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Tackling youth unemployment with agricultural credit facilities

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
30 November 2020   |   4:13 am
Agricultural and economic experts, among other professionals, are unanimous in their optimism that given the right interventions, support and basic training, youths in Nigeria can transform the agricultural and food production systems.

Cassava Weed Management

• As IITA, CBN partner on improved cassava production

Agricultural and economic experts, among other professionals, are unanimous in their optimism that given the right interventions, support and basic training, youths in Nigeria can transform the agricultural and food production systems.

Facts and figures to also indicate that the army of unemployed youths could be drastically reduced through sustainable, mechanical and precision technology-driven agriculture, which lettered and tech-orientated youths are capable of spearheading.

Farmcrowdy, Agrecourse, Agro Park and AgriCapital, among other agro-tech budding enterprises, are owned, driven and managed by youths. They and others can do more if empowered.

Executive Director of the Ilorin-based Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Dr Patricia Pessu, in an exclusive with The Guardian, categorically expressed the view when she said: “Limitless employment opportunities abound for youths in agriculture. Apart from opportunities in pre-harvest activities, there are opportunities in the post-harvest managements, which include handling, processing, storage, distribution and marketing.”

In the same vein, Managing Consultant, Foremost Development Services Limited and Consultant/Adviser, Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), Mr Fatai Afolabi, agreed that coordinated interventions, structured and inclusive empowerment could help all sub-sectors of agriculture, especially when such intervention/programme designs and implementation are done with stakeholders, beneficiaries, such as youths.

Need for inclusive, collaborative interventions for youths
ADVOCATES of interventions in agriculture have also called on the government to work with non-governmental, private sector operators, youth organisations and organised farmers’ groups and associations to maximise benefits of such interventions.

Thus, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has authorised each commercial bank to give up to N2 billion maximum loan to youths interested in going into agriculture, under the Accelerated Agriculture Development Scheme (AADS) and at five per cent interest rate yearly, in collaboration with state governments to engage 370,000 youths in agricultural production in about one year.

In a guideline signed by CBN Director of Development, Finance Department, Yusuf Yila Philip recently, the maximum loan accessible under the scheme shall be N2 billion per obligor.

He explained that the country’s population was bulging around the youth category, with an estimated 75 per cent of the population identified in the age bracket of 35 years and below.

Similarly, in a review of the 132nd communique of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting obtained from the CBN’s website, and signed by its Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, he said interventions were largely in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, electricity and gas, solar power and housing constructions among others.

“Recent interventions are largely in the areas of manufacturing, agriculture, electricity and gas, solar power and housing constructions among others.

“Real sector funds, (N216.87 billion); COVID-19 Targeted Credit Facility (TCF), (N73.69 billion); AGSMEIS, (N54.66 billion); Pharmaceutical and Health Care Support Fund, (N44.47 billion); and Creative Industry Financing Initiative (N2.93 billion). Under the Real Sector Funds, a total of 87 projects that included 53 Manufacturing, 21 Agriculture and 13 Services projects were funded,” Emefiele said.
IN another partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) BASIC-II Cassava Seed Entrepreneurs and Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), the CBN said farmers who grow improved disease-free cassava stems would have access to the N25 billion facility it has created to boost cassava production in the country.

The partnership aims at ensuring that beneficiaries of the facility will have increased productivity and are able to repay loans and make incomes for themselves.

A senior official of the apex bank, Chinedu Ogbonnaya, who represented the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, made this known during the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the partners.

The inauguration took place at the office of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) in Sheda, Abuja, witnessed by major stakeholders in the cassava sub-sector, including the CBN, NASC, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike Seeds and IITA GoSeed.

Mr Ogbonaya said the CBN had realised that without the use of improved varieties, cassava production would not be profitable, as youths are expected to make profit from such enterprises to sustain their interest in food-related businesses.

“This year, we insist that cassava growers must plant only improved seeds before they can access our loan facility,” he said.

The Project Manager, Building Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seeds System Phase 2 (BASICS-II), IITA, Prof Lateef Sanni, said the project would work with the cassava growers’ association to ensure adequate supply of improved cassava varieties to farmers.

“As a project in IITA with the mandate to create a sustainable cassava seed system, we are willing to assist the CBN to achieve its goals,” he said.

How will the interventions boost youth employment?
How will this intervention empower youths, boost agriculture as the sector’s contribution to the GDP hits over 30%, according to NBS third quarter report?

Assistant Director, Commercial Agriculture, Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin, Dr. Olabisi Awoniyi, said: “Agriculture today in Nigeria still holds the potential to create sustainable jobs, change the face of youth unemployment currently being experienced and alleviate poverty in the country.”

He explained that “the action of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to give up to N2 billion loan to youths [by each participating bank] interested in going into agriculture through commercial banks at low interest rate (5%) is a laudable one.”

However, he warned that implementation of policies had always been the problem in Nigeria, saying, “if implemented carefully and honestly, a lot can be achieved.”

He suggested that the loan should be given to the real people (youths) interested in agriculture, but not to political farmers, and the bureaucracy of accessing the loan should be removed.

And, he advised, the mode of repayment should be farmer-friendly. The loan, he added, should not be limited to production, but those interested in value addition should be encouraged and included.

“Parastatals involved in training unemployed graduate youths in every field of agriculture in the Federal Government Graduate/Youth Empowerment programmes in River Basins should also be allowed to access the funds for the purpose of empowerment through loans, monitoring and subsequent repayments.”

Again, a former Regional Coordinator of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA), Prof. Kolawole Adebayo, said: “The scheme will address an important constraint to youth participation in commercial agriculture if implemented [carefully]. My hope is that the selection process will sift between youths who have acquired the necessary knowledge and skills required to run a successful agricultural enterprise and those who are not.” This, he emphasized, would be a make-or-mar factor.

Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Kano State, Abdulrasheed Magaji, also said almost all the agric programmes introduced by the government are excellently designed, but implementations have always been the challenge.

He added that if implemented according to the designed plans, a lot would be achieved in food security and employment creation.

“The problem lies in the execution of these programmes. Those in charge of the execution connive among themselves to manipulate and abuse the process to finally divert the programme away from the intended beneficiaries. Otherwise, these programmes would have brought positive changes and created multiple employment beyond the government expectations.”

Also, Mr. Oloye Rotimi Olibale, National President, Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), said: “This is probably the best of all agricultural policies that we have had in this country. The icing on the cake here is the interest rate, which farmers have long been clamouring.”

Oloye said it is capable of helping high-unengaged youthful population in the country, but “the only possible derailments of the programme are possibly implementation and supervision, which have always bewitched such laudable moves.”

However, he advised the youths to see the opportunity as positive gains of the recent #EndSARS protests and use the opportunity to show the leaders that they are hard-working youths.

“It is a good move that can possibly prevent the imminent food scarcity that Nigerians must be prepared to face in 2021,” he warns. “We missed the farming season of 2020, caused by the pandemic and poorest rainfall ever witnessed in the last four decades.”

President of AFAN, Mr. Ibrahim Kabir, said if the youths are duly registered, their agricultural enterprises carefully appraised and the credit properly administered, the impact facilities for the youths would be immense.

“For sustainability, the repayment has to be steady and very well ensured. 370,000 youths out of about 23,000,000 unemployed and underemployed youngsters may be a very humble effort, but if the loans revolve properly, it will cover nearly six times that number of youths both directly and directly.

“I applaud the intervention, and hope it would be implemented judiciously, promptly and properly,” he said. He added that the various interventions would impact the food system more if better coordinated, “and if AFAN is used as a veritable vehicle to reach the beneficiaries, as the loans will only be given to practicing farmers, not brief-case farmers, as largely done today.” He said it is necessary to reach the commodity associations through AFAN for probity.