Building future economic leaders through agriculture

Building future economic leaders through agriculture

Friday, August 11, 2017 2:43 pm

Okomu Oil Palm plantation

By Olukayode Oyeleye

Subject relating to promotion of entrepreneurship among those who would be leaders of tomorrow is an idea whose time has come. It is timely as current realities warrant a shift of Nigeria’s economic base towards the direction of the future, with robust emphasis on thoughts about diversification of our economic base. The time has therefore come to shift emphasis from wealth emanating from minerals to that emanating from the minds. Over the years, these broad gaps created by inattention to the consequences of their handling, are precursors to our present economic predicaments.

Going forward, as a nation, leaders are saddled with the huge responsibility of repositioning Nigeria, economically and socially in a futuristic direction. This will entail a shift of attention in the direction that holds immediate and long-term promises for the youth in the context of the local, national and global realities.

The reality today is that the issue of youth, locally and globally, could no longer be ignored, particularly in view of our contemporary experiences in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa and beyond. The numbers of young people are growing fast in developing countries, with young people making up 20 per cent of the population on the average. Their ascendancy in population is a double-edged sword, speaking metaphorically.

They thus represent a huge potential resource to those countries if well harnessed, and a huge threat if improperly managed. This is especially evident in sub-Saharan Africa where, in some countries, more than 60 per cent of the population is less than 25 years old. This increases pressure on the labour market as it creates opportunities for the consumer market.

Yet, ironically, rural areas are not benefiting fully from this resource; indeed, many rural communities are ageing precisely because, in the absence of incentives to remain there, young women and men are leaving to seek opportunities elsewhere. When young rural women and men cannot get adequate education, make a living or create a secure home, they move to sprawling urban areas or to foreign countries they believe offer more hope. Now is the time to change that narrative and give the young people a hope for the future, to remain, develop the countryside, boost the rural economies and make decent living in the rural areas.

We need not allow a recurrence of the economic crises of 2007 to 2009 in which global youth unemployment rate rose from 11.9 to 13.0 per cent, fueling further migration of young men and women who eventually became frustrated and idle because they have failed to find decent jobs after migrating to urban centres.

The urban labour markets, in turn, have been frequently unable to absorb the inflow of migrant workers, and many young migrants lack the education and skills to compete for decent urban jobs and therefore contribute to social unrest, crime and even armed conflicts.

Building economic leaders for tomorrow is clearly not an overnight task. It will entail systematic coalescence of efforts, programmes and interventions that will provide options and choices, allowing the target beneficiaries to contribute positively to the social, political and economic milieu of the people. One of the all-embracing contributions is the production of food for the growing population as a prelude to a stable and sustainable future.

Preparing a good future for our youth is an imperative, recognising the need to expand the horizon of our young people, broaden their options and increase their choices. They all deserve fulfillment and need all the support they could get. They are needed as solution providers, incubators of ideas, promoters of innovations and implementers of positive change. As the economic outlook undergoes changes, so should the opportunities and means of unlocking existing potentials.

We have a great challenge and a great opportunity in our hand – one of feeding the people. This requires harnessing of the energy and skills of our young adults in the production, processing and marketing of food for the teeming Nigerian population. Nigerian youth will find opportunities as entrepreneurs, service providers and paid workers in a sector that is gaining recognition as a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s presently troubled economy. This sector is agriculture.

The young people, without doubt, are at the cornerstone of any meaningful efforts to translate this into reality. But these will require deliberate and targeted efforts in vocational training, apprenticeship and education to provide relevant knowledge and skills. None of these can be possible without requisite financial support, right mentoring and enabling socio-political environment.

Investment in skill-building, capacity building, entrepreneurial mentoring, social safety nets and stable economy will provide great prospects for the youth. The need to pay attention to the youth in government policies has gained increasingly recognition in recent times, and this is clearly brought into limelight in the current administration, particularly in agriculture. This will, however, require providing infrastructural support and economic opportunities in agriculture and non-farm economy. The energy, enthusiasm and optimism of the youth, properly channeled, will help build a robust agro-economy that we most urgently need.

Putting the Nigerian youth in the forefront of the nation’s economic development is not debatable. It is the engine of economic growth that must be oiled if Nigeria is to move forward economically. This will entail special attention on the rural economy which requires urgent revival, with a strong collaboration between the state and federal government. The deplorable threats emanating in recent times between youth-camps, in the north against the south and vice versa, are symptoms of development vacuum that needs to be urgently filled.

The openings for the youth to make a positive difference are many. Youth’s prevalent skills in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) could be harnessed for positive development in the overall economy in general and agro-economy in particular. Nigerian youth have proved their proficiency in ICT, especially as it formed a platform for reaching rural poor farmers with subsidies in the past five years. Making ICT knowledge relevant to agriculture is squarely within the domain of the youth in terms of programme development and application.

Increasing the food production by our farmers will require the enlistment of young Nigerians for extension services. The interface provided will be a good opportunity for inducting many graduates into agriculture, through direct participation as farmers and indirect participation as service providers. Beyond primary production, vast opportunities exist in the value chains – in harvesting, storage, processing, transportation, marketing and in standards as there are now windows for private standards in agribusiness.

Nearly 40 per cent of post-harvest losses are recorded on food produced in Nigeria annually. These are clearly preventable if subjected to appropriate agro-processing activities, which either add values or prolong shelf-life. Players in agro-processing therefore have a great deal of opportunities to make good income while indirectly contributing to food security. The challenges of food distribution and pricing are related to logistics and information dissemination, into which the energy of the youth could be channeled.

While the logistics aspect may be fairly herculean for upstarts and small operators, the information dimension activities are within the ambit of innovative young minds. The latter presents more opportunities for innovative intervention through networks creation and innovative platform for information sharing. This is one area needed to make agriculture more appealing to the teeming Nigerian youth.

With the increasing recognition of agriculture as the ‘beautiful bride’ of Nigeria’s economy, agricultural financing is expected to gain new interests and more attention within the business circles. As agriculture continues to be seen as business, financing provides tremendous opportunities for lenders and borrowers, either at individual or corporate levels. Our young and vibrant minds will readily get involved in providing affordable financial solutions that can help agribusiness investors in various aspects of agriculture. Our young professionals in the field of finance should rise up to the occasion and seize the opportunities.

While individual efforts will still be important in food production in Nigeria, we also need to leverage on the strength of cooperatives. This can help in a number of areas – again in finance mobilisation, project management, marketing and agro-processing. Agricultural cooperatives could help reduce individual contributors’ risk exposure through risk sharing. The ease of raising capital could be far greater in cooperatives than in individual ‘solo’ efforts, while the cooperators can easily draw upon individuals’ strengths while working together. This can help the youth making forays into agriculture.

The power of youth in leadership positions can be enormous. The involvement of youth has taken a royal dimension as the recently installed Ooni, the monarch of Ile-Ife, has taken up the campaign to persuade young people into agriculture, putting his royal influence at their disposal. This is a good example from the traditional institution, lending timely credence and support to the policy thrust of the federal government, aimed at putting agriculture at the forefront of the new economy.

The principles applicable to agribusiness are basically the same, whether at the savannah region, the rainforest zone, the mangrove forest area or coastal regions. The whole subject is about the business of food production, involving different segments of the wide gamut of economic activities. Nigerian youth will do well to take good advantage of what is trending now – that is agriculture. With youthful energy, zest, instinct and intellect, the youth’s prospects in agriculture knows no bounds.

The youth can establish the fact that they alone hold the key to the realisation of efforts to reposition agriculture and make it the economic powerhouse of Nigeria. Agriculture was our past. In agriculture lies our future: and the youth of today are the hope of our realisation of that future.

Dr. Oyeleye, public analyst, journalist and veterinarian, writes from Abuja


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