Sunday, 23rd January 2022
Breaking News:

‘How to take youths off streets with post-harvest technologies’

By Femi Ibirogba
07 January 2021   |   3:03 am
Executive Director of the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Patricia Pessu, explains how agriculture, agro-allied businesses, and technological innovations

Dr Pessu

Executive Director of the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Patricia Pessu, explains how agriculture, agro-allied businesses, and technological innovations can help reduce youth unemployment, restiveness, and become viable means of livelihood and wealth. FEMI IBIROGBA reports.

How can the government, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and other intervention agencies empower youths through agro-allied industries?
THE empowerment of youths is an inclusive strategy where all actors – the government and non-governmental – are actively involved. This is vital towards achieving the creation of more jobs, food security, economic diversification, food, and social security. More so, the fight against insecurity and social unrest in the nation is realisable through youth empowerment, as an “idle hand is the devil’s work tool/workshop.”

Now, what is the government’s role in achieving youth empowerment through agro-allied industries? The government can provide an enabling environment, which will encourage agro-allied industries to thrive so as to provide opportunities for youths to take up gainful employment with them. Two, the government should make policies to increase the use of best post-harvest practices by smallholder producers and others along the value chain to discourage the indiscriminate use of chemicals. This will reduce the rejection of Nigerian food products at regional and international markets and increase youth participation in agro-processing. Three, execution of constituency projects on agro-processing through the federal and state governments as platforms to train and build the capacity of youths, corps members on entrepreneurship, and value addition to agricultural commodities.

Four, investment inflows into infrastructure and midstream logistics such as warehouses, storage, processing systems, which remain inadequate and rudimentary at the smallholder farmers’ level. The government at all levels can establish staple processing zones, the concession of federal warehouses and storage sites, and make them functional. Platforms that engage the private sector and development partners, CBOs, and NGOs to create crowdfunding for the establishment of shared storage facilities for smallholder farmers in communities can also be put in place.

Five, there should be a stand-alone post-harvest management policy with its own budget to promote increased funding of research for the development and commercialisation of the proven technologies.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) can expand its financial pool to support more youths in agribusiness through its loan scheme. The CBN can work with key stakeholders, federal and state, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, NIRSAL, NESG, NABG, BoA, BoI to give financial support to youths who are interested in value chain/post-harvest agri-businesses. This will go a long way to facilitate technology acquisition by smallholder farmers.

Are there really good opportunities for sustainable youth employment in agriculture?
Limitless employment opportunities abound for youths in agriculture. Apart from opportunities in pre-harvest activities, there are a whole lot of opportunities in post-harvest management, which include handling, processing, storage, distribution, and marketing.

It is vital to state that without a good and result-oriented post-harvest value chain, the whole effort put into pre-harvest farming will be useless. It is, however, sad that little attention is placed on post-harvest operations by farmers and other stakeholders in the food industry and this is one of the reasons behind the food insecurity issue Nigeria and other countries of the world are currently facing.

While most efforts have concentrated on improving production efficiencies as a way of guaranteeing food and nutrition security, the reduction of food losses after harvest is a viable and important strategy to be adopted. With food loss occurring along the entire value chain, exploring the potential benefits of investing in post-harvest management innovations and policies is imperative and a clarion call to stakeholders in the agricultural sector. Thus, improving the value chain will reduce wastage, increase productivity, and attract the necessary investments and entrepreneurial skills to the sector.

Some striving agricultural ventures in the post-harvest value chain include stocking foodstuffs for sale. Due to seasonality of production and irregular supply of agricultural products, produce can be purchased at peak seasons when they are sold at cheap prices, to be sold during off-seasons at higher prices which guarantee more gains. This ensures consumer satisfaction, creation of more jobs along the marketing and distribution chains, and food security for all. Also, there are opportunities in the sale of agrochemicals and other farm inputs ventures. Primary processing of agricultural products, such as processing of roots and tuber crops into dried chips, flour, composite flour, garri, starch, fufu/akpu, and beverages, also present opportunities for sustainable jobs.

Again, the processing of crops includes the production of baked products from flour (gotten from roots and tuber crops, as well as cereals), fortification of foods. Animal husbandry and feed mill services similarly present good job opportunities. Exportation of agricultural commodities, such as packaged smoked dried fish, dried locust bean, among others, can get youths off the labour market sustainably. Provision of consultation or advisory services on produce fumigation, pesticide application, and mycotoxin analysis for farmers and agro-processors, and exploring opportunities in the sale, leasing, and maintenance services of post-harvest equipment are avenues for job provisions.

The youths are useful in the roadmap to post-harvest solutions. Youths can act as both direct agents and stakeholders in post-harvest management and aggregation.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, as of the first quarter of 2020, about 13.9 million youths were unemployed. This figure makes up about 64 per cent of the nation’s population. This connotes a huge, untapped labour force that can be effectively utilised to initiate human creativity and social innovation, mediate new opportunities and partnerships in research for development and agri-business.

Youths can promote the adoption of technologies, and aggregate buyers and other actors in compliance with quality requirements through various social media platforms.

Are there low-cost and youth-friendly agricultural technologies and innovations that can stimulate their interest in agriculture?
Our institute has been involved in demand-driven researches on post-harvest technologies and practices that are economically viable, environment-friendly, technically visible, and culturally compatible, and are as well youth-friendly. All our developed technologies are adaptable to small-scale producers and can be scaled up for large resource farmers and agro-processors. This implies that they are affordable for all categories of farmers and agro-processors.

NSPRI has developed and promoted various techniques and technologies that can spur the interest of youths in agriculture and these include hermetic storage of grains and dried products using the hermetic steel drums; non-chemical, reduced-risk grain protectant “NSPRIDUST; Inert Atmosphere Storage technology; solar crop drying technologies, which include the hybrid dryer, parabolic-shaped solar dryers, multi-crop, and electric dryers; NSPRI; NSPRI fish smoking kilns; and NSPRI cold storage. There are also stackable plastic crates for transportation and holding of fruits and vegetables.

There is a scheme referred to as ‘Adopted villages,’ in which proven technologies from the institute are given to farmer groups in villages to support their agricultural production, processing, and storage activities. Under this scheme, sensitisation of students is also done to build their interest in agriculture as a subject and probably as a career later in life. NSPRI has also been involved in government-assisted/constituency projects for training and empowering youths, women, and agro-processors on our technologies.