Youth Development through Rural Farming

Youth Development through Rural Farming

Oluchi Chibuzor writes on the need to create conducive environment to encourage rural farming

About 500 million young people – about half of the youth population of developing countries – living in rural areas are prone to poverty, inequality and are faced with a range of challenges.
These challenges include lack of training and skills, limited access to land and credit, scarce inputs and restricted links to social networks.

These challenges, however, can be turnaround with Agroecological potential in their environment.
Speaking ahead of the G7 meeting held recently in Paris, France, the President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), President, Gilbert Houngbo, had said, “No stability in the Sahel without rural development and job creation for young people, economic transformation of rural areas and the creation of jobs for millions of young rural people are pre-conditions to stability in the Sahel.”

The president, who took the message to the ministerial meeting on development, stated that if given the opportunity, young rural people could drive development in their communities. “We need the right policies and investments in place before they can have any hope of doing so,” he said.

According to IFAD, in the Sahel, the number of young people is unprecedented, with over 60 per cent of the population below 25 years of age, two thirds of youth live in rural areas and are poorer and more often lack access to employment, skills, financial services and technology than adults.

According to Houngbo, failing to act has given rise to a lost generation of young people without hope or direction, which contributes to an increased risk of forced economic migration and fragility.
The IFAD 2019 Rural Report added that among rural, semi-rural and peri-urban young people, 67 per cent live in areas with strong agricultural potential, but many have limited access to markets.

According to the report, “With greater access to skills training, markets, financial services and technologies, these young people could become more productive, connected and in charge of their own future. It however warns that policy-makers need to act quickly, pointing to the impacts of climate change on agriculture, the need to seize the opportunities presented by the digital revolution, and the growing aspirations and demands of young people themselves.”

Nigerian Agriculture Promotion Policy This policy which was to build on the Successes of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the previous government by closing key gaps identified, was also to provide a disciplined approach to building an agribusiness ecosystem.

Many people say Nigerian economy is blessed with series of natural resources, yet they suffer in the midst of plenty. Currently, Nigeria has over 80 per cent of its land arable but of which less than 40 per cent of the land is cultivated despite the country’s teeming population and level of unemployment.

In a paper presentation titled, “Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020 and Rural Development in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects,” by Felix Ojong and Bassey Anam, Department of Sociology, Institute of Public Policy and Administration, University of Calabar; agreed that the challenge facing the Nigerian agricultural sector is historical.

According to them, judging from previous experiences of inadequate implementation of development policies in Nigeria and further assessing the policy framework of the Nigeria Promotion Policy, there are a lot of concerns.

“These issues are central and must be addressed to ensure the prospects of implementing the policy for the general wellbeing of the Nigerian rural economy.

“The Nigerian rural economy is still faced with the challenge of subsistent farming. “This affects the inability to meet domestic food requirements in rural Nigeria. Although there is a provision for private partnership in this regard, the policy has not stated in clear terms how the vulnerable rural poor will be able to access farming support programmes without collaterals.

“Food processing issues also affect the prospects of Agriculture Promotion Policy in Nigeria. It is estimated that about 20-40 per cent of the yearly harvest is lost during processing. The primary cause is the lack of efficient harvesting techniques,” they stated.

They further noted that most rural farmers harvest crops by hand, instead of using machines. Also, storage methods are not generally up to standards. They noted that most of the crops are lost to physical damage caused by insects, bacteria, or fungus. They writers insisted that Nigeria must adopt modern technology in food storage and rural farmers must be trained accordingly

Generally, there is less incentive for local farmers to grow local foods when cheaper, more palatable foods are imported. This forces local farmers to reduce prices, which reduces the income generated by the farm. The consequence is decreased farm production.

To combat the effects of imported food on development, several initiatives are suggested, including providing farmers with micro-credit that is subsidised and increasing tariffs on imported food.

Agricultural Comparative Advantage
Adding his voice recently, the U.S. Consul General in Lagos, Mr. John Bray, urged Nigeria to leverage on its vast agricultural potential to create wealth and boost its economy.

Bray added: “The task before Nigeria is to show the world its enormous potential in agriculture. Nigeria needs to use agriculture to create wealth, employment and grow its economy, U.S. is doing that and Nigeria can do that too.

“In the next 50 years, what produce will be known around the world as a signature product from Nigeria? Would it be shea butter, tiger nut, cashew or palm oil; Nigeria has the comparative advantage in these produce and more and should explore it the same way the US explored cranberry potential to create wealth,” he said

Unhealthy Trends
But, Mr. Taiwo Agboola, who resides in Ilorin, said, most of the youths in the rural areas are not willing and ready to go to farm any more, all they are interested in is how to make quick money.
He said also that within Ganmo community, in Ifelodun Local Government Area (LGA), Kwara State, they prepare to engage in selling of land handed over to the them by their forefathers.

According to him, “However those ones who are willing and ready to farm, they do not have enough resources to buy farm tools, as most of them engage in traditional mode of farming; so they do not have capital to buy cutlass, holes, fertilizer.

“The few once that are into this farming get to a stage where they become tired and this is discouraging because they are using traditional ways of farming.

“Due to the strenuous nature of farming with crude implement and local techniques, farming has become very tedious for today’s youths,” he explained.

On what could be done to help rural youths that are ready to improve their livelihood through farming, Agoola noted that was not all about money, stressing the importance of education and training on modern farming techniques like Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).

Stakeholders Engagement
Recently, Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Gbolahan Lawal, called on stakeholders in the agriculture sector to see agriculture as a combination of business and development platform by concentrating on value chains where the state has comparative advantage.
This, according to him, would enable them develop strategic partnership that would stimulate investment in the state.

Lawal, who stated this at an ‘Agricultural Stakeholders Engagement,’ meeting in Lagos, said the state government was committed to ensuring the attainment of food sufficiency.

He said that the stakeholders’ engagement was convened in order to, “provide syndrome in policy decision making in governance,” adding that the contributions and inputs of major stakeholders were important towards the attainment of the state’s THEME agenda for the agricultural sector.

The commissioner noted that the goal was to train 15,000 people with the expected outcome of creating capacity to serve consumer demands and with an expected output of large scale dissemination of productivity-increasing capacity program and increase investment into enabling infrastructure and capacity building.

He listed some of the current initiatives of the state government in the sector to include the establishment of 32 tonnes per hour rice mill at Imota; the Lagos –Kebbi states collaboration on rice value chain development; Agricultural Based Youth Empowerment Scheme (Agric-YES ); Agric-YES Songhai Model ; Farm Estates Initiative – Fishery, Poultry, Piggery and Vegetables; Quality Input Supply with Robust Business Model and the collaboration with Development Partners such as World Bank assisted Project (APPEALS), DAWN Commission and CBN among others.

“A state with food security and improved nutrition will no doubt achieve sufficiency in comparative advantage of food staples and sufficient market infrastructure that will also ensure competitiveness thereby being the catalyse flows of agricultural finance through increased partnerships with multilateral and donor agencies.” he noted.

“I have no doubt in my mind that this will lead to increased IGR for the state government on one hand as well as leverage potential of other states and access to the Lagos markets. A well-funded private sector capable of scaling emergent agri-business successes will lead to increased inclusivity and sustainable practices,” the Commissioner noted.

The Special Adviser to the Lagos Governor on Agriculture, Ms Abisola Olusanya, also commended the stakeholders at the engagement session for willing to collaborate with the state government in developing the roadmap that would guide and reshape the role of agriculture in Lagos.

Similarly, the Yobe state government also organised its first agricultural retreat so as to formulate implementation strategies for the state government.

The committee would be chaired by Professor Abba Gambo, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture of the Yobe State University, Damaturu.

He said, as in many states across the country, majority of the people in Yobe State engage in farming as a primary source of livelihood, describing agriculture as the linchpin of the nation’s economy.

He also said, “at a time when our country continues to look for ways to diversify the economy, create more jobs and lift people out of poverty, it does not seem as if we are making the best of agriculture as the best alternative for wealth creation. “Despite abundance of land and the energy of our people, agriculture here in Yobe State still remains largely subsistent.”

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