When Francis Njoroge graduated with an engineering degree in Nairobi, he expected to earn a six-figure salary. Instead he found himself working as an electrician on a three-month contract, for 20,000 Kenyan shillings (about $200) per month.
He decided to move back to his parents’ farm in Kimandi, a village about 150km away, and start his own business planting and selling tree seedlings.
Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa, according to the World Bank, with nearly one in five young people who are eligible for work not finding jobs.
Poor job prospects and low pay in cities are pushing thousands of unemployed young people to return home and take up farming, said David Mugambi, a lecturer at Chuka University in central Kenya.
Kenyan youth are not only turning to farming, they are bringing their digital skills with them to rural areas, according to Mugambi.
Knowing very little about tree seedlings, Njoroge joined a WhatsApp group of 30 fellow farmers to learn about issues like growing conditions and fertilisers.
Like Njoroge, Phillip Muriithi, a teaching graduate from Kenyatta University, left Nairobi to return to his parents’ farm about 200km northeast of the city, and nows grow tomatoes and cabbages.
Muriithi also uses his mobile to keep a record of costs, fertilisers and profit, and to market his produce on WhatsApp groups.
The Kenyan government is trying to promote entrepreneurship among young people by improving their access to credit, said Mugambi. The Uwezo fund, for example, provides youth with grants and interest-free loans of up to 500,000 shillings (about $5,000) to set up their own business.