By Promise Amahah
The recently inaugurated National Young Farmers Scheme designed by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to elicit more youth interest in farming is an indication that President Muhammadu Buhari has a firm conviction and belief that agriculture holds the key to unlocking the potential of Nigeria.
However, reactions of many young people to the launch of the Scheme shows a total lack of trust in the process, especially pointing out that key youth stakeholders like the Nigeria Young Farmers Network were left out of the whole process and inauguration. As a matter of fact, several people reached out to congratulate the NYFN on the inauguration of the scheme considering that we have been absolutely at the forefront of drawing attention to deliberate and strategic youth engagement in agriculture through public enlightenment, advocacy, education, equipment and engagement. We pushed hard for such opportunities to be largely youth-led and enabled by the government. What we see on the contrary is a largely government led National Young Farmers Scheme and such possible deliberate oversight only worsened an already terrible distrust between the youths and government actors.
Concerns about the security of farms nationwide, illiteracy and knowledge gap in modern agriculture techniques were also on the front burner of the responses to other genuine issues raised by young respondents.
A few months back, the NYFN had a meeting with Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of science and technology and the management of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, with a mission to enter into a pragmatic partnership for agricultural development through Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI). This meeting, which was captured by the media, took place long before the launch of the National Young Farmers Scheme.
In our discussions with the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, it was made obvious that nearly 90 per cent of agriculture is science based and urgent steps towards partnership will greatly accelerate agricultural development in Nigeria and mitigate post-harvest losses which stand at an alarming 60 per cent. We went on to emphasize that Science, Technology and Innovation are imperative for enhancing mechanization in agriculture and improving not only crop yield, but the entire value chain. We also reached out to the Federal Ministry of Environment to partner youth-oriented agriculture organisations such as the NYFN on promoting Climate Smart Agricultural Systems that will build the required resilience against the impact of climate change on agriculture.
The above, just to mention a few, further underscores our efforts towards Nigeria’s transition from traditional agriculture to modern agriculture/Agribusiness. With a well thought strategy we call the “GEAR” strategy, which refers to Gather, Equip, Activate, Release, we put together a dynamic ecosystem built on reliable data, to connect young people to the opportunities in the agricultural value chain and beyond. This strategy is at the foundation of our membership structure nationwide as it is important to state that the Nigeria Young Farmers Network has presence in every community, Ward, Local Government, and State in Nigeria.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria has a growing youth population estimated to be 60 per cent. The current agro economy is driven by modern techniques and without a doubt, the youths are champions in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) which are the bedrock of the modern agro economy and pivotal to the development of agriculture in Nigeria.
With an aging population of farmers in Nigeria, growing unemployment and insecurity and rising economic crunch, a deliberate scheme like the National Young Farmers Scheme should be a step in the right direction as long as political actors do not interfere with its objectives.
Moreso, the implementation plan should effectively engage critical stakeholders like the Nigeria Young Farmers Network who have been in the forefront of advocacy, mobilization and engagement of young people in agriculture. In the coming days, we expect to see a strategic stakeholders meeting designed to develop an all-inclusive framework for the implementation of the National Young Farmers Scheme.
In conclusion, fixing the KNOWLEDGE gap in the agriculture sector is another channel to transforming the sector and making it more viable. It should also be understood that sincere and concerted youth engagement is non-negotiable. Our demographic advantage must become our comparative advantage.
Harnessing the incredible youth potential for agricultural development will herald a new economic dawn in Nigeria because the present, future and prosperity of Nigeria lies in the youth.
• Promise Amahah is a young farmer (rice and maize value chains), agribusiness expert and development consultant. He is the director general/ national coordinator of the Nigerian Young Farmers Network with over two million members nationwide