Efforts to drive youth involvement in agriculture has transcended ‘economic gerrymandering’ for the sake of media headlines, but has become a dire necessity requiring strategically formulated, implemented and evaluated measures geared towards ensuring sustainability.
Given the current economic situation bearing down heavily on the citizens, especially the ever increasing youth population who largely seem disoriented on how to eke out a living for themselves without access to ‘the almost non-existent well paid jobs’, effective action needs to be taken. The situation is further compounded by the recent devaluation of the Naira and drop in oil prices, which has led to a drag on the economy.
Over the years the Nigerian government has attempted to stimulate youth interest in agriculture, as part of efforts to reduce ‘youth unemployment’ – accounting for over 70% of the current 23.9% rate of national unemployment, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics – by providing special incentives such as credit facilities for youth involved in agricultural production and processing. Equally, some states as well as private agencies have also provided internship and training opportunities for youths to create and sustain agricultural enterprises.
Factors accountable for dwindling youth interest in agriculture…
Despite the laudable initiatives as mentioned above, the involvement of youth into the agricultural sector remains pitiable at best – the core of the jobs being more of manual labour services than anything else. Accordingly, agriculture is perceived by many rural youth as a ticket to drudgery, hence their continued mass migration to urban areas in search of a ‘better life’.
Several factors account for this and they include poor appreciation and sensitization on the potential economic benefits accruable from agricultural activities and the value chain that it supports. Other major deterrent factors include poor access to funds, technical know-how in the areas of produce handling and storage to ensure quality production, below-par up-scaling of agricultural techniques and agribusiness practices to meet up modern standards, as well as poor regulation and inconsistent policy making. Working together, these and more factors have made the sector less attractive to youth.
New Paradigms to youth involvement in the Agric sector
With the current farming population consisting largely of the aged and barely literate farmers, the need to attract the younger folk becomes even more compelling. However, all attempts at so doing must be well thought out and strategically deployed to further the ends of effectiveness and sustainability.
Indeed, any effort at deepening youth interest in Agriculture must incorporate the primary and secondary school student community as focal targets. This is with a view to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of the sector as well as its opportunities from a career perspective.
Initiatives such as agro-based contests and exhibition/fairs to encourage already budding agriculturists within this youth demography need be developed and implemented to drive interest by celebrating winners, while grooming them as solution-providers for the identified challenges within the sector.
Buttressing the fact that agriculture as a sector that can absorb a large number of unemployed youth, there is a need for value-chain exploration in a bid to outline areas for job creation which include – marketing of agro-produce, agric extension services covering rural areas, logistics and transportation, technical and mechanical skills development for repairs of farming equipments, digital technology training to facilitate modernization of the agric sector, agribusiness start-up and management workshops amongst other obvious agricultural ventures in the area of production and processing.
Nevertheless, the need for advocacy through media channels relevant to youth can not be over emphasized. This will typically include the promotion of reputable personalities from popular industries such as entertainment, business and technology who are involved in agric activities to champion the cause of youth in agriculture especially through direct or indirect mentorship.
Agropreneurs and stakeholders in the agric sector need to be celebrated on prominent platforms with their stories widely told to encourage more youths to see agriculture for more than just a food source but as a business – food is a constant necessity and its demand is ever increasing, hence its inherent capacity for unlimited wealth creation.
Accordingly, Government and the private sector must collaborate in order to facilitate the above mentioned recommendations. The drive to attain self-sufficiency and exportation of key agro-produce in a bid to boost our national economy can only be possible through youth engagement in agriculture. Walking the talk is what the next phase of intervention should specifically focus upon.
A Nagropreneur’s Success Story
For 24 year-old Richmond Azillah, his venture into agriculture makes for quite an interesting read. According to him, he used to serve a rabbit keeper by feeding the rabbits and also cleaning their cages. He did this because he had no money to buy some for breeding.
He tells his story: “One day, two females and one male rabbit were not in good health so the owner gave them to me to slaughter for food as part of his reward. On my way home, I thought of saving the animals rather than killing them. With this, I gave them paracetamol and provided feeds as well. Gradually, the trick worked even though the male couldn’t survive. I later constructed a cage and after two months, I sent the two females for crossing and here I am today with over 100 matured rabbits.”
To Richmond his current status is simply a result of grace, “It is like gaining something from nothing” he points out.
Richmond’s message to other youths is simple; “He who has patience gets what he wants and even though life is full of difficulties, you can still get what you want when you work towards it”