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Agribusiness: Engaging Youth And Supporting Small Scale Farmers

“Iwe kiko lai si oko ati ada ko i pe o ko i pe o, ise agbe ni ise ile wa eni kosise ama jale” “Formal education without cutlass and hoe is not complete because farming is our country’s major trademark, and he that does not work, will steal”.

I was taught this nursery rhyme while in the elementary school. The message at that time did not mean much to me because I was small, naive and did not know how the world works. But years later I have come to appreciate the song knowing the important roles that farmers, especially small scale farmers (SSF) play in feeding the nation on a daily basis. These are the people who produce the bulk of the food we consume. In fact, a recent study shows that small scale farmers produce about 70% of the food consumed in Nigeria! That is, 70% of the food that 160 million people eat is as a result of the farming done by people with small farmlands. This definitely shows that without a doubt, SSF deserve to be respected for their contribution.

Sometime in October 2012, I was part of an initiative spearheaded by HEDA Resource Centre to promote agricultural practice amongst young people leveraging on social media tools to support the voices of small scale farmers and encourage youth to get involved with agribusinesses. While on a visit to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan Dr. Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General of the institute, remarked that there are many opportunities for young people in the agricultural sector which can cushion the effect of high level of unemployment in the country but there is need for the government to spearhead this effort.

In recent times, most commentators have been very critical about the government plan of spending of ten billion Naira on procurement of cell phones for farmers. A lot of people have argued that the said money could have been used to improve extension services, procure more fertilizers, build more roads and mechanised equipment but most have failed to mention the area of making agribusiness attractive to young people. The dream job of an average Nigerian graduate is to work in the oil sector, banking firm or government ministries.

I think the reason for this is that majority of Nigerians view the agricultural sector as a mere food production sector with little or no profit. We need to rethink our strategy and realise that agricultural sector could be a major hub for creating jobs and decent income for youths. In most western countries, farmers are treated like kings because they are the food basket of the nation, source of foreign exchange and job creation.

The question should then be, do jobs in the agricultural sector meet the aspirations of young people and how can they support the effort of small scale farmers? The Nigerian government needs to learn from the RuralStruc programme initiated by French research centre (CIRAD) in Sub-Sahara Africa which prescriptions support to rural transformation, adequate policy support to family farms and broadening of small versus large farm to encompass employment issues among others. Hence, there is an urgent need for policy articulated to support young people’s aspirations, activities and strategies.

Finally, in August 2012, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, announced a 25-year-old Nicholas Powell as the winner of Young Champion Farmer for 2012 award in Jamaica. Nicholas, who won the award for the second straight year planted  yam, sweet potato, cabbage, carrot etc on his seventeen-and-a-half acres of land. Our government should focus more on high impact initiatives that has been tested in other countries to attract young people’s interest to the sector. We cannot overemphasize the role of small scale farmers; let us start discussion on how to engage more young people to be part of this league of nation builders.

Zaid Shopeju – Executive Director, Youth Vision Alliance Network (YVAN), Global Peace Ambassador, Africa Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) and Social Entrepreneur. You can follow him on twitter@Zaidshopeju

Learn more about Youth Voices for Small Scale Farmers (YV4SSF) campaign