Engaging Youths In Agriculture

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Agriculture is gaining prominence among the youth and helping to push the development agenda. It is also addressing a growing concern that youths are disenchanted with the enterprise. DANIEL ESSIET reports.

Young farmers, such as the Chief Executive, Natural Nutrient Limited, Sola Adeniyi, see farming in three dimensions: as a mission, a way of life and an important foundation in ensuring a society’s food security.

He belongs to a community of educated, empowered and passionate young farmers engaged in profitable farming that nurtures a prosperous, resilient, healthy and happy Nigeria. Although he holds a degree in Business Administration, he was drawn to farming and had dreamt of managing a farm of his own one day.

As a young entrepreneur, Adeniyi has developed his farm business located in Ogun State, using a diversified farming system. Natural Nutrient Limited is a full value chain agri-business enterprise.

His farm is a learning centre, where young people can come for several days, see and learn about planting herbal and food plants and vegetables as well as permaculture. He is a proud advocate of integrated and diversified farming system.

•Young agripreneurs prepare to plant vegetables in their greenhouse

He has an ongoing project at Lala town, Ogun State, where young people are shown how to grow high-value crops, keep livestocks and how to market produce to markets. Adeniyi stressed that youth could be attracted to agriculture if they saw meaningful income opportunities as well as have a sense of pride in farming.

He has a truly innovative and enterprising business – and a fearless approach to new technology, and opened the farm gates to show his fellow farmers the way forward. The farm is a prime example of how youths can give vigour to a farm business. He relies on advice, works with mentors and has an impressive grip on every aspect of his business.

He looks into the accounts on a daily, monthly and yearly basis and works from a business plan. With greater confidence, he is continuing to drive forward. His work ethic, use of technology and natural assets are just a few reasons Adeniyi is a great farmer. He hardly rests, running a mix of thriving and growing diversifications at different farms as well as remaining hands-on with his arable operation.

He believed greater involvement of the youth in agricultural trainings and ventures can highten their social consciousness on the woes of farmers and on how to address these challenges.

He said young farmers needed to earn at least subsistence wages from farming, adding that they lack experience, training, technical knowledge and skills to make farming more productive. They are agricultural technology, farm management, agri-enterprise business development and marketing. If skills trainings are provided, he said, a lot of youths will discover that farming would make them rich and secure. Without these needed support, he said, young farmers feel that they cannot compete with big commercial farmers.

He urged the government to provide them with basic resources especially land, capital and equipment to make farming less tedious.

A lot of youths, according to him, have been under-tapped and neglected by their communities, governments, and international organisations, and thus are unable to make full use of their energy and potential in the agriculture sector.

He is not alone thinking this way. He has found an ally in an industrialist, Mr. Paul Okpue ,who has presented a national master plan to train youths to cultivate tomato nationwide to stimulate economic growth and boost employment. He is encouraging young farmers to focus and invest more on high yielding crops to achieve two-three cropping circles in a year.

One of such crops is tomato that takes about 75 days to mature after transplanting. The harvesting goes on for about six to eight weeks.

He is seen as leader in the tomato farming revolution in Delta State. Okpue has an expansive tomato plantation off Ibusa Road in Delta State. It was used to facilitate the pilot project to tomatoes farmers in the state. He told The Nation that he was trying to establish a national network of young tomato growers.

He said his target is 108,000 youths nationwide, translating to about 3000 per state.

He said youths would be taught how to grow tomatoes, using irrigation and spraying the crops regularly to keep pests at bay. When using irrigation, the young farmers will be introduced to good agronomic practices, including feeding them with phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and sulphur fertilisers and good post-harvest handling measures.

According to him, farming offers the young generation a chance to make a difference by growing enough food to feed the nation.

Giving youths the chance to fulfil their dreams in a sound, pragmatic business model that is commercially robust, is clearly at the front of Okpue’s mind.

His blue print is to enable young people to discover more about agriculture as a profession and aims to encourage more people to perceive farming as a career after school.

He has a lot of corporate backing to support his cause. The Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute(ARMTI),Ilorin,Kwara State is one of them.

In support of the pursuit, ARMTI drew agriculture students, faculty, public officials, non-government organisations (NGO) and small farmers to listen to his blue print and to discuss the significance of young people in farming and small-scale agriculture in alleviating poverty and achieving inclusive growth specifically in the rural areas. It was during the institute’s annual lecture in Ilorin.

Acting Executive Director,Dr. Olufemi Oladunni said it was time young Nigerians were made to acquire agricultural skills through training. He believed young farmers could be developed into young leaders and farmer entrepreneurs through exposure to good farming practices such as applying multipurpose farming and raising livestock. To harness the potential of the youth for agriculture, Oladunni said the institute has a agro-based enterprises training with provisions for young farmers.

He said 75 youths were in the institute to get training on farming techniques. Some of the institute’s projects were mainly concentrated, where levels of open unemployment among rural youths are particularly high. However, considerably more attention is now being given to youth training, with a particular focus on promoting employment through both farm and non farm enterprise development. The institute is becoming increasingly interested in providing support for targeted training for young farmers.

According to him, agriculture is expected to drive the nation’s economic growth.