In Nigeria, at every major road intersection there are young people clutching a variety of products from recharge cards, snacks, wrist watches, mops, ‘pure-water’, bread and exotic dogs. They torturously run after speeding cars and are sometimes hit by the vehicles. They are under the scorching sun selling wares that bring in profits of less than 5 Dollars a day. With a well pursued and visionary framework we can end this vicious circle of poverty.
The Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has been promoting Nigeria’s Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Sanusi said food imports in Nigeria amounted to N165 billion worth of wheat; N105 billion worth of fish; we also spent N75 billion on rice and N60 billion on sugar importation annually. This mindboggling expenditure can be reversed to give a more meaningful life to the multitude of young people hustling to eke out a living in our urban centers and highways. Alongside Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, there are currently robust initiatives and funds to ensure that food security is enhanced in Nigeria.
The fact remains that if young unemployed people are encouraged, trained with the right skills and provided with the right incentives via an agricultural mentorship process involving different facets of agriculture we will not only reduce poverty but also enhance food security. Modern agriculture in Nigeria can serve as a catalyst for development and also reduce migration to urban areas among young Nigerians. Indeed the young people residing in rural areas and urban fringes want to work the land but not in the same conditions experienced by their parents and grandparents.
Given the challenges faced by the youth in labor markets, success in pursuing employment for young people will require long term, concerted actions, spanning a wide range of policies and programs. Indeed, success will not be achieved and sustained through fragmented and isolated interventions; but an over-arching integrated strategy for rural development, growth and job creation.
With Nigeria’s landmass, well delineated weather conditions; agriculture is the treasure trove for reducing poverty and unemployment opportunities abound in animal husbandry, fisheries, horticulture, poultry, cash crops and food crops. The value chain also brings about other service opportunities ranging from leasing of agricultural equipments, leasing of lands, and distribution of agricultural products, packaging, beverages and food processing plants, haulage, ware housing, retail, whole sale and above all exportation.
But, because most government initiatives have yet to come to terms with our imperative to transit from a mono resource based economy to an agro-allied industrialized state, we might not fully grasp the opportunities inherent in this sector. For the needed expertise to make this sector work, since pre-independence research centers were established to improve the yield of some crops in Nigeria; in terms of expertise we can easily boast of world class authorities in different of agriculture whose distinct views are respected world- wide. This then brings us to the pertinent question, why have we failed in our successive agricultural interventions? Why have we continued to grow a huge army of unemployed youths, why do we still record huge import bills?
The answer indeed lies in our policy frameworks and our inability to make such policies work, our inability to ask relevant questions and prosecute where need be. The cotton and cassava intervention funds are a clear case study, not only were farmers not able to access them but the funds have remained trapped by the red tapes of government.
This is a cluster of farmers or agricultural service providers registered in a data base and provided with the required wherewithal to perform. The feed the demand and supply chain; whilst also sharing the attendant risks that comes with the terrain. The demand-supply driven model will target economically disadvantaged youth, foster private sector participation, commercial and community banks inclusive. It will also promote competition amongst the co-operatives. The success in this will improve not only job placements and but also earnings.
Modern agriculture has considerable potential for job and wealth creation and would absorb large numbers of would-be youth migrants or youths who currently crowd the cities with underemployment. Making well balanced choices for employment-intensive investments in agriculture and rural nonfarm activities can create immediate short term employment opportunities which can be more easily tapped by young people. Combined with appropriate local economic development strategies, it can generate more and sustainable jobs. This requires strategies to make agriculture an attractive enough option for youths to engage in, including moving away from subsistence agriculture, and introducing commercialization and productivity improvements through technological changes and infrastructure support like the Fadama project tried to do. By also creating jobs and educational opportunities, rural areas can increase their attractiveness to young workers, thus eventually delaying the rural-urban migration, which is a very critical issue should governments want to mitigate against youth urban unemployment and underemployment to grow, and the well being in the already congested urbanized areas to worsen. Investing in rural education will also create better opportunities for people to migrate more successfully and contribute to the economic growth of cities.
Finally, there is the issue of onion farmers in Kebbi state whose perennial cry for storage facilities, good roads and access to best practices continues to go unheeded in Nigeria. As the clamor for either removing or reducing food subsidy increases, it is imperative that we look towards those who produce agricultural food to support and increase growth exponentially in that sector.
Besides expanding rural job opportunities, it is also necessary to improve the investment and macroeconomic environments; encourage and support entrepreneurship and the informal sector; improve access to education and skills; address the demographic issues, including early motherhood; tackle the problem of youth in violent and post conflict settings; and improve the labor market conditions. These are the most needed policy responses to tackle youth employment issues in a sustainable manner in Nigeria. It can and should be done; it is time to use the double edge advantage agriculture presents to us.
Alkasim Abdulkadir is a multi-media journalist, he has worked as a Producer for BBC Media Action and as a news contributor for CNN, Aljazeera, France 24 and Guardian UK. He is Contributing Editor at The Trent.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.