African Countries Must Embrace Agriculture, Says US Envoy

Ugo Aliogo

The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, W. Stuart Symington, has urged African countries to embrace agriculture, saying any society that cannot feed its people is a failed society.

Symington said this yesterday in Ibadan, Oyo State, while listening to the presentations of a group of young entrepreneurs under the Enable Youth Agriculture (EYA) programme of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Through EYA, IITA has been supporting the dreams and aspirations of many African youths who are gathered under this youth group to create an umbrella platform for the encouragement of young Africans to choose a career in agriculture.

About 50 youth, who gathered to receive the US ambassador, were drawn largely from Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Congo and comprised young men and women who graduated from diverse fields of agricultural disciplines.

The initiative, which started at the IITA Headquarters, in Ibadan, in August 2012, has grown tremendously, spreading its tentacles across Africa and bringing under its net vibrant, energetic, young people who are trained to become owners and co-owners of independent agribusiness enterprises.

According to the ambassador, the challenge of food production is so important for Africa and indeed the whole world, to surmount that every nation must encourage its youth to go into agriculture, towards boosting food production.

While urging the youth to form value chains with other interest groups, Symington recommended the Ghanaian model of micro-finance where a whole village was transformed by an internally-generated trade interest model of villagers financing themselves from interests they pulled together to fiancé one another.

Symington also urged the youth to buy products from one another and put together lessons they learn from themselves in the process of learning the agricultural entrepreneurial skills.

“You should buy products from each other. You are your own buyers and you should be your own internal buyers. Put together lessons learnt in the process. Each should learn from the mistakes and experiences of the other.

“You should also learn from the Silicon Valley maxim. In Silicon, they have an expression: ‘If you haven’t failed once, you are not in business.’ You are like Silicon Valley. You will fall; pick yourselves up. Is there anyone who rides a bicycle for the first time without falling down?”

Earlier, the EYA group, through the Interim Head, Youth in Agribusiness, Evelyn Ohanwusi, had made a presentation to the ambassador, on how it operates on a philosophy of “to grow crops, you must grow farmers” and how its goal is to reduce economic marginalisation of African youth through an introduction of modernised agricultural technology, in a way that leads to greater employment opportunities.

Within a short period of time, according to the group, the EYA initiative recorded successes and became a model that was found adoptable by organizations and corporate bodies executed as youth in agribusiness projects, one of which is the ENABLE-TAAT project, funded by the African Development Bank.

In his own remarks, the Director General of IITA, Dr. Nterenya Sanginga, told the Ambassador of a meeting he once had in Missouri, United States, with some Nigerian professors who did not want to come back to Nigeria and how he challenged them on the need to strengthen the agricultural strides being made back home, stating that in the next 30 years, the food to be consumed by the world would be produced in Africa.

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