By Yusuf Ishaku Goje
One positive outcome of the present excruciating recession is the realization by the government of the urgent need to move aware from our over dependence on revenue generated from exporting crude oil, to other more sustainable sectors with multiplier economic benefits such as agriculture and solid minerals. The present government at all levels has not failed to inform us of its commitment to diversify our contracted economy through agriculture. The potential for accelerated economic growth through agriculture cannot be overstated. To buttress this reality, in 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) stated that agriculture is eleven times more effective in poverty-reduction than any other sector.
The agricultural sector remains the most reliable enabler of economic growth. In Nigeria, it presently employs about 60-70% of our labour force, contributes around 40% of our GDP, and the second highest foreign exchange earner after oil. This is not to deny the reality that the sector has been neglected for close to over four decades now, as a result of the oil boom in the 1970s. In the years before 1975, Nigeria accounted for over 60% of the global supply of palm oil, 35 per cent of groundnut, 23% of groundnut oil and 25% of cocoa. Afterwards, due to neglect, agriculture has been practised more on paper than on the farms. Its image has been battered, as it is associated with the poor, crude methods (hardship) and subsistence living.
Some of the challenges that afflicted the sector includes but not limited to lack of political will; inconsistency in policies; poor public investment in research, mechanization, technology; inadequate or absence of critical infrastructure; limited access to credit; lack of good agricultural practices and standardization; poor market accessibility; corruption and politicization of the sector. This has led to the overdependence on importation of food items, which we have the capacity to produce better quality. It is unfortunate that our import bill for just five products cost us between 3-5billion dollars annually. These monies that should be used to revitalize the agricultural sector, and attract more private sector investments, are being taken out of the country to the benefit of others.
While my prayer is that we will see more consistency in policy even after 2020; my worry is that no adequate and sustainable provision, legal or policy, has been made to address the issue of the ageing farming population and youth apathy towards agriculture. The key challenge is that the present generation of youth have grown up with the wrong perception that agriculture is a dirty and labour-intensive activity meant for the poor in rural communities. This has made it the more difficult to attract young people into the agricultural sector; but all hope is not lost as we have come across a Bill presently in the House of Assembly, that when passed, will go a long way in rebranding the perception of the younger ones towards agriculture.
Presently, in the House of Representatives, there is a bill being sponsored by Honorable Yusuf Buba Yakub, representing Gombi/Hong Federal Constituency of Adamawa State in the National Assembly. The short title of the Bill is “Mandatory Inclusion of Agricultural Science in Secondary Schools Curriculum in Nigeria 2016”. The Bill which has passed second reading is designed to stimulate and sustain students interest in agriculture to enable students acquire useful knowledge and skills in line with global standards.
This will ensure that the students become knowledgeable in both the theoretical and practical aspect of agriculture at their tender age. By catching them young, it will cultivate and sustain their interest in and passion for agriculture.
Some of the key features of the bill include: Establishment – the Educational Research Institute is mandated to provide for mandatory inclusion of Agricultural Science as a core and compulsory subject for all secondary schools in Nigeria; Regulation/Implementation- (i) the Institute shall liaise with the states Ministry of Education to ensure the inclusion of Agricultural Science in the Secondary Schools Curriculum, (ii) the Agricultural Science shall be made a compulsory subject in all Junior Secondary Schools in those states; Short Title- This bill may be cited as the Mandatory Inclusion of Agricultural Science in Secondary Schools Curriculum in Nigeria Bill 2016.
This and many more reasons are why the Coalition of Association for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED) is fully supporting the Bill, due to its multiplier economic benefits when passed into law. We also call on all well-meaning Nigerians (especially members of the National Assembly, CSOs, farming groups and media) to also see the Bill not only for Honorable Yusuf Buba Yakub to promote, but one that will benefit us all when passed and so we should advocate for and support it.
Goje is of CALPED
The key challenge is that the present generation of youth have grown up with the wrong perception that agriculture is a dirty and labour-intensive activity meant for the poor in rural communities