BIG 4 or BIG FARM?Opportunities for unemployed accountants

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By CPA Millicent Omukaga

Kenya has an increasing trend of youth unemployment, estimated at 22% according to the World Bank statistics (World Development Indicators 2017). The indicator considers youth aged 15-24 as a percentage of labour force using modelled ILO estimate. This rate can get to 35% if the age bracket opens to 34 years of age (World Bank 2014). Sadly, the statistics refer to recent graduates from universities and tertiary institutions like KASNEB that continuously release Accountants to the market. Agriculture in Africa has traditionally been considered ‘dirty’ and reserved for the poor uneducated old population in the rural areas. Indeed the continent has long struggled with challenges around health and poverty resulting from food insecurity. In some developing economies, agriculture is viewed as development activity in the social sector and not the big money-making business in the world as it should be. Recent studies and debates show that agriculture has potential to transform African economies and holds the key to job creation and improved well being for majority of the world’s poor. Opportunity exists to cultivate the two thirds of the world’s uncultivated land for agriculture, much of which is found in Africa. But this is not the only opportunity for Accountants who most times don’t differentiate agriculture from farming (getting back to the land). Even then, farming has changed with agricultural operations being modern and business-oriented hence should attract Accountants. Existing data show that indeed the average age of an African farmer is 60, a reality that can discourage young Accountants.

Phenomenal growth in urbanization in Kenya has created urban labour which urban centres have not been able to absorb even with emergence of Counties. Majority of the young graduates are urban dwellers having moved to the cities in search of jobs. In fact job hunting is a full time engagement of so many young graduates. As a backbone of Kenyan economy, agriculture sector offers solutions to the youth unemployment situation whether employed or self employing.

In the ‘normal’ career path of an Accountant, nothing seems to bring close agriculture and accounting professions together except in the KASNEB syllabus on farm accounting course unit. For the job seekers in white collar jobs, many farms do not have employees with the time or background in accounting. While farming may appear labour-intensive, the agriculture sector in Kenya has made progress in adopting innovations and new practices to revolutionize agriculture in a way that increases productivity, reduces cost of food to consumers and increases revenue for farmers. More specifically, agribusiness and agri-preneurship that leverage on technology such as mobile telephony and the internet is already taking root in Kenya. On top of that, farms have become larger and more complicated hence the need for Accountants to embrace agriculture. The cost of starting and running an agricultural enterprise tends to be much lower while the profit could be as high as 100% when value is added to primary produce. While agriculture requires basic technical knowledge, agribusiness can be started with little or no specialized training in agriculture.

I think that Accountants can make the best agripreneurs because in addition to being good financial managers, they will keep accurate farm records of their good produce.

If you see agriculture as a business, you’ll find agribusiness as the best way to create jobs and make money. I think that Accountants can make the best agri-preneurs because in addition to being good financial managers, they will keep accurate farm records of their good produce. Farmers need an accurate farm records system, bookkeeping, and financial planning system to track all of the farms’ business activities including taxation. Business is about numbers: how much, how many, how long; hence keeping the
books up-to-date is critical to overall farm management and ongoing profitability. It is this accumulation of financial investments to generate a regular income stream and realise capital growth through value appreciation that Accountants call ‘wealth creation’.

Instead of remaining unemployed, the graduating accountants can engage in agri-business with several ideas and opportunities of job and wealth creation in agriculture. All one needs is passion and a willingness to learn is the intricacies of the business like any other business without any special degree in agriculture. Does this mean it’s a smooth playing field? No way. Like any other sector, there are challenges that remain unaddressed in the sector including access to land use and control as a primary resource, credit, requisite skills, markets as well as critical services in the
agribusiness eco system.

We must appreciate the reduced lending by commercial banks to agricultural SMEs following interest rate capping. However, there are lots of opportunities to access capital and credit for agriculture. Private institutional capital providers can contribute to meeting agricultural financing requirements in this country. This requires growth in catalytic capital and innovative financing initiatives like ‘blended finance’. Public finance institutions like AFC have a significant role to play, not just in credit provision but in reducing risk through risk sharing mechanisms like credit guarantees. Such schemes may attract additional private capital towards investment in agriculture that will deliver a socio-economic impact in Kenya and the region. My joy just like yours will be in interacting with accountants owning and running profitable agribusinesses. The impact is reduced rural-urban migration besides mitigating youth under privilege.

While the agricultural sector is creating new jobs and opportunities for employment, it requires accurate, accessible and usable data to scale-up this potential. The use of data for decision-making and action for agricultural growth however, remains elusive. This too is a space for accountants to occupy. So what other opportunities exist for those passionate in agribusiness? There field is wide and largely accessible to players along the Agricultural value chains: including farmers, processors, traders and consumers.

omukaga@iss.nl

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