The Federal Government and states have been advised to stop the talk and put infrastructure, enabling the environment and necessary investments in place to harness the intelligence, vigour, and vibrancy of Nigerian youths in agriculture.
Harnessing them in agriculture would create job opportunities, social-economic benefits and make Nigeria food-secure.
Professor Chidi Ibe and Mr Fatai Afolabi, Managing Consultant/CEO of Foremost Development Services, gave the advice while delivering a keynote and discussing ‘Repositioning Sustainable Agriculture through Youth Engagement,’ respectively.
Organised by British-American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation and Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan Atlantic University, Nigeria, the agribusiness dialogue session brings agro-economy stakeholders together biennially to discuss solutions to challenges of agriculture and food security.
While talking on ‘Managing our Youths in Sustainable Agriculture: From Abracadabra to Realities,’ Prof Ibe recalled the groundnut pyramids in the old northern Nigeria, the vibrant cocoa economy in the old south-western Nigeria and palm oil and allied produce in the old eastern Nigeria and how they were lost to the ‘Oloibiri black gold.’
He argued that the agricultural paradise that was lost to oil discovery could be regained, but the government and other critical stakeholders should proactively engage the “critical mass of the Nigerian population,” the youths, by stopping the gibberish and taking actions to revive the sector.
Investments in modern farming technologies that youths could identify with and embrace, improving on rural infrastructure and marketing support for agriculture should be a matter of national emergency to channel the resourcefulness of Nigerian youths for food security, gainful employment opportunities, and economic development.
Using the critical mass of the youths, he emphasised, could revive the position of agriculture in Nigeria. However, climate change poses a threat to the revival, he pointed out.
Global warming, depletion of ozone layers and attendant natural disasters of floods, droughts, irregular rainfall patterns, and ocean surges, among others, are realities against agriculture and food security.
To move ahead despite the realities, Prof. Ibe said climate-smart agriculture through youths is a viable project that a rational government should channel human and financial resources to achieve.
He said with a population of about 200 million youths in Africa, the continent has the largest young population which has been mischaracterised as lazy and epicurean.
He described the Nigerian youths as intelligent and innovative but deprived of enabling environments that could help them maximise their potentialities.
He condemned nomenclatures such as ‘half-baked and unemployable’ used against a new generation of graduates, saying the same curricula used for older graduates and the new ones were standard, and that youths should refuse to let anyone tag them as half-baked and unemployable.
Training youths in modern agriculture is critical to drawing them to agriculture, and this implies pumping adequate capital into irrigation facilities, road networks, electricity, and farm mechanisation.
“Stop the talk; just do it,” Prof. Ibe advised the government.
Mr Afolabi, while participating as a discussant, said one of the myths in agriculture in Nigeria is that Nigeria is not producing enough. He argued that the country produces enough food, but post-harvest losses as a result of poor handling, failing transport and road networks and inadequate technologies rob the country of food security.
He asked the youths to look inward to play a critical role in post-harvest handling of crops with simple technological innovations that require minimal capital outlay.
Though power supply is inadequate, he said, innovations could bring post-harvest technologies to guarantee food supply chains sustainability and food security.
He too called on the government to, apart from creating a conducive environment for agriculture through good policies, participate in direct investments in agricultural infrastructure rather than white elephant projects.
The Lagos State government also reiterated its commitment to reviving agriculture, ensuring food security and prosperity of farmers.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Gbolahan Lawal, said this at the session.
He said agriculture is only about farming or production of crops but has the potential to generate millions of jobs, directly and indirectly, urging the government at all levels to inject more capital into the sector.
Prince Gbolahan claimed that the integrated rice mill of the state is about 55 percent completed, and by next year, the mill would start production of rice.
He said the discussion was ongoing with South Western states to produce paddies for the mill in a symbiotic partnership.
Lagos has the market potential to absorb agricultural produce, being one of the largest trade hubs in Africa. Hence, the state intends to start Eko City Farmers’ Market by 2020, where farmers from different states could sell their produce in a market place on a Sunday in Lagos.
Gholahan said farmers would have the opportunity to sell at their prices; prices would not be imposed on them as it is always the case with produce.
Abimbola Okoya, Executive Director of British-American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation, said the foundation is committed to promoting sustainable agriculture through technologies, innovations and infrastructure investments driven by youths.
Youth involvement, he said, could revolutionise the ways food is produced, processed and consumed, and this should be encouraged with youth-friendly technologies.