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Tackling challenges of youth involvement in agribusiness

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CHARLES MADUABUEKE writes on the challenges negating youths’ participation in agriculture and the need to stimulate their interest in the sector.

Studies have shown that agribusiness is one of the most effective tools of fighting poverty, food shortage, hunger and unemployment.Over half of Nigeria’s population is estimated to be youths, and sadly enough, only a few see future in agriculture as most young people are averse to agriculture.
 
An agronomist, Dorcas Abimbola Omole, told The Guardian that “Bulk of Nigeria’s food is produced by ageing farmers, who are less likely to adopt new technologies needed to sustainably increase agricultural productivity, protect the environment and ultimately feed the growing world population.”Some youths who are currently involved in agribusiness said illiteracy, lack of basic amenities, societal and media disorientation, among others, are challenges that should be addressed if youths would be attracted to sector.
 
Value chain catalyst at YPARD Nigeria, Mr. John Agboola, told The Guardian that “youths are uncertain whether agribusiness could provide constant streams of income in comparison with lucrative white-collar jobs and we have societal disorientation to blame.”In the past, he said, one could only identify and define a farmer through poverty-stricken appearance, carrying cutlass/hoe, basket of produce and sometime firewood at the back of the bicycle. So, youth’s mentality about agriculture is stacked with the image of agriculture as ‘poor and dirty career pathway.’”

 
In addition to this, Samson Ogbole, Co-founder PS Nutraceuticals Int. Ltd, while explaining reasons for youth’s disposition to agriculture, said agriculture was once the mainstay of the economy. Then came the oil era, and followed by the banking and telecom industries. The latter sectors provided better means of livelihood and due to lack of innovations in agribusiness, interest was lost in the sector.

Access to information, knowledge and education
INFORMATION available in most quarters wrongly portrays agriculture as a job for the unfortunate, downtrodden and those with informal education. Home movies have championed this deception by casting farmers as poor, thus discouraging youths from embracing agribusiness.
 
Omole postulated that insufficient access to knowledge could hinder the development of needed skills to maximize profitability in agribusiness. Hence, training is required so that youths could respond to the needs of a modern agricultural sector. “There is a need to improve young rural women’s access to education and incorporate relevant agric skills for enhanced productivity,” she said.

Limited access to land
ACCESS to land is fundamental to starting a farm, and often it is difficult to acquire by youths.  Inheritance laws and customs in developing countries, the agronomist said, often make the transfer of land to young farmers problematic and thus, in dire need of amendment. Therefore, communal, state and national structures through which youths could gain access to land for agric purposes should to be emplaced.

Poor access to financial services
MOST financial service providers are reluctant to provide agric credit facilities to youths due to lack of collateral, financial literacy, and among other reasons, Omole added.“Promoting financial products and start-up funding opportunities to youths, organising mentoring programmes and encouraging youths to form cooperatives could help remedy these issues,” she said.

Non-inclusive agric policies
AGRIC policies, Omole said, often fail to account for the heterogeneity of youths, and so do not provide them with effective tools and support. She said youths’ opinion are not heard or sought after during policy decision making process, and so their complex needs are not incorporated.She advocated that a coherent response is needed from policymakers to ensure that the core challenges faced by youths are addressed, and that youths should be involved in policy formulation.

Limited market accessibility
ACCORDING to Omole, market accessibility is becoming more difficult due to the growing influence of supermarkets and rigorous conditions of their supply chains, exorbitant transportation cost of harvests, among others. The agronomist lamented that glut was becoming a burdensome task for farmers, and without a viable market, youths would not be able to sustain production. 
 
“Lack of storage and processing facilities are other challenges that must also be addressed,” she added.Mr Agboola added, “High cost of inputs and equipment, infrastructural deficit, climate change and environmental challenges, limited support from the government and other stakeholders also needs to be tackled.”Agriculture is associated with risks, but Omole said, “Youths targeted projects and programmes can be effective in providing youths with the extra push needed to enter the agricultural sector and ultimately address the significant untapped potential of this sizeable and growing demographic.”

Rebranding agriculture
TO reduce high youth unemployment rate in the country, Agboola suggested agribusiness should be made appealing to young people to create jobs, saying, youths need to be told that there is cash in cashew and thus, sustainable income in agriculture. Therefore, he advised, “To attract youths, the first step is to rebrand and make agriculture attractive.”
 
Mr. Ogbole said that relevant stakeholders need to play a pivotal role in reinventing the image of agriculture, as youths currently see agribusiness as primitive, tedious and lacking modern technologies.Hence, agribusiness should be presented as that which shows the promise to give youths the life they desire.
Youths embracing the opportunities that agriculture present is now growing, Agboola said, and young people like him are increasingly speaking up on why agriculture is the golden goose. 
 
The agronomist also said, “There are cases of entrepreneurs who have successfully carved a niche for themselves in agribusiness by also helping local farmers reach global markets while creating jobs for other people.” Omole added that “with the advent of emerging technologies, mechanisation and ICT, farming has become a lucrative profession for youths because of their desire to integrate technology and innovations into the sector to power future growth.”

Engaging youths in agric
GLOBALLY, attitude towards agriculture is fast changing and Nigeria needs to move along this direction. Facilitating youth participation in agriculture has the potential to drive widespread rural poverty reduction. And in as much as there are challenges, young agric entrepreneurs should see barriers as a learning process and should engage every means to overcome them.
 
Indeed, agriculture provides youths a viable way to harvest success and a coordinated response to increase youth’s involvement in the sector is more important now, as a soaring national population and decreasing agricultural productivity mean endemic hunger is becoming imminent.“To sustain the food system, we need smart and energetic youths to take over from the aged farmers,” Ogbole suggested. The notion of agriculture being a dirty job has to change and thus, different stakeholders, particularly the government, private sector operators and interested stakeholders have to illuminate the passion for agribusiness among youths.”
 
Young farmers are encouraging fellow youths by setting up mobile facilities for crowdfunding, mentoring newbies on how to grow high value crops, keep and raise livestock commercially and the importance of value chain exploration and exploitation is being hammered upon.“Investing in agriculture is not easy but with patience, it is a worthy decision as well as investment,” Agboola added.


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