Encouraging Youth Farming
Engaging youth in agriculture has been a prominent topic recently and has risen up the development agenda, as there is growing concern worldwide that young people have become disenchanted with agriculture.
With most young people – around 85% – living in developing countries, where agriculture is likely to provide the main source of income it is vital that young people are connected with farming.*
1. Perception / Image
The number one impediment against youths embracing agriculture as a livelihood in nigeria and africa as a whole is the image problem. Youths generally feel agriculture is a dirty profession. A profession that doesn’t allow you make up or knot a tie. With over 70 percent of farmers as adults who live in the rural areas with non existent basic amenities. The idea that a young school graduate will abandon the sparks of city lights and sojourn the rural areas to establish a farm is rather absurd. The paper based educational system we run in nigeria is also a factor to consider. The system gives the youths a false sense of elitism. We are so deceived by our certificates that we are not ready to pick the hoes. It is so surprising when an agricultural graduate prints resumes and start looking for jobs. One begins to wonder in what capacity we hope to be employed. Life in The agrarian communities also indirectly discourage youth participation in agriculture. Truth be told all the sons and daughters of farmers are in the city or planing to be. They see the efforts of their parents compared to the rewards and they vow to make things better. Tell me, when the farmers off springs are fleeing the farm stead, what will attract a city youth to the farm stead?
2. A faulty agricultural curriculum.
I fault the present agricultural curriculum on two fronts.
a. Outdated and Insufficient Curriculum.
b. Theoretical agriculture.
a. Outdated and Insufficient Curriculum.
I recall a lecturer of mine back in school. The course was cash crops. She went ahead too give export data on each cash crop and surprisingly, all numbers were for the 1970s. The most up to date was 1985. I imagine what projections an agricultural student could make with a 1970 data in the 2000s. After that class, only two possibilities scream at me. It is either the lecturer was too lazy to research or there were insufficient agricultural data. I chose to go with the latter because in the 1970s, nigeria was basking in the wealth of its new found oil. Leading to the neglect of agriculture.
b. Theoretical Agriculture.: Ask any agricultural student. They will tell you how cumbersome the curriculum is. I know university education in nigeria is mostly theoretical, but agriculture is super theoretical. There was no department we didn’t borrow a course from. Statistics, business admin, law, anatomy the list is endless. I am also aware that agriculture is a broad course. You need to learn the business side, learn the physiology and anatomy of livestock, and understand the residual effects or herbicides and fertilizers hence the chemistry. However back then the class work was gigantic coupled with overcrowded classrooms and the obvious less farm work. Lecture periods were purely dictation classes.
3. A Barrier In The Information Channel.
There are about 21** agricultural related research institutes in nigeria. Yet the diffusion of information and adoption of innovation rate is grossly underwhelming. As a trained extension agent, it is disheartening to declare that there are about one extension agent to three thousand farmers (1:3000***). The present ratio is inadequate for effective agricultural information diffusion. This is part of the bottleneck that hinders the flow of information. How do I cope with three thousand farmers? Yes there are mass communication channels of disseminating information (Television, radio and newspapers.) But each with its peculiar limitation such as power, and even the conflicting times that the agricultural programs are aired. Let’s not forget the near absence of agricultural programs compared to music programs.
4. Government Policies. Thank God for YouWin! Nigerian policies hardly involve the youths. The champion agricultural policy in nigeria today is subsidized fertilizers for farmers which end up being politicized.
1. Perception/Image. There is more to agriculture than hoes and cutlass. We need to make known the opportunities that exists in the agricultural sector. One of such possibility is the value chain re orientation. Research institutions and universities need to seek new ways of using agricultural products. If cassava for example has about ten commercially viable by products, it will create an artificial rise in demand and scarcity of the produce. This will enable more youths to see the areas where their expertise are needed. Thus creating several jobs on two planes.
I) The increased production of cassava.
II) The commercially viable products of cassava.
This will have a multiplier effect on sectors of the economy because there will be need for marketing, branding and packaging etc. Replicate this model for other crops in nigeria and we have a staggering bountiful agricultural sector.
2. A New Agricultural Curriculum. A new curriculum should be in place. One that ensures active participation of students in farm and crop management. It is obvious that one year of farm work is not enough for a country who intends to feed its teeming population. A semester of broiler production and a semester of vegetable production does not elicit enough interest for sustenance and continuity. For mastery to be achieved, repetition must occur.
3. Barriers in Information Dissemination.
Research institutes and universities need to figure out a way to push out the research data gathering dusts in school libraries and let innovations be modeled in universities. One of the functions of universities in their host communities is to diffuse development. If the agricultural community on university campuses actually champion the innovations, diffusion and adoption will be easier. When agricultural model farms in universities turn out good yield and are well packaged, the surrounding communities will love to have access to such inputs. Thus encouraging innovation adoption. Imagine having UNILORIN Garri, UNAAB CASSAVA, UNIABUJA Maize, FUTA Honey etc available in the host comunity markets. The success of such agro products will improve farm related economic activity. It will also add a sense of pride and a feather to the cap of students who produce such products.
More farmers will also be reached by this means and will reduce in some way the workload of extension agents in such areas. Also when youths are exposed to and aware of innovations in their field of study, for a considerable period, they will be encouraged to practice their profession.
4. Government Policies:
A lecturer of mine once opined that agricultural students should be encouraged financially. This can be achieved by providing loans for students who might wish to pursue different aspects of agriculture. The twist is to make this funds available and accessible right from commencement of his/her study program with their certificates and some other things as collateral. He said this will ensure the student is well adapted to agricultural production and would have achieved a level of competence upon graduation.
In what other ways can Nigeria make Agriculture Youth friendly? Please share your views in the comment box. You can also join the conversation on twitter ~@phemyte.
* Engaging Youth in Agriculture – The Key to a Food Secure Future?
** Number of research institutes in Nigeria
*** Information Needs of Small Scale Farmers in Africa: The Nigerian Example