Nigeria,unarguably the most populous black nation, is home to an estimated 206 million people with about 43.69 percent of the total population aged 0 to 14 and about 24.4 percent of the populace aged between 15 and 35(youth population), according to a 2019 report by Worldometer, a real-time world population statistics website.
These figures reflect a high percentage of the youth populace and also points at the fact that the youth will increasingly form the bulk of the country’s major population in the nearest future, as children aged 0-14 grow older to dominate the youth populace.
However, while there is a growth trend in the number of young people in Nigeria, statistics have shown that there hasn’t been a corresponding growth in the number of opportunities for them.
Data gleaned from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed a worrisome surge in the rate of youth unemployment as the report showed that Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate increased to 53.40 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 from 40.80 per cent in the second quarter of the same year.
Hindered by widespread poverty, lack of physical infrastructure and a harsh economic environment, Nigeria’s youth development forebodes a bleak future if not critically addressed, economic analysts warn.
Against this backdrop, many analysts contend that agriculture presents a unique opportunity for Nigerian youths to surmount the aforementioned economic challenges, not only because it is one of the largest contributors to the country’s non-oil revenue, but also because it continues to experience significant growth when effectively exploited with adequate policies.
It has also been argued that the youths, considered digitally advanced and easily adaptable to modern innovations and agricultural practices, can be involved in activities that support agriculture production such as ICT-based ventures, capacity building,logistics, and value addition as service providers and entrepreneurs in the agriculture space.
Agribusiness, an essential value chain of the agriculture sector, has also been identified as an ideal strategy that holds considerable potential to provide opportunities beyond food production alone, as it creates an avenue for gainful employment, entrepreneurship promotion, innovation, and self sustenance for the teeming youth population in the modern economy.
Taiwo Mafimisebi, a professor of Agribusiness and Marketing Management at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), asserts that the Nigerian government can effectively tackle unemployment among the youths, luring them away from nefarious activities, frauds and the internet based scams popularly known as ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ in local parlance by encouraging them to adopt financial opportunities in agriculture and creating avenues to harness the vast agri-business potentials.
Mafimisebi,who gave the recommendation while delivering a public lecture titled“Agri
business Income and Conquest of Poverty: What Nexus?”, held at the University Main Auditorium, emphasised that agribusiness opportunities in Nigeria are enormous, noting that the country is endowed with varied agro climatic conditions which permit and facilitate the production of several varieties of agric products which can boost production and by extension,create employment, business and reduce poverty.
According to him, governments at all levels can optimise these potential by devising workable strategies that will make agribusiness attractive and sustainably profitable to the youth to enable them self-manage multiple agribusinesses which require little or no capital.
“If this is institutionalised and made a key workable policy of the government, it will drastically reduce unemployment, poverty and the number of youths who claim they are driven into ‘yahoo yahoo’ to escape the poverty trap,” he added.
The agribusiness analyst further asserted that capacity building for better agribusiness can be easily channeled through formal groups therefore special credit windows with low or no interest should be established for agribusiness households paying particular attention to youth and women.
To achieve this, he advised that governments should make available guaranteed bank loans to youths in agribusiness with a moratorium of two years, adding that youths should be organised into viable groups that will ease access to rotating credit and bank credit and loan.
He also advised agriculture-based institutions in the country to take a more practical approach to training undergraduates in agriculture as is being done in some African Universities like Botswana University of Agriculture where the university devotes a semester of 14-17 weeks for students to conceive, design and run a personal agribusiness with seed funds provided by the government or university as the case may be.
Promise Amahah, founder of the Nigerian Young Farmers Network, a youth based agriculture development initiative, posits that the current agro economy is driven by modern techniques and without a doubt, the youths are champions in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) which is the bedrock of the modern agro economy and pivotal to the development of agriculture in Nigeria.
Amahah asserts that a dynamic ecosystem built on reliable data, to connect young people to the opportunities in the agricultural value chain and beyond, bereft of political interference, will boost the youths’ interest in agribusiness.
He further averred that agribusiness can be made attractive to the youths through enhancement of a competitive market for agricultural produce, creating opportunities for training in the adoption of modern technologies, providing insurance against agricultural shocks and risks, and implementation of policies to support institutional researches and training programmes for the youths.
“It should also be understood that sincere and concerted youth engagement is non-negotiable. 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,” he noted.
Akin Alabi, co-founder, Corporate Farmers International, an agribusiness/agrimedia company, noted that the agribusiness sector is the largest sector that can actually accommodate both the skilled and the unskilled youth as it encompasses a diverse value chain that can incorporate youths across all boards regardless of social or education background.
According to him, the role of the government is basically to provide an enabling environment in terms of land resources and policies that will enable the youths and young agripreneurs to invest in the agribusiness space.
Alabi also called for the development of innovative financing such as crowdfunding and other funding processes that can help develop the agribusiness sector and support youths willing to engage in its diverse opportunities.