An agripreneur and experienced farmer, PROMISE AMAHAH is the founder/nation- al coordinator of the Nigerian Young Farmers Network (NYFN), a youth-oriented agricultural empowerment organisation. In an interview with Business A.M’s Onome Amuge, the young agricultural expert discusses the challenges facing the agriculture sector, how Nigerian youths can be empowered towards restructuring the agriculture sector and the role of the Nige- rian Young Farmers Network towards making the goal a reality. Excerpts:
What is the Nigerian Young Farmers Network, and its benefit to the Nigerian agriculture sector?
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The Nigerian Youth Farmers Network (NYFN) is an organisation of young Nigerians aimed at unlocking the potential of agriculture in the country through youth engagement. Even without any knowledge of agribusiness, the network takes you on an exciting journey on the opportunities and prospects available in and within the agriculture sector.You don’t need to be a farmer to become a member, we welcome membership from all walks of life and diversity is our strength. We embrace a cross-cutting relationship between agriculture and other disciplines, making it easy for young people to find their place and passion within the network. The network also generates sufficient awareness and information on modern agribusiness and dynamic scope with short and long term benefits.
How viable are the projects of your organisation and what basic actions have you taken towards actualising agricultural development?
Talking about viability, one of the things we avoided is making the same mistakes that some agricultural organisations made in the past. We found out that in the past years, Nigeria has not had reliable data on agriculture and you cannot develop agriculture without reliable data. For ten years, we have been in the process of fixing the data in agriculture. The NYFN is a non-governmental, nonpartisan and non-political organisation. Looking at the dynamics that has impeded growth of other related organisations and impact overtime, we tried to diversify and get our structure right. Our strategy is simple; GEAR (Gather Equip Activate and Release). The network wasn’t created out of just passion, it was formed to identify the gaps and insufficiencies across the sector and that is why the network is open to not just farmers but everybody that partakes within the value chain. There are various value chain opportunities that support farming that young people can engage in. Beyond the rhetorics, it is about strategic engagement and that is why we the young people have taken it a step further. We don’t have sufficient and verifiable data for youth development through agriculture. So, we set aside our resources across the 36 states of Nigeria, each ward, each local government, each state to generate data of young people who are interested in agriculture and who are already engaged in agriculture across the different value chains. So we have new information to plan. Without data, we cannot develop the agricultural sector. Data that excludes young people in agriculture is a data set to fail already. We are bringing in verifiable and reliable data across the states, so that way we can galvanise data and harness this data to unlock the potentials of agriculture in Nigeria.
What is your assessment of the government’s effort towards agriculture development in Nigeria?
The government has come up with farming support initiatives such as the implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, sustained fertilizer distribution and price reduction, the monetary support of the CBN to ensure they mitigate the effects of the covid-19 and others. The government should be commended for some of these efforts. However, the fact remains that you can have good intentions but how you go about it, the strategy you engage in promoting your intention is another kettle of fish. Some of the fundamental answers you will find are that the approach towards many of these programmes have been very wrong to an extent because first of all, you will need to introduce agriculture to people as an avenue to wealth. You need to introduce it to young people as multi-sectoral engagement so that you can be a doctor,lawyer, engineer and still be part of agriculture. The challenge is not in the idea or initiative or programme of government, the challenge is in the strategy. You don’t just throw money at young people and tell them to go and do agriculture. What do the young people you are sending to the farm know actually know about farming? How many young people know that they don’t need a farm to be part of agriculture or to be a farmer? There is a level of knowledge and enlightenment that is required to understand the opportunities and you connect them to those opportunities directly.
How do you think the country’s agricultural potential can be recovered in the Post Covid-19 era?
he Post Covid-19 era? Covid-19 is a blessing in disguise for agriculture in Nigeria. One of the biggest opportunities for agriculture has been opened up by covid-19. It is the major reason the agricultural space is receiving much attention at the moment. The recent crash in crude oil prices on a global scale is a result of the covid-19 and it forced the government to look inwards towards the closest alternative to crude oil which is agricultural production. This gave room for enhanced productivity and investment in the value chain for processing, preservation and storage of agricultural products. The government has to include verifiable data in their initiatives, funding and finances else they will keep failing. This is why billions that have been invested in the agricultural sector have been left unaccounted for. I think it is critical to state that Nigeria needs a situation parastatal or ministry of monetary evaluation to track and monitor government initiatives especially in agriculture. What we lack is not the absence of initiatives or policies but the absence of proper implementation strategy and monitoring. How do we utilise the annual budget? Who manages what? How is the private sector engaged in these processes? How are the development and financial institutions engaged in these developments? These are key issues that affect the growth of agriculture programmes in Nigeria. Embracing technology and empowering smallholder farmers will go a long way in changing the reality of agribusinesses in Nigeria. Wealth creation through agriculture requires public enlightenment, awareness and sensitisation. This can be achieved through ingenious communication tools that cut across rural-urban divides. It is a campaign that will drive not just modern agriculture but also expose new approaches for wealth creation through this sector. Public-private partnership is integral to this robust initiative.
What is your view about the agricultural initiatives of the present administration and what are the key actions that can be taken to encourage their sustenance?
Facilitating strategic development across value chains is an area the government has to improve upon and the only way to achieve this is more engagements with the private sector. We are always hearing of several agricultural programmes established by the government one of which is the Anchors Borrowers’ Programme, which is a laudable initiative but can we do a survey of the ABP and look at the challenges and inefficiencies affecting it as against the expected results? We need to carry out several baseline surveys from time to time to ascertain which issues are impeding the expected results as against the huge investments that go into the sector. The private financial institutions and commercial banks know better, which is why many of them are not disposed to invest in the agricultural actor. They will tell you that the risk exposure is incredible. The government should as a matter of urgency consider setting up an Agency of Monitoring and Re-evaluation that will be saddled with examining different investments and initiatives of government, appraising them, monitoring implementations and compliance and also looking at the results and considering scaling it up as well.
With the implementation of the CBN forex ban on food importation, how can the government enhance agriculture and how has the NYFN been able to capitalise on this?
It is high time the government engages youthoriented organisations like ours who have a strategic sustainable roadmap with a blueprint that is evident that we can deliver on local production and help reverse the trend of unemployment. We are here not just to compel the government but we want our activities to show for themself so the government can be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that self-sufficiency in agriculture is feasible. The ban on importation of food is a good policy as it will challenge local production. Enlightenment on agriculture is also an area the government needs to partner with us. Sometimes, when you talk about agriculture, it appears that all you talk to them about is just farming and local production. What about the value chain? Let them see the wealth they can create in the value chain and how they can partake in the whole sector. Irrigation farming is something we need to invest in as well to meet up with the shortfall of importation. Plumbers play a role in irrigation farming because fixing the pipes and waterways involves plumbing. To service and maintain irrigation dams, engineers are needed. Technical expertise is part of agriculture and young people will be needed to drive this. Ramping and sustaining food production during and beyond this pandemic has become our priority. We have developed an integral national emergency food plan for the network that entails the robust engagement of our coordinators from state, local government and ward levels. We are looking forward to the government looking inward and engaging with us. The president has the goodwill to develop agriculture. Let us complement this and not play politics with development.