Reinventing Agriculture: Attracting Youthful Agropreneurs To Replace Ageing Farmers
FG Hangs 30,000 YEAP Agripreneurs’ Fate In Balance
With more than 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population under the age of 25, and an expected additional 100 million young people joining the labour queue by 2035, according to a World Bank projection, it paints a picture of a nation with lesser job opportunities. It is likely there would be no jobs outside agriculture to meet the employment needs of these people.
Incidentally, not many young people are geared towards the farm enterprise as replacement for ageing farmers.
In a 2011 publication of European Journal of Economics, Finance and Administrative Sciences, three human resource academics of the University of Lagos, Oluwakemi Owoyemi, Tunde Elegbede and Mariam Gbajumo-Sheriff in a presentation of a paper titled, ‘Age Diversity and the Future of Workforce in Nigeria,’ stated that age of workers affects their effectiveness. They wrote that spending long time in school causes a delay of labour entrants with the attendant lower productivity due to older working age and shorter working life.
This is also true of the agriculture sector, since many peasant farmers do not go to any formal school. Some have been in the business for decades and now in their 60s and 70s, the twilight of their years. And in several cases, no quick replacement seems available as the younger ones are away to the city in search of non-farm jobs or do not want farming as business.
In recent years, according to Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), “Nigeria is now witnessing early schooling and there is now a drastic reduction in school leaving age by 30 per cent.” The average school leaving age now is 20 years, it says, therefore agriculture must be taken away from the age-long drudgery and linked to mechanisation and IT-controlled processes, if the youth would make a willing shift. The pointer is that there is good money to be made in various agriculture value chains and several studies and surveys show that.
For instance, by 2030, according to a World Bank report, agriculture and agribusiness in Africa is projected to grow to be a one trillion dollar industry. With the volume of activities, it reports that tracking down agribusiness goods and services in Africa, and Nigeria by inclusion would be challenging, therefore. trained and motivated human resources will be required.
In an increasingly IT-wired world, one agriculture area that could attract the youth is information and data management as it relates to the different value chains in the sector, providing access to up-to-date, comprehensive information on business dealings, and details of how clients can use various services.
President Buhari, during the launch of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme at Kebbi last November, sent an invitation, when he said, “Youths will be attracted to the businesses along the entire agricultural value chain – financial services, logistics, farm, storage and processing.’’ He expressed optimism that millions of jobs for youths could be created and quality of life for the farming community nationwide would be lifted through the scheme.
At the rate the nation is going, and the attitude of state governments that depend on the centre to pay salaries, it is doubtful if Nigeria would be able to feed itself. A huge part of the scarce foreign exchange is still being spent importing food. The UN projection is that Nigeria’s population could hit 400m by 2050, but farm output of five per cent rise per year may not be sufficient to put enough food on the table.
Aside epileptic power supply that dangles at marginal low amplitude over the years, road network that still begs for better maintenance and badly needed water supply, it has been uphill task to do agriculture for the existing investors.
Attracting the youths, according to an Ogun state-based agriculture investor and produce processor, Mr. Joseph Israel requires cultivating good relationship with respect to policy and practical demonstration of the viability of the sector. Even at the states, leadership should borrow a leaf from what late Awolowo did in establishing farm settlements and replicating and improving on that for today’s youth, he counsels.
For a long time now, governments have drummed the great potentials that is in large-scale agribusiness, where about 60 per cent of the population, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, is involved in one level or the other.
But the reality on ground is that in spite of the various loan schemes and funds, the young generation are not yet as interested as expected. Access to the funds and conditions attached to getting them are hurdles, which are not easy to scale especially due to poor background of many and inability to provide collaterals in some cases.
Travail of YEAP Applicants
In 2015, a wide selection and screening of young people, from all 36 states, to take up agriculture in several value chains was initiated to absorb 30,000 graduates, in the first instance. It is the scheme called Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP). The plan is to use the package to recruit 250,000 youths at the maturity of the programme.
An anxious graduate youth residing in Abuja, who applied and was adjudged, qualified after the screening exercise, expressed his frustration over the waiting game.
According to him, he responded to the advertisement by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) for Expression of Interest (EoI) for the YEAP published in some newspapers on 27 February, 2015. The first batch was to be drawn from 12 states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Ogun, Lagos, Kaduna and Katsina. Others include Niger, Benue, Bauchi, Gombe and FCT.
In three categories, the applicants were grouped and the financial ceiling stipulated for the value of the loan: graduate applicants – N15m, HND/NCE/Diploma applicants – N5m and SSCE holders – N2m. Aside the qualification of the applicant, residency in a community is of significance as letter of guarantee from the community leader or a Notary Public is also a requirement. Submission of applications to the Ministry closed in March 2015.
To be assessed, each candidate, he said is required to do a Paper of Interest relevant to area of choice with Curriculum Vitae attached and submitted to FMARD offices throughout the federation.
By September 2015, successful candidates were again asked to submit detailed, bankable proposal in the applicant’s chosen agriculture value chain.
In spite of the assurances that funds would soon be released following the scaling of the last hurdle, he said the matter was awaiting the arrival of the new Agriculture Minister.
For now, the pursuit of youth empowerment via agriculture, only appears as political catch phrase since nothing is being done and no further information has been given the successful candidates.