Career in farming is bittersweet
In the past two years, thousands of young Nigerians have been rescued from Libya and other countries where they suffered dehumanising conditions because they left Nigeria to seek greener pastures.
more and more of them are still seeking avenues of escape from the country.
The situation is again compounded by the economy that has been pretty harsh during the review period, and youth unemployment that has jumped to an all time high.
Data from the National bureau of Statistics show that out of the 75 per cent youth that make up Nigeria’s population, over 55.4 per cent is unemployed or underemployed.
The unemployment situation has been blamed for a spike in the rate of crime in the country. Youths engage in cybercrime, kidnapping, armed robbery and other vices.
African governments, Non-governmental organisations and international organisations, including FAO, are increasingly implementing youth-specific capacity development initiatives in support of youth involvement in agriculture.
most initiatives combine agriculture and entrepreneurship as one of the strategies to attract youth to agriculture and address the growing youth unemployment.
Lamenting that its greatest problem is the growing youth unemployment in the country, the government has, through the bank of Industry, bank of Agriculture, Federal ministry of Agriculture and rural Development and several other organisations, made funding and capacity building initiatives available to attract youths to farming and to empower the young people who are already farmers.
Among the resources available for young farmers are; -empowering Young Farmers Initiative, a project of changemakers.
EYFI offers basic business training, one-year mentorship and free consultation to youth in rural villages, enabling them to create, develop and grow their agric businesses.
To provide credit, EYFI launched the rolling Fund via partnership with the boa enterprise bank, with two credit lines to young farmers.
Young Farmers club: This is a voluntary organisation for students under the age of 20.
YFC was established with the slogan ‘catch Them Young’ aimed at attracting the youth in secondary schools to appreciate and choose agriculture as a career.
It is also aimed at training students on how to manage farms, acquainting them with different techniques of farming, to make information available on agricultural breakthroughs and improve students’ knowledge.
Farm Awareness for Food Preservation Initiative: This platform creates financial support system to support organic farmers and reduce poverty.
On its part, The Fund for Agricultural Financing in Nigeria aims at catalysing an agriculture-led inclusive economic growth through innovative financial support for agricultural productivity, value-added processing and market linkages.
The funds are meant for agricultural smallholders and Small and medium enterprises.
The Youth employment in Agriculture Programme: This is a youth-led initiative from the Federal ministry of Agriculture to get youths involved in agriculture.
The ministry under this initiative established a Youth Department which coordinates all YEAP activities and ensures that there is proper monitoring and evaluation of impact.
The Federal Government in launching the YEAP said it targeted reaching up to 750,000 Nigerian units over five years with financial support to enable them establish and run wealth creating agribusiness enterprises as Nigeria is making efforts to diversify its economy.
Young farmers can also benefit from Farmcrowdy, Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that empowers rural farmers by providing them with improved seeds, farm inputs, training on modern farming techniques and a market for the sale of their farm produce.
Fresh from school and while serving as a youth corps member, a young graduate can access the Youth entrepreneurship Support fund from the bank of Industry to develop one of the business ideas listed on the bank’s cluster programmes.
Despite all the financial resources, perhaps due to lack of awareness of their existence, the young farmers in this story have never taken advantage of the numerous intervention funds targeted to the youth.
Onu expresses this in a not more subtle language as he says, “The loans government is supposed to give is just audio democracy loan as farmers find it difficult meeting the conditions for the loan. Unfortunately it is politicians that also access the loan.”
“Yes, the government is supposed to give some loans to farmers, but we have not be able to access it for once,” Oyeniyi says.
“most times I read about all these grants and loans online, newspapers, TV and so on but it doesn’t get to farmers that are actually into production and operations.”
Even though they lack ability to access finance and other aids, the young farmers are not deterred in creating ingenious and very effective ways to grow their business, prevent post harvest losses and reach the market.
“If I have loss in any of my production, the profit on the next production will be used to balance it all and vice versa,” Oyeniyi says.
Onu gets seeds from seed companies and research institutes, uses irrigation, a method he learnt from school.
On how she reduces her post harvest losses, Dalypop says she does this by drying her vegetables and crushing them into powder which she stores in rubber containers or sacks.
The young farmer who basically obtained her knowledge of crop preservation from Google and Youtube says, the portals have also taught her modern farming methods like sack farming and liquid planting (hydroponics).
“I planted plantain, mulberry, castor, Ghana pumpkin, mint and egusi and others in sacks and I planted garlic and rice in plastic bottles practicing the hydroponics.
“I also learnt modern mushroom farming through an online class on Facebook.”
For Ogumuka Onyeaghalachi, chairman, Ogunagro business Ventures, a graduate of biochemistry, despite the challenges, there is a certain satisfaction from being able to sell farm produce.
Onyeaghalachi, a potato farmer says, “I was able to produce 20 bags of potatoes in 2019. I have farms in Umuahia and uncultivated lands in Obowo/ mbaise, Imo State. by his grace, I shall cultivate all in 2020.
“The business is profitable. A bag of potatoes cost N7,500. As a producer, I sold N6,000 and people rushed it. I was excited, then I planted more. “The harvest is done twice a year.”
Full of ambition, he wants the government to give him a grant so that he can expand his potato farm and produce potato, corn and other crops in large quantity next season.
He adds, “I want to have a large plantain farm on a large expanse of land. It will give me joy if I have a plantain/banana farm that houses between 2,000 and 5,000 stands of suckers.”
elsewhere around the world, novice farmers don’t have it easy: They face similar challenges like their Nigerian counterparts, such as lack of knowhow, finding and paying for land.
However, backing from their respective governments has enabled many to make successful career out of farming.
In the US, the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 created cooperative banks to provide loans to farmers. That developed into today’s Farm credit System, which is a government-sponsored financial system with more than $280bn in assets.
Farmers can access loans to acquire equipment and inputs they need for their business without having to go through commercial banks with their strict conditions and exorbitant interest rates.
In African countries like Kenya, Ghana, cote d’lvoire and others that have strong agricultural practice, various policies and incentives that are targeted at getting the youths involved in agriculture abound.
experts say the best way to attract youth to the agricultural sector is through technology and mechanisation.
The Director- General, Lagos chamber of commerce and Industry, Dr muda Yusuf, says, “To attract the youth to agriculture, mechanisation and use of technology must be made much easier and accessible.”
According to him, chances of success for youths in agriculture seem better in areas such as animal husbandry, poultry and fish farming as well as processing and marketing.
He advises youth to do proper evaluation of the agricultural value chain and determine which segment best suits their competencies and capacities.
For agronomist and food scientist, Dr chijioke Osuji, young people should be encouraged to explore the agricultural value chain other than farming.
He says, the value chain from processing to services is very huge and there is a big gap that needs to be filled.
He says, “more young people should be trained in the use of technology to operate in the agricultural value chain.
“We need good labeling for our products and this is where young people can function very well.
“Government should invest in tractors and power tillers and encourage people to invest in tractors that can be given out on hire. This is where young people can be employed and they can be trained to fabricate some of the machines locally. “They can also be trained to handle irrigation.” Osuji advises the government to map out large agricultural land and share the land one hectare each to young farmers.
“It should be a kind of settlement where every amenity is provided and the young ones can go there and live and get involved in agriculture and its value chain. extension workers should also be put there to guide the young farmers
“Industries can go there to source raw materials.” On his part, the Deputy Director, Nigerian Agricultural extension, research and Liaison Services, Prof emmanuel Ikane, also suggests training young people in skills that would better position them to be relevant in the agricultural sector.
He regrets that agricultural sector in Nigeria is one of the most neglected sectors and a sector where 90 per cent of the key operators are not skilled.
He calls for more government attention and investment to grow the sector.
Although the government has dedicated a lot of time, money and efforts to the agricultural sector, experts say the best way to gain from the sector is through value addition.
Nigeria is not getting the kind of income that it should get from agriculture because the concentration is in the production and sale of primary products, experts insist.
All over the world, more income is realised from value addition to agricultural produce, they say.
bearing this in mind, the government has commenced efforts to invest in value addition to its agro products.
In November, it signed a memorandum of Understanding with the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAASG2000), a global nongovernmental organisation involved in demanddriven and value chain-oriented curriculum in 26 institutions, including 24 universities and two agricultural colleges across nine African countries.
The mou would serve to reduce post harvest losses through proper utilisation and investment in the agriculture value chain.
The Director, Federal Department of Agriculture extension, mrs Karima babangida, said that the collaboration had improved productivity and strengthened extension delivery for 2018/2019 cropping season in six states.