported improved presentation and networking skills after their continued interaction with their mentors. Alphaxard, under the mentorship of James was selected to pitch an idea for a smallholder farmer exchange at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris.This saw a spillover effect where later in the same year, he was invited as a youth panelist at the African green Revolution conference in Zambia.
Additionally, Emily Ongus who for the better part of 2015 was unsure what was in store for her life got quite the transformation that only mentoring could bring. She had quit her extension job in Mombasa and her mentor helped her secure one at Zeitz foundation. Over time, her mentor Patricia helped build her networking skills and in several instances she became the face of her institution at the agricultural events. One notable one was the presentation she made on behalf of her company at the National Conservation Agricultural congress at Safari park hotel in Nairobi to all the CECs agriculture from all over Kenya. This led to an invite to attend the 1st African agricultural incubation conference where she met with other extension agents africa wide and more particularly the GFRAS network. See her online profile on the GFRAS website.
The Reverse relationship
Through the mentorship process, it became evident that mentors were learning also from the mentees bringing to fore a two way kind of learning to the program. In as much as the mentors were imparting knowledge and skills to the mentees, they felt the need to create their interpersonal skills to be able to come to the level of the mentees. Being patient with the mentees was key as they needed someone to handhold them along their way.
They indeed expressed their concerns that one year is actually a lot of time and if someone is guided properly, they stand to benefit in totality.