Without investments, agriculture, no easy option, analysts say
By Lukman Akintola
Recently, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh revealed the Federal Government’s plan to employ 100,000 graduates across the federation to take up roles within the agricultural sector. He made this disclosure after inspecting the Value Chain Development Program (VCDP) in Sumaka and Taraku, in Guma and Gwer Local Government Areas of Benue State.
The ministernoted that the main purpose of the package is to encourage young graduates to take up farming as a business, and not just as an hobby. He also noted that it will help government to achieve its food production goals.
The Federal Government’s campaign for greater involvement of the peoplw in the agricultural sector has attracted minimal response from young Nigerians, who are the major target of this policy. A careful analysis of the situation will help point out a few reasons why youths are not going into agriculture as expected by the federal government.
The present economic situation in the country has resulted in increased cost of living. It is now more difficult for young graduates to meet their needs, and the unemployment rate continues to rise.
To run a farming business, certain things must be in place. For example, you will need to have a large expanse of land to operate on a commercially viable scale. In addition, you have to employ skilled workers to help plant crops or tend the animals. You will also need to provide security to ensure the produce are not stolen. All these require funds that are not readily available to most young Nigerians. Thus, they are discouraged from going into agriculture.
Speaking with The Difference, Bello Taofeek, a young graduate of International Relations from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, revealed that he is interested in heeding government’s call with a specific intent to plant crops like moringa, cassava and vegetables. He, however, noted that he does not have the financial capacity to purchase land to start.
“Despite the fact that I studied International Relations, I am very interested in agriculture, most especially planting of moringa, cassava, ugwu, bitter leaf and other vegetables. That is why my Masters studies will centre on food security. But the major challenge I am facing now has to do with securing land. I am not financially buoyant to get a hectare of land at the moment. I will be happy if the government could make this available to people like me that are interested in farming,” he said
Some plans have been put in place by the government to offset some of these logistics problems. For instance, a hectare of land is being leased out by Osun and Ogun State government at the rate of N2,500. This is mainly to make land available to young Nigerians for agricultural purposes. But the major problem is lack of awareness. Lots of Nigerian youths do not know about this scheme and there is low sensitization from the government. This is one major problem that hinders young Nigerians from going into agriculture.
Another major challenge is the supply chain. Farm produce spoil seasily when they do not get to retailers quickly after harvest. There are various reasons for this: a poor transportation system (bad roads), epileptic power supply that does not allow effective preservation of farm produce, and most importantly, a lack of technical know-how among Nigerian farmers. All these affect the supply chain.
Furthermore, several young graduates might not be willing to engage in farming due to the deleterious activities of ubrestrained rampaging and murderous herdsmen. The herdsmen, who are essentially of Fulani stock have killed many farmers across the country. Reports say that the as many as 710 people may have been killed within the past ten months across Nigeria. This is a major challenge the federal government needs to tackle for agriculture to thrive in the country.
The way to go
While the current federal government’s efforts on agriculture are appreciated, there is still much to do to encourage young Nigerian graduates to take up the gauntlet and seriously engage the sector. The government should sensitize the youths about the importance of agriculture as a means to uplifting the nation. It should ensure the provision of adequate funds to potential farmers, and most importantly, protect the lives of farmers by combating the Fulani herdsmen terrorist activities.
Lagos-based commentator, Teslim K. Shitta-Bey adds his voice, affirming that though agricultural involvement is desirable, the package must however run deeper:
‘While I share the view of several commentators that Nigeria must diversify the economy to achieve sustainable growth I am circumspect about the continued touting of agriculture as the next frontier of growth and employment. ‘Going back’ to the same agricultural practices of the 1960’s will in no way help the nations ailing condition for two reasons. First, agricultural commodities are facing adverse terms of trade in international markets as countries dependent on single agricultural goods are witnessing poorer economic circumstances as lower prices for these commodities continue to hurt fiscal revenues and thereby capital expenditure.
Second, the global market space is placing less premium on goods and more on knowledge, technology and creativity. Most successful agricultural nations today (Israel, USA, and China) use less rather than more labour because technology has enabled farming to be less of a spine-jarring sacrifice and more of a disciplined implementation of tested practices and procedures that improve farm yields. Nostalgia of a halcyon agricultural age of the 1960’s may be good for soothing bruised nerves caused by recent economic distress but it is doubtful that this supposed Camelot age will ever return in the same fitness and form that some analysts (including government officials) proffer.’