Planting tea and cultivating positive change


April 30, 2012

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    Salma Bahramy/Mercy Corps  </span>
    George Ngethe surveys the tea seedlings in the nursery he started with other young people in his village through Mercy Corps' Yes Youth Can program. Photo: Salma Bahramy/Mercy Corps

I’m crouched inside a tea nursery high up in the Central Rift Valley of Kenya, and George Ngethe is patiently explaining to me how tea is produced.

“What you see here will look like that in less than a year,” he points to the hills all around us. We’re surrounded by thousands of acres of tea bushes owned by small farmers throughout this Kenya’s largest province.

Just a few months ago, George and some other local young people started this nursery with the extra cuttings from the surrounding farms. Today, it holds over 8,000 seedlings that will sell for about 10 Kenyan shillings each, slightly above local market price.

So how did a few local kids enter Kenya’s booming tea market? George is part of Mercy Corps’ Yes Youth Can program in Kenya, which was created with funding from USAID to help empower young people to create businesses and promote positive change in their communities.

George noticed that the local tea farmers would prune and throw away the excess from the tea bushes. Seeing an opportunity, he approached a few of these farmers with an idea: he and his group would provide the labor if they could keep some of the viable cuttings with buds. They would then take these, plant in their own nursery and sell to other farmers for replanting.

George was selected by his peers to lead the project in his bunge, which is how a local assembly of people are referred to in Kenya. His parents passed away years ago and at 26, he is raising his three young siblings. His face lights up when he talks about the tea nursery, what it means for his community and the hope he now has for his future.

For many young people in Kenya, economic opportunities simply don’t exist — and without productive outlets, they are more likely to get involved in conflicts and violent activities. With partners World Vision, Winrock, CLUSA and Inuka, Mercy Corps has started Yes Youth Can in six provinces throughout Kenya that were particularly affected by post-election violence in 2007. Through local bunges, young people connect and mobilize to develop community service projects, learn job skills and foster more positive contributions like George’s tea nursery, ensuring a better future for themselves and for their villages.