Instead of waiting for white collar jobs in government that are not readily available, youths are being mobilized to embrace agriculture, writes WINIFRED OGBEBO
According to a recent study, 60 per cent of Nigeria populations are made up of youths.
However, many of them are unemployed, some of whom are waiting for the not-so readily available, white collar government jobs.
As a result, this has contributed to the social vices bedeviling the nation today.
The UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban ki Moon recently called for an urgent action, as too many young people lack resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty.
The call for a paradigm shift from oil-based economy to an agro-economy has become strident by the day, with a wake-up call for the youths to venture into the highly lucrative venture.
But, the mindset of the average Nigerian youths on agricultural is a bit skewed and its negative views of farming that is discouraging them from farming.
When you tell most youths about farming, the idea is that they will go and use cutlass and hoe to start farming.
I want to tell youths that a farmer can wear a Rolex Wristwatch and he can drive a Bentley, says the founder, Quintessential Business Women Association, Ms Shimite Katung., at an event, titled, “Youths and White Collar Job in Agriculture,” held in Abuja recently.
She said that youths should be made to see that they can be a success through agro business, “From farming to processing and packaging or marketing, youths have to find what their talent is and use it to make money for themselves. “
“We are thinking of job creation using the agric sector because there are many opportunities for youths in agric value chain.When the youths think of agriculture, they think of a hoe, but when they understand that there is ICT in agriculture, they will get interested. When they understand that they can design a poster for an event or design a package for coconut chips, they will become interested because it is part of value chain; when they can do home delivery of different farm produce like meat and fish to different hotels craving for these foods. They didn’t know that driving could be part of agriculture, moving goods from one state to another. We are expanding their mind to see what they will do to complete the value chain.”
With over 156,800 youth members across the country, the director, Youths, Quintessential Young Leaders, a unit of Quintessential Women Business Association, Sandra Egonu, said, “We want to make agric look lucrative, attractive and sexy”
She said the programmme, “Youth and White Collar Job in Agriculture,” a pioneer, was created to encourage youths and expose them to the opportunities available in agricultural sector.
“The list is endless; marketing, negotiation, branding, ICT and others. For example, you can use ICT to develop a website for agricultural company or industry. You can also develop software for farmers. For example, there is this software they have for farmers in Ghana on how much fertilizers they will get.”
We want them to understand that even as a graduate, they can find their place in agriculture. I have come to understand the importance that agric plays and how neglected it has been. We want Nigeria to be on the map as a very important nation when you talk about agric. Before the oil boom in the 1970s, we were dependent on the farm but now our arable land has been abandoned and soiled by oil,”Egonu added.
Meanwhile, the President of Quintessential Business Women Association, said her organisation aimed to raise these young farmers by creating an enabling environment with interventions like micro credit financing.
“We work with three units; our corporative unit has 30 people and 60 corporatives at every local government, so we have 1000 women and 200 youths in every local government nationwide.”
On how many of this white collar jobs the organization intends to create, Shimite said, “ I have seen several event management firms but I have not seen any agriculture marketing company, or agriculture managing company littering the roads. How can we get over 70 per cent of us in agriculture, and we have more event and luxury based managers in agriculture”. So we are trying to get youths to understand that there are jobs that need to happen before agriculture will be flowing. Those women in the village are not going to come and market these products; they are not going to package, wash or export anywhere until the youths get up, go and meet them with trucks, get warehouses to store and package these products. We are now saying that the women should stay where they are as they, the youths are coming to meet them and make their lives easier.”
On the specific things youths can do in agriculture, the Youths Enterprise Desk Officer, Small and Medium Scale Development Agency in Nigeria ( SMEDAN), Moshood Lawal, said that though the current minister of Agriculture brought an innovation of using mobile phones to sell fertilizers to farmers, it is because of the absence of a simple application that farmers are still using that innovation.
According to him, youths can produce an application which farmers can download on their phones and they will get all these things done without necessarily being on the farm.
“You have people who are using potato chips in freezers and supermarkets. Without farming, what we are expecting them to manage is three M- money, materials and men.
He explained that a young man can actually tell a farmer to produce all his goods and sell them to him; “he is not going to farm and by so doing he will be adding to the value chain. He is actually the person that provided the business plan and funding maybe from the Bank of Agriculture on behalf of most these farmers who are not educated while helping provide solutions to their problems.”
“He is also the person that will do research into how to preserve the farm products. You see now that everyone wants to become a cat fish farmer. Entrepreneurship is not all about vocational training; it is about bringing innovation into something that is already being done. So if you have a cat fish farmer that is not making much money, what the youth need to do is to add value on how to actually shelf these fishes, preserve them and prepare them for exports.”
Lawal added further, “Right now, you will find out that we have a large number of post-harvest happening in Nigeria. They will plant their crops but are unable to make better sales which leads to losses. What we expect the youths to do now, using their knowledge, is to start thinking of marketing strategy, branding and packaging and storage to improve their shelf life.
Before now, we used to have groundnut pyramids when we had a lower population but now that we have a higher population, why have agricultural production reduced? That is because there has not been much incentive in agriculture- less lucrative and attractive. Once you leave agriculture, we are going to be a dependent country that will rely on foreigners for every agricultural product. But if the youths can support the policies of government in agriculture, you will find out that Nigeria is expected to feed the whole of West Africa.”
On the specific amount the organization is working on to finance the youths’ foray into agriculture, she said, “We are working with micro finance banks- about 27 financial institutions. What we need at this point is to have the youths identify what they want to do, identify how much they need and then identify that this is a loan which must be repaid so they don’t just go and build castles in the air and come right to the ground and say, this is where I’m going to sell my produce and this is who is going to buy it. We also help you identify markets and stop any Nigerian from buying substandard products, we are going to standardize.”
“We are showing the youths all the possibilities in agriculture business and that the next time somebody comes to Ondo State and say he wants to buy cocoa, they can tell that one that it would be cheaper to set-up a cocoa factory here. They will have youths with information that are correct because we are creating our own data base. We are not going to be using our rural women in our corporative management. Information like the number of people planting, the location, the distance, means transportation etc., we are going to create our own information and it will work.”
“What we want to do is to encourage the youths to start looking at agriculture as a white collar job rather than the office jobs which are not readily available. What the federal government is doing is a boost and we want the youths to come in and look at it more as a formal job and not an odd job, something they could actually do and make sustainable livelihood. A lot of income can be generated from agriculture and Nigeria is one the countries blessed in terms of land mass, human resources, and cheap labour. What it just requires is just innovation which the youths have.”
The SMEDAN Youth Enterprise Desk Officer added that Nigeria remained the only country where fruits are produced all year round, so it has no excuse to import most of the goods it imports.
As someone that is a go between government and the private sector, the Director General, Securities and Exchange Commission, Aruma Oteh, counseled that agriculture should be promoted as a business that can be invested in.
“So I must tell the youths that they have to take their destinies in their hands and it is profitable to take your destiny into your hands. Millionaires will be made through investments in agriculture and this is the time to make that investment.”