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Entrenching competitive grants, training for youths in agric

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
21 December 2020   |   2:02 am
Attracting youths into agriculture requires ingenuity, resourcefulness and careful designs. Though most youths jump training opportunities, not all are interested or passionate about food production or allied businesses.

Acting Head of Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Oyo State, Mr Adebiyi Adebayo (left); first winner, Adeboye Aanuoluwapo; Executive Director, NSPRI, Dr Patricia Pessu; second winner, Celine Alozu; Zonal Coordinator, NSPRI Ibadan, Dr Grace Otitodun and representative of the Coordinator, NYSC, Oyo State, Mrs Hadiza Bello, during presentation of grants to the corps members, recently.

As NSPRI empowers two ex-NYSC members with N4m

Attracting youths into agriculture requires ingenuity, resourcefulness and careful designs. Though most youths jump training opportunities, not all are interested or passionate about food production or allied businesses. Thus, reducing unemployment through agriculture cannot be done successfully without good strategies. It requires calculated means.

The Federal Government, through agricultural institutes and specialised universities, has undertaken several short-term training courses for youths, sometimes with starter kits running into millions of naira. Lawmakers, both at the state and federal levels, also do mobilise their constituents for agricultural training for political statements, but over 80 per cent of such resources are estimated to often go down the drain.

However, such training and empowerment schemes have yielded little or no results, as participants were reluctantly pooled for training, while they end up selling such starter kits. Other factors, such as difficult access to land, destruction of cultivated farms by herders, insecurity and inadequate resources, have repelled lettered youths, especially, from agriculture and agro-allied businesses.

Whereas, there are competitive and more effective ways of attracting and retaining passionate youths into agriculture. Historically, ‘You Win’ entrepreneurial scheme in the Goodluck Jonathan era, despite its shortcomings, did attract best of ideas and a pool of passionate youths, including agricultural enthusiasts. The model was not only competitive, but also attractive to youths with viable ideas on a competitive platform. It was not a quota selection process or geo-political zone criterion. It was a competition/selection of best ideas.

Adopting the model in its agricultural training and empowerment for the youth, the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI) selected two ex-corps members for a grant of N4 million recently.

The grants, N2 million each for the two young Nigerians, are to serve as start-up kits for the beneficiaries who were selected from 2019 Batch of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) trainees to start their own agribusiness.

The Executive Director, NSPRI, Dr Patricia Pessu, made the presentation of the cheques to the beneficiaries at the opening of a three-day capacity building for corps members on value addition of agricultural commodities in Oyo State.

Pessu said the beneficiaries, who had been earlier trained in March, were deemed qualified for the grants following proposals on how to start an agribusiness.

Using grants and training to reduce unemployment
Pessu enjoined the about 40 corps members at the three-day training to maximise the opportunities presented by the institute, for anyone of them could also get such a grant with good proposals.

The NSPRI boss noted that the training course, the fourth in the series for corps members, is a way the institute addresses the increasing youth unemployment and restiveness across the country.

She said: “The increasing number of unemployed youths in the country, which the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts 13.9 million as of the second quarter of 2020, is a worrisome situation that calls for attention.”

With the reducing number of jobs opportunities at federal, state government and private sector levels, compounded by the dwindling revenue from the oil sector, the NSPRI boss said, it calls for diversification of the economy, and agricultural businesses are part of the pillars.

“Agriculture is the viable option to diversify the economy. It remains the most promising sector of our economy that presents the opportunity for all and sundry to explore.

“This is the point where the Nigeria Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI) becomes a dependable partner to support the youth and harness the potential in post-harvest component of agriculture,” she emphasised.

NSPRI is the only research institute saddled with the sole mandate to research into post-harvest research, development and management of agricultural crops produced in the country to reduce post-harvest losses, maintain the quality and ensure food safety and security.

“With over 60 years of post-harvest research delivery, it has developed various technologies and appropriate techniques for handling, processing and storage of different categories of agricultural commodities suitable for Nigeria market and export.

“Agriculture is no longer an act, but rather a business enterprise that blossoms everyday due to recent happenings. Value addition to agricultural products is a viable and trendy aspect of agribusiness that creates job opportunities, increases farmers’ income and ensures abundance of food and loss reduction.”

The objective of training the corps is to encourage self-reliance, self-employment and productivity of youths, and it is hoped that such training, grants and institutional empowerment would translate into better post-harvest practices, innovation adoptions and food business creativities among young Nigerians with formal education, zeal and technology orientation.

“It might be of interest to mention that we have selected two out of the 2019 batch of trainees who will be supported with N4 million start-up kits for their own agribusiness. This similar opportunity awaits trainees of this batch who submit a promising proposal at the end of the service year,” Pessu added.

In her brief remarks, the NYSC State Coordinator, Mrs Grace Ogbuogebe, said the importance of the workshop could not be over-emphasised because Skill and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme is the most recent aimed at tackling youth unemployment in the NYSC.

She commended the institute for the initiative, saying that there was no better time to acquire the skills than now, “as we are preparing them for passing out in few months, and I assure you that this opportunity shall not be taken for granted.

“In conclusion, dissuading our teeming youths from pursuing the illusive white-collar jobs and helping them to concentrate on entrepreneurship are ongoing processes that require periodic fine-tuning.

“It requires all stakeholders because it is a responsibility that cannot be handled by just one sector. We in NYSC are aware and we constantly remind ourselves of our responsibility to contribute our quota to the attainment of our aspiration and development as enshrined in our mandate.”

The two beneficiaries, Akinboye Anuoluwapo and Celine Alozu, in their separate remarks, expressed gratitude to the institute for the support, while they promised to make good use of the financial assistance in the interest of the economic development.

Similarly, fish processors in Nigeria have been urged to use modern techniques in their bids to mass-produce healthier products for human consumption.

Such techniques, it was said, would guarantee the fish processors an opportunity of producing fish acceptable in the international market, thereby boosting the farmers economic power.

Using modern technologies in fish processing also prevents food poisoning, ensures wholesomeness and adequate preservation. Dr Pessu made the appeal in her address at the official commissioning of the fish processing centre constructed by the institute and donated to Tatabu community in Niger State. the community is known for production and processing fish in the country, hence the need to improve their kits and systems for food safety and productivity.

Reeling out the various nutritional and economic values of fish, the NSPRI boss said the institute was working with different stakeholders to reduce the unacceptable level of fish post-harvest losses across the country.

Fish is the cheapest source of animal protein consumed by the average Nigerian and accounts for 35 per cent of animal protein consumption and up to 50 per cent of the total animal protein intake. Fishery is an integral part of the agricultural sector in Nigeria, with a steady animal contribution of 3.5 to 4.0 per cent to total GDP over the last decade.

Hence, “NSPRI is working with different stakeholders to reduce the unacceptable high incidence of fish post-harvest losses across the country. Indeed, today’s commissioning is yet another demonstration of the institute’s pursuit of this goal,” she said.

She added that the smoking kilns had been meticulously designed to avert the problem of accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), a known cancer-causing chemical on the smoked fish end product.

The NSPRI boos, however, called on the Tatabu fish processors to ensure that the facility, which has the capacity to dry 2,500 kilogrammes of fresh fish per cycle to produce at least 500 kilogrammes of dry products, is put to maximum use and not vandalised.

In his remarks at the event, the Executive Secretary, Agriculture Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Prof Garuba Sharubutu, who was represented by the council’s Head of Protocol, Mr Kayode Ayedogbon, applauded NSPRI for the donation.

The Saki of Tatabu, Mallam Isa Ndakida expressed the community’s appreciation to NSPRI, assuring that the facility would be used to optimise quality fish processing.

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