Why Nigeria should promote youth-driven, technology-supported agriculture for SDGs
Based on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG12) that seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and SDG2 which seeks to end hunger, achieving food security and promote sustainable agriculture, youths in Nigeria have a great role to play in food production, processing, and marketing to achieve the goals.
Youth involvement can help reduce unemployment through small-scale and cottage value chain development which also prevents post-harvest losses.
Oluwafemi Aliu, an agro-allied entrepreneur, while explaining how youths could become involved in the processes to achieve some of the goals, said using farm technologies and innovations is attractive to youths.
“People were born into farming. So, they embrace agriculture as a major means of livelihood. Now, youths will prefer white-collar jobs to agriculture. Hence, the high level of unemployment in the country,” he said.
However, he is optimistic that “there are so many opportunities for the youth in agriculture in the current era, but many youths are not willing because they consider it as jobs for the old people and for the rural communities.”
Simple planting, weed prevention/management, harvesting, and post-harvest technologies have made farming simpler, and availability of these technologies would attract the youth to farm-related ventures if the government would empower them, he added.
Contrary to the foregoing, Mr Olawale Opeyemi, Managing Director of JR Farms, argued that the 21st Century youths are more involved in agriculture than the older generations.
Presenting his argument, he said, “It is untrue that youths in Nigeria shy away from farming. In this time, young people get into agriculture with determination. Africa has the highest number of youths participating in the sector. Categorically, I would say compared with the 20th Century, there has been a greater improvement in youth involvement in agriculture.”
He said agriculture remains the most valuable sector now and with new technologies, agriculture is practised in a smarter way.
“The advent of these technologies, improved seedlings and modernised farming have brought about greater youth participation in agriculture,” he added.
Youth involvement in value addition
Another stage of farming that youth could play a very active role in post-harvest management. This involves storage, preservation, conversion, and processing.
Mrs Abimbola Kayode, a food processing and agro-allied entrepreneur, said with the lifestyle that a lot of people adopt now, convenience has become very critical, and ability to give people food at their convenience, and in the most convenient way presents good opportunities for youths in crop value addition, packaging, and marketing.
“Somehow, our children have cultivated the noodle culture and that is not our way and it is fast substituting our natural food. The convenience of it is one of the major reasons. The way our local foods are exposed, lack of hygiene and other related issues are some of the challenges facing natural foods. If preserved and packaged well, local foods could be a source of income to youths,” she said.
“The billions of naira Nigerians are using to import foods our bodies are not used to can be kept in this country and increase our reserves,” she added.
She explained that the lack of access to finance by youths who have no collateral is one of the major barriers.
She added, “How many people own a house or property worth millions of naira that can be used to borrow money in Nigeria as an upcoming entrepreneur?”
Mrs Kayode advised that “the young people should wake up from their dreams and come to the understanding that building a nation is the job of every individual. The young ones should be patriotic and passionate by creating their own jobs.”
Dr Richardson Okechukwu of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said one thing to understand about youths is that they are willing and hard-working people and one thing they may lack in value addition is the technical know-how and they cannot have this without having exposure to where they can learn and acquire the key knowledge.
“Another thing that hinders the youth is fund to acquire the few types of equipment they need to add value. They can learn everything but when you don’t have these machines or access to those machines, it becomes a problem,” he said.
Unfortunately, he added, Nigeria the challenge of electricity has made it very difficult to add value to crops.
“Be as it may be, converting products that have high moisture contents into dryer forms and preserving them becomes the only alternative that we have. So, training is one way and of course learning it.
“We have institutions that develop technologies for value addition to crops like cassava, yam, and plantain. So, training is one way to begin and when they learn it, it becomes a great asset because some of them do not actually need an expensive machine.
“I will advise that the youth should start to go into what we call market study to find out those commodities that if they add value to, they will have a ready market. When they can identify such a market, the next thing is to learn how to transform it from waste to added value.,” Okechukwu said.