After a period of food crisis largely blamed on the dwindling capacity of a generation of ageing smallholder farmers and their correspondingly outdated methods, Nigeria is set to witness the desired transformation in its agricultural sector with the intervention of development partners like Heifer Nigeria, which has begun a process of wooing the youth back to farming with technology and partnership with other stakeholders, reports Festus Akanbi
It is not a coincidence that virtually all public discussions these days, in one way or the other, end with lamentations on the growing hunger and pervasive desperation for solution in the land.
Nigerians cannot forget in hurry, the recent #EndSARS protests against police brutality, which led to the discovery and mass looting of warehouses filled with food items meant to ameliorate food insecurity in the nation. Among other lessons from the looting, observers said the savage rush for food items in various warehouses across the country also underscored the pervasive poverty and food insecurity. It was therefore not a surprise that many Nigerians indeed justified the looting of the warehouses, citing the mismanagement of the palliatives in a period of biting hunger.
It is a fact that agriculture accounted for about 27 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP in 2020, compared to an average of 14 per cent of GDPs across sub-Saharan Africa. The sector employs up to 36 per cent of the country’s working population, however, more than 80 per cent of these people are smallholders.
Economic affairs watchers said apart from being at the mercy of imported inflation (since Nigerians heavily depend on imported items), the current difficult situation as far as food insufficiency is concerned, should be blamed on the lack of adequate incentives to attract the youths, who are in a higher percentage of the population, to farming.
This is because, despite the positive effect of agriculture across the African continent, the sector remains unattractive to young people, a development that explains why many young men move to the urban areas without taking interest in agriculture as a source of livelihood.
Today, the reality is that the rural population comprising mostly smallholder farmers practices subsistence farming, and for many, there is a lot of uncertainty that comes with farming. Issues like climate change, lack of technology, illiteracy, and access to opportunities pose a great threat to their source of income. Many of these farmers, despite their years of farming experience, are faced with the problem of low productivity caused by a combination of adverse climatic conditions and harmful farm practices.
Replacing Ageing Small Holder Farmers
Realising the futility of depending on the ageing population of farmers, whose crude and outdated methods of farming have proved insufficient for large-scale food production, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in conjunction with some development partners seem to have shifted attention to the youth population.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, who unveiled the ministry’s programme during recent Nigeria’s Economic Summit, disclosed that the FMARD, through the Department of Agricultural Extension (FDAE), has since realised that the contribution and the combination of youth and cutting edge technology in agriculture hold prosperity to industrialisation and the key to the sustainable economic development of any developing country like Nigeria.
“The use of science and technology in modern precision agriculture is almost necessary if any meaningful stride in this area is to be achieved. The areas of application of technology into agriculture have almost no limit,” the minister stated.
He listed such areas to include mechanisation of cultivation, crops, and animal biotechnological improvement, agrochemicals, manufacturing, harvesting, processing and storage, climate and environmental smart adaptation, irrigation, use of ICT in information, marketing, and agric business, among others.
The minister said that empowering youth through promoting entrepreneurship is increasingly seen as an approach to inclusive economic development, pointing out that one major hurdle is limited access to many ingredients of agricultural success such as land, credit, inputs (machinery, irrigation, or improved seeds) agronomic and vocational training, insurance, and lucrative markets.
Heifer: Investing in Creativity of Young Nigerians
However, analysts have pointed out that given the repeated failure of the government to drive the new approach to agriculture, there is a need for development partners to wade in.
One of such with the mindset to support the Nigerian government is Heifer Nigeria, which is focused on investing in the creativity of young Nigerians and new technologies to unblock opportunities within the agricultural sector for sustainable living incomes, food security, improved livelihoods, and resilience.
In trying to dissect the problems with the Nigerian agricultural practice, Senior Vice-President, Africa Program, Heifer International, Adesuwa Ifedi said the youths are disinterested in farming given the failure of the older generation to break even through farming. According to her, the farming struggles of their parents may have discouraged them from agriculture.
She believed much may not be achieved until problems militating against career farmers from reaching the fullness of their potential are effectively tackled.
At this point, she said the youth should be lured back into agriculture with technology and other inducements like adequate financing.
“There is a need to make the sector more technologically enabled, compatible with smallholders’ challenges. It must also be affordable and sustainable,” she counselled.
Apart from the funding barrier, there is also the need to increase their capacity as many do not have the required knowledge or skills to take advantage of the potential of the agricultural sector. Access to technology is another challenge for this group and innovation in the sector will create change in the perception of youth and transform their mindset about the sector.
This was the position of the minister during his presentation at the summit. According to him, “There is no gainsaying the fact that any nation that would develop to conquer life basics and attain rocket science must not neglect youth capacity building, skill acquisition, digital knowledge education of its youth.
“Their inefficiencies, unemployability, illiteracy, and lack of entrepreneurial prowess must be eliminated.”
He explained that super economies can only occur with the adoption of science and technology-driven by youth luminaries with digital skills flourishing in them.
Buttressing this position, Country Director, Heifer Nigeria, Mr. Rufus Idris, while speaking in Abuja, at the Nigerian Economic Summit 2021, with the theme: Youth and Technology: The Future of Nigeria’s Agriculture, said his organisation is set to replicate in Nigeria, its intervention in the agricultural sector of 10 other countries in Africa.
The Director disclosed that Heifer Nigeria aims to assist millions of households (largely young men and women) reach a sustainable living income by 2030.
He said this will be achieved through strategic private and public sector partnerships; unlocking demand and market opportunities; investing in priority value chains, and leveraging innovation and emerging agricultural technologies to reach a transformational scale.
Already, the organisation is collaborating with stakeholders within the Nigerian agricultural ecosystem. These include young technology innovators/entrepreneurs, tech hubs, agribusinesses and farmer groups, investors and financiers, business development service providers, agricultural research institutions, donor communities, and government agencies.
According to Idris, this is aimed at developing and scaling more inclusive, commercially viable, and sustainable agribusiness models and innovations capable of increasing the productivity and competitiveness of Nigeria’s agricultural sector to curb food insecurity and poverty.
Poised to End Hunger, Poverty
The global arm, Heifer International, which stated that it had, within 77 years assisted more than 36 million people in 21 countries (in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including the United States) to end hunger and poverty, unveiled its programme in Nigeria at the 2021 Nigerian Economic Summit on October 26.
He said, “With Heifer’s programs in 11 African Countries, Nigeria is very pivotal to ending hunger and poverty in Africa. According to the former Ethiopian Prime Minister during yesterday’s plenary session, “If we secure Nigeria’s future, then we have secured Africa’s future”.
He believes that to secure our future there is a fierce urgency to address the issues of food insecurity and massive food importation associated with the underperformance of our agricultural sector and food system, high unemployment among youths, and dwindling economy. He insisted that youth creativity and technology in agriculture will drive growth in Nigeria.
Throwing the light on Heifer’s signature program for Nigeria tagged Naija Unlock, Idris said the program is aimed at unlocking Nigeria’s potential for food self-sufficiency, working with smallholder farmers and market actors to fill local demand while closing the living income gap for families in selected value chains, starting with Tomato, Rice, and Poultry value chain.
Heifer stated that the Naija Unlock programme will unleash Nigeria’s potential for food self-sufficiency and fill local job demands, closing the living income gap for families in the tomato, rice, and poultry value chains.
“Naija Unlock will benefit one million households over nine years. It will address local demand for tomatoes, rice, and poultry, and increase food security and agribusiness innovations.
Already, 24 states have been earmarked for the project and they include, Ogun, Jiagawa, Ekiti, Lagos, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Kebbi, Benue, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Kogi, and Edo.The list also includes Delta, Niger, Ebonyi, Cross River, Abia, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, and Bayelsa.
Idris explained, “We have just launched Heifer Nigeria and gradually rolling out our Signature Program “Naija Unlock”. We have started investing in the Tomato value chain in Ogun State, Rice value chain in Nasarawa and Benue, Poultry Value Chain in Edo State. We plan to commence official launch in these states before end of this year and begin to expand to other states during next year and beyond.”
On how small holders farmers can overcome the problem of financing in Nigeria, the Heifer director stressed the need to embrace special financing models to meet the need of these category of farmers.
“We need to embrace more innovative financing models for them, models that can take more risk for a sector considered as very risky by financial institutions, and such model can help derisk the sector to attract more financial institutions participation. Also, we need to help smallholder farmers build commercially viable business models that will make them investment ready and bankable. These are approaches that Heifer Nigeria is supporting.”
On the fate of youths in the crisis-ridden part of the country, Idris said, “There is no doubt that insecurity is disrupting Agribusiness activities and supply chain is some part of the country, hence, why we believe in a wholistic approach where the public and private sector work together to address the constraints affecting the sector and youth participation and jointly investing in the enablers that can accelerate youth participation in the sector. No country without its own challenges, with all hands on deck, there is hope that Nigeria would overcome its insecurity challenges.