The United Nations has estimated that by 2050, the world’s population will be around 9 billion. Sub-Saharan Africa has been reported as the continent to experience the highest possible growth. Nigeria is currently the most populous nation in Africa and this position is not likely to change. With billions of naira spent, even now, on food importation (rice, wheat, fish, etc.) into the country, feeding the teeming population in a sustainable manner calls for concern for two main reasons among many. First, there is an acute rural-urban migration of young people because of the perceived ‘greener pastures’ in the cities,
leaving behind a generation of aging rural farmers. Second, despite the critical unemployment situation in the country, majority of the urban youth do not pitch their tent in the agriculture space as they do not see the potential in agriculture as a career of choice. In spite of these two critical challenges however, the world is seriously shifting focus to Africa as the continent to make happen the desired increase in food production because of the vast human resources and large expanse of uncultivated arable land.
Agriculture: Attractive to the youth? I doubt!
By default, or as required by nature, everyone eats. But why has a greater percentage of the youth decided to not to engage in agriculture? The truth is, the youth are not to blame, and here is why:
• Perception: The image most people have of agriculture is that of the uneducated rural farmer who engages in subsistence farming, and this image is associated with hard labour and poverty. Who would want to look haggard and unkempt, tend to animals or crops, and still be at the mercy of those who would purchase them?
• Parental influence: Today, a lot of parents invest heavily towards their children’s education from basic through tertiary education. This is especially true in a country like ours where public (government owned) schools at all levels have lost their once coveted glory. Education is not cheap; parents want the best for their children, so in choosing careers, they tailor their children towards choices they are convinced promise economic gains. They guide their children to pursue professional courses so that they can be competitive in the market place. Unfortunately, agriculture is not seen as an appropriate choice.
• Peer Pressure: The youth see their peers enjoy economic prosperity and career progression in other sectors, and they want to emulate them. The entertainment, ICT, financial services, telecom and oil sectors are always first to come to mind for youths. To many, dream careers are not in agriculture.
What then should be done?
In order for young people to see the gain in choosing careers in different aspects of agriculture, there has to be more pragmatic approaches by the government, parents and importantly, schools. It is now a collective responsibility to attract intelligent and vibrant young minds we need to transform the sector and make it more viable in terms of providing sufficient food for the nation and generating income from exports. Our students need to know that agri-business goes beyond production. It includes post-harvest handling and processing (including storage), marketing and so on, until it gets to the final consumer. Government has to continually work to strengthen various institutions within the agriculture sector, as well as research and develop decent jobs (careers) along the value chain of different agricultural enterprises.
Do schools still have the Young Farmers’ Club? This can be rekindled, but with a difference. Beyond growing vegetables, keeping poultry or some rabbits in the school farm, students can gain much exposure by visiting established agri-businesses. This would help them better appreciate the value chain and see different professionals within the agriculture industry.
In partnership with schools, parents also have a lot to do in encouraging their children to take up careers in agriculture by helping them see the vast potential in the sector, and more importantly, making them realise that the future of the sector, and of Nigeria relies on them.