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Mbaram: There must be conscious effort to make youth fall in love with agriculture

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Richard Mark Mbaram, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) AgroNigeria

The Managing Director of Agro Nigeria, Richard-Mark Mbaram, in this interview with JOKE FALAJU, said government must do all it could to change youths’ perception of agriculture, and it begins with school farming.

School farms are going into extinction, when compared to what used to be the case years back. Is this supposed to be a worrisome development?
Yes, it is a worrisome development. Back in school, we used to have Young Farmers Club in secondary schools, although at that point school farming was not so much a government-oriented policy, but more of stakeholders’ undertaking. It made sense in that era to key into the Operation Feed the Nation, since it was a generalised movement, and it was deemed that the educational system had to be incorporated to it.

At that time, it was easy to see children gravitate towards the agricultural sector, and I think it is important to sensitise the young ones because it is at this formative levels (primary to secondary schools) that they can be made to appreciate and look at the agriculture sector in a manner that can inform their subsequent future undertakings. If you are not able to present the agricultural sector as a worthwhile sector to young people at this stage, it becomes very difficult to achieve that subsequently.

This is part of the reasons that we at Agro Nigeria are working with the private sector in Ogun State to revamp that concept; we are looking at re-launching the Young Farmers Club in schools, and to also change the younger generation’s mindset about agriculture. In this direction, we have incorporated a prize-winning award- the Nigerian Agricultural Award.

The culture being projected across the continent now is very disturbing. For instance, look at the Big Brother Naija reality television show, where youths, walk in and out of the house, and at the end of the day, after doing or projecting nothing in the real sense of the word, walk away with a total prize of N45m. Meanwhile, a Nigerian child would study, give himself to agriculture only to start earning meagre salaries at the end of the month.

This is one of the reasons that we placed a N1m prize money in our youth agricultural award, just to make a point that it pays to give yourself to some serious undertakings.

Let me at this point state that having school farms is a very good development because agriculture cannot be learnt in the abstract. The taking out of agricultural science from the curriculum as one of the mandatory course in secondary schools is a major crisis that must be addressed deliberately. And until we have a policy-oriented response to these things, it is difficult to see how we can function as a nation. Although Nigeria is beginning to see the importance of agriculture, we need to prioritise it at the level of policy, practice and education. There is no better place to educate the children than at the primary and secondary levels of education. If that is missed, the consequences could be dire.

Contemporary youths are so distant from agriculture. In what ways can this gulf be narrowed ?
If you research into why its difficult to tell a young man or university undergraduate or fresh graduate to engage actively in the agricultural space, you will find out that it is because they have developed a mindset that makes them feel that agriculture is meant for the wretched, run-of-the-mill individual. Why have they formed that view? It is because the society has not cultivated their minds to the benefits of going into agriculture. My own generation learnt and internalised agriculture in school, so even if we were not engaged in the agricultural space, we knew what its benefits were, and it was easy to be sold the idea that beyond farming, you could actually benefit from a whole lot of things as a result of the major value chain in the agriculture. If we start today to change the narrative about agriculture towards our young people, in about 8 to 10 years from now, we will start seeing a generation of people, who would say, ‘I learnt in school that agriculture is worthwhile and appealing.’ It is about being deliberate in our approach.

This is what we want to see in the future.
That is the problem we are having in the larger society, we don’t plan for the future, we are hearing today that our population is nearing 200million and our demographic structure of Nigeria create is a time bomb and we are not heading warning to address it, it potends danger for the future.
With our population nearing 200 million, it important to bring agriculture to the front burner in our economic life because if we don’t shift away from oil and begin to create sustainable and renewable values as a recipe for change, we are courting great danger.

As the government tries to diversify the economy, what contributions can school farming make?
If you are saying that you want agriculture to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy and you are saying nothing about agriculture in primary and secondary schools, how do you expect your economy to run that way? How do you get your workforce to connect if you are not deliberate in your approach up to the grassroots? We have realised that, and that is why at Agro Nigeria, we are working with Ogun and Lagos states to scale up the school farming programme at a pilot phase.


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