If you’re familiar with the employment sector in Nigeria, you’d probably know that each year, universities across the country churn out thousands of graduates -a greater percentage of which, have no ready jobs waiting for them.
In fact according to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Nigeria has climbed from 23.1% recorded in Q3, 2018 to 27.1% in Q2, 2020.
Put in perspective, with a labor force of over 80 million, over 21 million Nigerians are unemployed -a figure that is 2.5 times the population of Togo. The unemployment rate for Nigerians aged between 25 and 35 stands even higher at 30.7%!
That agriculture is at the center of the Nigerian economy is a no brainer as over 70 percent of Nigerians engage in the agriculture sector mainly at a subsistence level with the goal of food security for individual households. It is also Nigeria’s largest employer of labor and income-generating activity.
Further, more than 80 per cent of Nigeria’s farmers are smallholders who produce over 90% of our domestic output. Yet, according to a report by the World Bank, about 72% of these farmers make up the poorest 40% of Nigeria’s population, living below the country’s poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) per year and producing relatively small volumes of agricultural produce.
These farmers face major obstacles that prevent them from integrating into rapidly evolving national and international markets, thus contributing to the triangular plague of youth unemployment, food insecurity, and women disempowerment.
For youths living in rural areas, the lure of city life is an ever-present reality as an increasing number of them do not see a future for themselves in farming.
For those who dare to venture into agriculture, they face challenges such as low yields due to poor agricultural practices, lack of access to premium buyers due to low economies of scale, poor access to credit due to poor bankability metrics, inheritance laws which often make the transfer of land to young women knotty and inconsistent quality of harvested farm produce. Not to mention climate change, conflict and insurgency which have further exacerbated the problems of hunger and conflict.
In the midst of these intersecting challenges, it is important to recognize that strategies geared towards a stronger economy must take a systems perspective – holistic and inclusive – factoring the interconnectedness and complexities that exist within agribusiness.
Investing in these smallholder farmers -many of whom are women and youth – and in the support markets and services, beyond production and selling segments, has never been more important.
In order to strengthen an ailing economy, investments in agriculture need to be catalyzed as the sector has since gone beyond the subsistence level. The narrative has since been re-written and farmers are no longer seen as uneducated and unskilled old men and women, who perform backbreaking labor while earning so little. The sector abounds with opportunities in research, technology, financial management, trade, production and engineering. For a number of young persons, it is a thriving business that can be resilient in the face of shocks and stresses.
Because the number of older smallholder farmers are steadily on the decline, there is an urgent need to foster the full participation of youths in agriculture and its support services.
While there is no silver bullet that can entirely revitalize the Nigerian economy, it is a given that agriculture can contribute to sustainable economic development. To ensure this happens, support market services such as data-driven extension and advisory, market information on variables such as price and weather, transport, processing, quality assurance, packaging and marketing, etc. should be strengthened to better support production and selling, while ensuring food is available and affordable.
Government, social enterprises, civil society organizations, donor agencies and their implementing partners, as well as other stakeholders who control formal and informal rules and norms must put the right policies and regulations in place, by creating strong institutions, and by building sufficient infrastructure as well as dialogue platforms which are inclusive of young smallholder farmers, input suppliers, off takers and other ecosystem actors -enabling their voice, agency and access to productive economic resources.
Recognizing the enormous and untapped potential of the agricultural sector, Meadow Foods through its GrowIT project is teaching young graduates to see “farming as a business”, enabled by modern technologies such as “smart farming” and “climate-smart” production to increase quantity and quality alongside mitigating the negative effects of a rapidly changing climate which has caused rising temperatures, dry spells, flooding, desertification, pests and diseases.
Our team of young micro-franchisees called GrowIT Entrepreneurs (GEs), provide a feet-on-the street presence and a physical touch point to farmers using our digital platform as the last mile.
These GEs are trained to support smallholder farmer collectives with services including soil-testing and personalized seeds, crop nutrient, fertilizers, pest management best practices recommendations, land-boundary mapping services using geo-spatial technology and supports to build a transaction history that enable them access credit for climate-smart inputs, while linking them to higher-value output markets.
GE’s are selected, hired, and trained by the GrowIT consortium to use software applications to capture, manage, and monitor a variety of data and transactions. These micro-entrepreneurs, equipped with portable tablets or smartphones loaded with a suite of relevant applications provide farmers with access to a bouquet of products and services, providing critical connections to relevant brands.
Leveraging on social networks, most of our GE’s are trusted community members who provide extension services to our farmer collectives who know and trust them. Each GE is expected to manage up to 250 farmers organized as clusters.
These GEs earn a pre-agreed commission for each of the extension services they render. Thus, they earn while also learning how to run a resilient agribusiness model.
Our interventions are designed with a resilience lens such that while the intensity of farming is increased, our ecosystems are nurtured and preserved.
There’s no gain saying that young smallholder farmers are better able to mitigate, cope and adapt in the face of climate-driven shocks and stresses because of their capacity to easily adopt new technologies and data-driven advisory than their older counterparts. Stakeholders should therefore unite and act quickly to build and maintain a resilient and sustainable economy that is inclusive of youths, because the economic stability of Nigeria depends on harnessing the knowledge, skills and power of our population, one young person at a time!
Nora Agbakhamen is the founder of Nora’s Copy and a contributing journalists at Africa Prime News. She tells stories that generate revenue for brands.
This article by Nora Agbakhamen was first published in The Punch Newspaper of September 27, 2021