Agriculture was once the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. Before the discovery of oil, commercial farms blossomed and farming was seen and practiced as the main occupation. The North had cotton, groundnuts and other products. The East had Palm Oil, while the Southwest had Cocoa. Agriculture laid the foundation for Nigeria’s industrialization, contributing the largest share to an economy that was experiencing very boisterous growth.
However, after the discovery of oil, with its increased production and the huge revenue which it attracted, less and less attention began to be paid to agriculture. Nowadays, most people in Nigeria, particularly the youth, are not interested and do not want to engage in farming any
longer. Most young people and unemployed graduates today are only interested in white collar jobs. Unfortunately, there still exists the misconception that farming is a profession for the poor and illiterate, which entails grueling toil in the farmland, with a mere pittance as returns. These notions have been fuelled over the years by lack of proper training for those who go into agriculture, causing them to demonize and abandon the venture. This leads to an ageing farming population.
Nigeria’s population is currently growing faster than there are farmers to feed the nation.
Nevertheless, agriculture still remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy. It employs two-thirds of Nigeria’s working population. Agriculture accounts for approximately 22 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP. Our priority now should be to get young Nigerians acquainted with the nitty-gritty of agriculture at an early age, introduce them to the business aspect of agriculture and also ignite the interest of school students in agriculture and encourage them to pursue agriculture-related occupations.
One such initiative that aims to accomplish the above-mentioned objectives is the recently launched ‘Green Schools Initiative’ by Notore Chemical Industries – one of Nigeria’s leading agro-allied company. This initiative rallies stakeholders in the agricultural and educational sectors to expand the secondary school curriculum with the intention to get students more involved in the practical aspects of agriculture within dedicated farmlands in their respective schools.
According to a Managing Director/CEO of the company, it will involve Notore partnering with secondary schools across Nigeria to establish demonstration farms that will be used to teach students modern agricultural techniques and best practices. The hands-on approach of demonstration farms accelerates the adoption of international best practices, which will give the students a competitive edge over their counterparts in other sectors.
The initiative it has been said will start off with 120 unity schools and top state-owned colleges across the country, with plans to significantly increase the number of participating schools. This is certainly a worthy initiative that should be highly commended and encouraged indeed! Private schools, the private sector, other non-governmental organizations, and other extension agencies can also emulate such a novel initiative. This will help to inculcate the love of agriculture and farming among the Nigerian youth.
Another important area of the Nigerian educational system that needs to be given serious attention is the inclusion of vocational education and training in the school curriculum.
In Nigeria, there is too much emphasis on university education and merely acquiring paper/academic qualifications, not bearing in mind whether the holder possesses the required knowledge and skills. Nigerians generally have this mentality that a university degree is
more important than technical/social/vocational training. We live in a society that places a high value on white collar jobs and ‘professionals,’ a society where blue collar work is considered as low status. Parents want their children to pursue careers that will enable them maintain or even increase their high status. They want their children to get high-paying professional jobs. They see vocational education as ‘secondary’ and ‘not important.’
Many schools even place a high premium on college admissions and gaining admission into top ivy-league universities. This has reduced the economic opportunities for those who are more work-oriented. It is therefore very necessary and important that parents be re-educated and enlightened regarding the value of occupations that are not high on the social status scale.
The inability of our educational system to provide youths with the demands of industries has led to increased frustrations. This further validates the fact that vocational education brings both immediate and lasting economic returns for the country and its citizens. Schools in Nigeria need to introduce vocational education and training into their curriculum. By doing so, it will assist students to develop skills that can be of benefit to them in the future. Until vocational education is taken seriously, only then will the economy become better. Vocational education and training can contribute to the reduction of poverty, hunger and unemployment. It can also help people become self-reliant.
––Daniel Ighakpe, FESTAC Town, Lagos.