Q&A: Heifer Kenya Country Director Esta Kamau discusses the organisation’s work in financing and mentoring youthled agritech enterprises to scale up their innovations for the benefit of smallholders
Briefly introduce yourself and your role at Heifer Kenya
I am Esta Kamau, serving as the Country Director at Heifer Kenya.
Tell us briefly about Heifer International and its presence in Kenya.
Heifer International invests in farmers and business owners because we know that having a secure source of income can be transformational for families and their communities. With support from our teams and partners, we support project participants in building profitable businesses to attain a sustainable living income. Heifer Kenya has worked with smallholder farmers since 1981 and has partnered with communities to end hunger and poverty.
This partnership has enabled us to acquire deep insights into the immediate problems impeding enhanced productivity by smallholder farmers across various regions in Kenya; At present, Heifer Kenya’s programming footprints cut across 26 counties. In our early years, our work focused on increasing local farmers’ standard of living through the livestock, dairy and poultry value chains. A large part of our work also involved strengthening access to local markets through business planning, marketing, and capacity building.
As we began the reimagination of agricultural transformation in Kenya, leaning on our multi-decade experiences and local knowledge, we mainstreamed a sustainable locally-led approach to our programming anchored on values-based holistic community development which enables all-inclusive empowerment of smallholder farmers, strengthening them to make transformative decisions as households and communities.
We are integrating innovation to scale up agricultural transformation, what we are calling cows to capital. We are doing this through access to innovative finance, technology, and leveraging of partnerships.
What informs your special focus on youth-led enterprises or innovations?
Young people are leading our work in the agritech space because we see their energy fuse with the boundless potential of technology to drive innovative solutions that sustainably transform agriculture. More importantly, Kenya is a country with a thriving young population, out of the total population of 47.6 million, about 35.7 million Kenyans (75.1%) are below 35 years old as per the 2019 census.
Kenyan youth have shown that they possess the grit, innovation, and skills to completely transform sectors and bring economic transformation to levels never seen before. We have channelled this energy and innovation to tackle challenges in the agriculture space, through the AYuTe Africa Challenge which combines the power and energy of the youth with the limitless possibilities of technology to support smallholder farmers in growing their businesses and incomes. The programme is used by Heifer to engage and empower the youth as critical catalysts for unlocking commercial capital and opportunities.