It is no doubt regrettable that youth don’t often see a future in agriculture in Africa.
This is even more so in Nigeria, where more than 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas, and more than 70 percent of rural households depend on agriculture for their livelihood.Agriculture provides the single most important platform for employment, income generation and food security, and can drive poverty reduction through increased productivity, value addition and links to other sectors.But if youth and their parents gravitate toward off-farm work and careers in urban areas, then its great promise is lost. And, indeed, that appears to be the case in Nigeria.
However, that unfortunate story is about to change and youth will soon be enticed to embrace agriculture.
In fact, this week, President Muhammadu Buhari, urged government agencies involved in agriculture to involve youth in their activities.
Sensing that the backward state of farming business in Nigeria is push-back for youth, the president urged the agencies to modernise agriculture and involve youth in their initiatives.
He, tellingly, assured youth that those interested in agriculture should show themselves because government would provide an enabling environment for their full participation.
The president spoke at the launch of the National Young Farmers Scheme, designed by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to spur more youths into farming.
Of course, he rightly said that agriculture remains the backbone of the Nigerian economy, as the largest contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).“We will do more to expand, modernise and revolutionise our agriculture, which is our most important asset,” he said.
“I have directed that all NALDA’s abandoned farm estates be retrieved to enable thousands of our young men and women to be engaged in farming.
This Administration will be achieving agricultural mechanisation through this scheme and I am confident that Nigeria, under my watch, we will achieve food security in producing most of what we eat.”The president said resuscitation of NALDA would make Nigeria food sufficient and, in a few years, begin to earn more revenue from export of agricultural commodities. Of course, because of the importance of agriculture to national development and the failure of previous governments to prioritise the sector, it is tempting to say that the president needs to walk his talk this time.
Well, under this president, there are signs that agriculture is set to occupy its prime position in the scheme of things.Nothing seems to demonstrate this shift than when the president said: “By virtue of my passion and desire for agriculture and also as a farmer myself, I am directly supervising NALDA as an authority under the Presidency.
I am asking the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and state governments to give full cooperation to NALDA in its activities.”Happily, the president said that with the success of Anchor Borrowers programme that is spearheaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and new programmes to revive cotton, palm products and cocoa, the next few years will see a vast difference in how agriculture is practiced in Nigeria.
And, in truth, there are many ways to attract the youth to get involved in agriculture. There are many pathways to economic engagement for youth in agriculture, and not all of them mean getting hands dirty, the reason youth shun agriculture.
Youth, particularly of this generation considered digital, can be involved in activities that support agriculture production, capacity building, goods and services, logistics and value addition as service providers and entrepreneurs.And, of course, youth are also farmers.
Young farmers in Nigeria and elsewhere have a distinct approach to agriculture and tend to prefer shorter season, high-value farm enterprises such as horticulture, poultry, bee-keeping and cows-fattening.Nigeria and the whole of African countries pride themselves as having one of the highest concentration of young people.
By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa would have increased tremendously. According to UN projections, Africa is expected to be home to more youth than any region of the world by 2080, surpassing Asia.
If young people are a gift to both their communities and the world, then Africa is a continent rich in gifts. Unfortunately, these gifts remain untapped, particularly so in Nigeria, which is the largest country in the continent in terms of population.
Three in five of the total unemployed on the continent are youth. Consequently, on the average, 72% of the youth population lives on less than $2 a day.
To escape poverty, many young people look for better opportunities by migrating away from rural to urban areas.Obviously, this increased youth migration has a wide impact on the socio-economic status of the continent.
Apart from the strain on public goods, the formal sectors where most graduates seek employment cannot absorb the large number of graduates, estimated to be between 10 and 12 million young people per year (AGRA 2015) in Nigeria alone.
Thus, like the president suggested, agriculture presents a unique opportunity for African youth, not only because it is the largest contributor to GDP in most African countries, but also because it continues to experience significant growth.However, youth remain uninterested in agriculture.
This trend is further highlighted by the ageing farming population in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
Available data from Nigeria reveals that the current average age of a farmer is between 55 and 60 years.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 2010 report identified some economic, social and environmental factors that influence the steady decline of youth involvement in agriculture production in Nigeria.
Among the factors that combine to frustrate the youth from agriculture are economic factors including inadequate credit facilities, low farming profit margins and lack of agricultural insurance, initial capital and production inputs.
There are also social factors that include public perception about farming and parental influence to move out of agriculture. Another factor has to do with environment and this involves continuous poor harvests, and soil degradation.While other factors that have to do with steady decline of youth involvement in agriculture are a result of some of the push factors that drive the rural-urban migration which includes poor physical infrastructure, lack of social amenities, education and skill acquisitions and general dislike for village life.
Sadly, there has been limited investments in intermediate technology, ICT and innovations for agricultural practice in Nigeria. Archaic practices remain the primary methods for land preparation in most agriculture activities in Nigeria.
Due to these factors, the Nigerian youth are discouraged from participating in agriculture as a source of employment because of the drudgery and perceived unattractiveness.
The great challenge of youth unemployment in Nigeria can also be seen as an opportunity for youth to become the engine driving new agriculture and agri-business enterprises as well as rural transformation.
Agriculture, being the greatest enabler of employment in the developing world, provides the greatest number of new economic opportunities beyond production alone.
Youth can get employed in production-related activities. But beyond this, they could also get engaged in processing, value addition and provision of services for the agriculture sector.
In addition, they could get engaged in ICT-based ventures keyed to market prices and general provision of better opportunities.In the end, with the army of unemployed youth in the developing world and ageing smallholder farmers producing most of the food we eat, it is imperative to get more youthful energy into food production, processing and their associated industries, to reduce hunger and poverty in the world and give rural youth a viable and meaningful future.
No doubt, the attempt by the Buhari-led administration to transform the agricultural landscape and make it attractive to youth will not only energise the sector with new skills and creative talent but it will also directly address the high rates of youth unemployment in the country.
Above that, the government’s initiatives will ensure that the country can truly maximise one of its greatest gifts – the youth!