Innovative action plan for youth employment in agriculture
By Tukeni Obasi
On Thursday, September 20, 2012, over a hundred stakeholders in the agricultural sector convened in Abuja for a two-day workshop entitled “Achieving Youth Employment in Agriculture for Nagropreneurs”. This technical consultative workshop was held under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as a kick-starter of the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), an offshoot of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). ATA is part of the national presidential initiative and is aimed at working with state governments and the private sector to create one million jobs for youths across the agricultural value chain within the next three years.
As such, this workshop was largely attended by young people who were tasked with coming up with an action plan for this endeavour. The youths came from diverse backgrounds: agronomy, animal husbandry, retail, branding and marketing, information and communications technology, media, etc. Revealing the multifaceted nature of agriculture, they brought their diverse skills and experiences to bear in this transformation agenda. The result of this was the diverse perspectives which were brought to the table, making the agricultural conversation richer.
Some older and more experienced stakeholders (professors, farmers, government officials) also joined this meeting in order to lend their support to the programme and the youths, as well as contribute their own valued ideas to the discussion. These included the minister of state for agriculture, Bukar Tijani; the permanent secretary of the Agriculture Ministry, Ezekiel Oyoyomi; team leader, Agriculture Value Chain Staple Crop Processing Zones, Niyi Odunlami; and head of Agriculture, Fidelty Bank, Musa Tamburika. International stakeholders such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) were also represented.
In his welcome address, the minister of agriculture and rural development, Akin Adesina, underscored the importance of job creation in agriculture, which currently accounts for 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 70 percent of employment. He noted that no sector is able to create jobs as quickly as the agricultural sector; and that this was all the more important because of Nigeria’s teeming population. “50 percent of Nigerians were born in the last twenty years,” he said, adding that there are at present not enough jobs to keep up with the population growth. He cited China, which was able to lift 440 million people out of poverty through agriculture, and expressed confidence in Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda. He reassured all present that agriculture was “no longer about hoes and cutlasses” but was instead “modern, commercial, profitable”, and boasting the best stocks on the stock market at the moment. Agriculture is “Nigeria’s past and Nigeria future,” he remarked, and then to the youths, he said: “The future rests on you.”
After the welcome addresses and goodwill messages, the audience broke out into smaller groups, each specialising in one key area or another. In an effort to cover every aspect of the value chain, these break-out groups were designed to touch on key areas in the field: Educational Support for Future Agricultural Scientists; Agribusiness Education; Smallholder Farmers Education and Youth Support Networks; Including Youths in Input Production; Improving Access to Land; Improved Access to Credit via Dedicated Private Sector Lending; Youth Plantation Rehabilitation Teams; Facilitation Supplier-Buyer Relationships; and Branding and Integrated Marketing Communication. The small nature of these groups, which consisted of a maximum of 15 individuals each, allowed for maximum participation and a rich back-and-forth of ideas among the workshop participants.
What was different about this programme was the fact that less time was spent laying out the problems of agriculture and more time was spent developing innovative solutions and ideas for transformation. Two weeks prior to this event, a smaller group of young people from the private sector had been tasked with the responsibility of designing the workshop and coming up with a clear structure for the programme. The result of this was that the technical consultative workshop was conducted with ease: there was a clear structure to follow and participants were able to come up with a clear strategy and outcomes.
At the end of the two-day workshop, each break-out group was required to present a summary of their proposals to the ministerial panel and all present. The presentations, which were done by young people, revealed the immensely-rich innovative ideas that had come out of the dialogue. In the Q&A segment that followed, participants were able to seek clarification from other groups and shed light on areas that were scantily discussed. All presentations were then sent to the ministry and plans are already underway to aggregate the range of ideas into a concise document. This document, promised Adesina, will form the basis and crux of the new policy proposal which will be presented to the president in a couple of weeks.
It was particularly exciting, humbling and doubly enriching for me to be in a room full of intelligent people who were not only outwardly passionate about agriculture but had a catalogue of experiences from different walks of life to back their views. They were the nagropreneurs for whom this workshop was created, and continue to serve as excellent models to the emerging group of young people who are taking the agribusiness route. I met the likes of Cynthia Mosunmola, MD of Farmshoppe and one of our nation’s most charismatic young women farmers; social innovator Obiajuru Igborgbor, who through Esoko Nigeria is using mobile technology to bridge the information gap in agriculture; and Nnaemeka Ikegwonu, a young dynamic leader, turkey farmer, and the head of the Smallholders Foundation, who has not only set up adjoining poultry farms in several secondary schools in Eastern Nigeria, but is currently building Nigeria’s foremost radio station for farmers. The youths present at this event inspired me with their words, ideas and stories of perseverance, resilience and determination, and strategic actions which led to unexpected rewards. And, more than ever, I am challenged to work diligently and persistently in all my endeavours, to give my best to the nagropeneur movement, and essentially play my own part in this agricultural revolution.
For those who doubt that Nigeria’s democracy is real, the Ministry of Agriculture provides a compelling and inspiring example of a government which consults with its citizens and formulates its policies based on their stated needs and interests, and indeed puts them at the front and centre of the governance process while positioning itself as their servant. And for those who have lost faith in the Nigerian citizen, this programme demonstrates that young and old people in Nigeria are committed to the progress of the country and, to this end, are already taking active steps in their little niches and in concert with government and non-governmental stakeholders.
The winds of change are gently sweeping over Nigeria’s agricultural sector, and none other than the youths are driving this change process. I am excited for the breaking dawn and what the new day holds for the youths – especially the nagropreneurs – in Nigeria.