Agriculture in Nigeria remains an integral part of the economy and the culture. Currently two thirds of the entire workforce is employed in the sector, contributing 19.7% to national GDP in 2016 (FAO & National Bureau of Statistics). Youth unemployment in the country is high with a scarcity of formal jobs in both rural and urban areas.
In early 2016, while volunteering with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in a small rural town called Igangan in Osun State, Nigeria, I came to see for myself the challenges and pressures young people face when entering the job market. There is a strong negative stigma associated with farming among many young people who view it as an old-fashioned way of life for their parents and the less educated. To the qualified and ambitious youth in Nigeria, agriculture seemingly has little to offer.
There was a need to make agriculture more attractive to young people in Igangan and its surrounding area. After consulting with school students, farmers and NGOs it became clear that presenting a business case for agriculture, in a way that was accessible to school children, may provide a possible solution. I, with a team of Nigerian and UK volunteers, set-up a Young Farmers group with a one acre plot of land close to the school. We had 18 members sign up on day one and got to work delivering training on how to maximise yields from cocoa (the main cash crop in the area) and how to grow vegetables – which can fetch a good price when sold during the dry season. On my departure the members were enthusiastic and committed to keeping the club going by cultivating the land and exploring potential job opportunities modern farming could offer.
Since then, the Young Farmers have gone from strength to strength with more UK and Nigerian volunteers supporting young members. In December 2016, an Agricultural Fair to promote the Young Farmers' new Youth Cooperative initiative took place in the community and was aired on state television. The event was attended by the Director of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Youth Engagement, Mr Jelili Tiamiqu, who said, "Inspiring Young Farmers, as it is being done here in Igangan, will help increase their interest in agriculture and teach them innovative techniques to encourage good practices and high quality yields in the future. The Youth Cooperative provides a goal for them to aspire towards, to strengthen youth engagement and increase the revenue which they can secure for themselves and the state in the future."
The Nigerian government and various development organisations are actively promoting youth engagement in farming to foster a new generation of ‘agripreneurs’ who can help move agricultural production from a mostly subsistence level to an agro-allied industrialised level. This was proposed on 7 December 2016, during the 11th African Economic Conference (AEC) in Abuja, Nigeria, as it will incentivise locally owned enterprise, promote business innovation and diversify the economy.
The success of the Igangan project is on a very small-scale, but echoes broader national and regional agendas on how to engage youth in agriculture. In April 2016, the African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), organised the ENABLE (Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment) Youth Program Design Workshop to share experiences and lessons learned in promoting youth entrepreneurship and employment in agriculture on the continent. The workshop, which took place in Abuja, was attended by 240 participants from more than 30 countries, including over 70 young agripreneurs. In the future I hope Igangan Young Farmers will be a part of similar events having grown into successful agripreneurs themselves.
Going forward, the multi-lateral efforts mentioned here combined with local youth agricultural initiatives will prove vital for Nigeria in achieving the goal of agro-allied industrialisation, and in so doing inspire a youth driven agripreneur revolution across the region.