By EGWU BEN OBASI
Years past, it was very common to have NYSC farms dotting the nation’s landscape. This was a laudable initiative designed to more usefully engage the National Youth Service corps members and to address part of the food needs of the nation and by extension, food needs of various NYSC orientation camps. This goes to underscore the importance attached to agriculture for the nation’s economic well-being and food sustainability.
Time was, and in some cases even now, when Youth Corps members were rejected with abandon in the banks and industries. But, with our massive landmass and agricultural endowments, it becomes easier to more productively engage the corps members in agriculture. This is also in line with the policy of utilising sizeable percentage of NYSC members in agriculture and rural schools.
With the current emphasis on broadly diversifying our economic base on account of dwindling fortunes of our mono-product, oil, it makes more sense to engage our teeming corps members in agricultural activities during their service year.
Agricultural extension programmes are ready aspects of agriculture that yearn for the involvement of our NYSC members. For the one year of the national service, most of the NYSC members will see their agricultural extension service initiatives through to fruition before their disengagement from service. Where the crops or animals take more than a year to mature, succeeding NYSC batches can take over the management till maturity and harvest.
While it may be easier to use conventional agricultural extensionists in this respect, most youth corps personnel with agriculture bias, can as well with little orientation, deliver on this initiative.
NYSC Agricultural Extension Specialists, already with agriculture background, are deemed sufficiently equipped with requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes in agricultural development processes, and possess the competences that can effectively transmit the skills and knowledge to local farmers for optimum productivity.
Agricultural extension, being the application of scientific research and new knowledge of agricultural practices through farmer education, perfectly positions agriculture-oriented corps members to deliver on this and drive innovations. These innovations can be in the areas of animal production, crop production and apiculture practices; land preparation techniques, and agri-marketing principles, practices and strategies.
Armed with management principles, the NYSC members will assist farmers to enhance management of their fish, poultry, sheep, goat and pig farms, etc., through agriculture information dissemination to individual farmers and farmer groups.
Some NYSC members in their various places of primary assignment are usually grossly underutilised. NYSC farms, when effectively re-introduced and possibly established in each of the 774 local government areas, will help to maximally absorb, unlock and utilise the potentials of the corps members. Products from these farms can conveniently satisfy the food needs of successive NYSC batches in their orientation camps before deployment to their areas of primary assignment. When there is a lull in activities that will keep them very busy in the course of executing Community Development Projects, they can more gainfully engage themselves in the NYSC farms. To fully realize this, it is expected that the respective state governments and local councils should equip them sufficiently in terms of parcels of land, equipment, machinery, implements, inputs and logistics to execute these programmes seamlessly.
Outcome of possible research activities on soil, crop and animals from these NYSC farms can be made available to outreach farmers for adoption. This is the way uneducated adopted village farmers will benefit from the wealth of knowledge of these corps members gained from latest national and international research findings. Change of attitude and behaviour of local farmers resulting from these extension activities will most certainly change their lives and living standards for the better
While using the medium of NYSC farms to render consultancy and information services to local farmers, the farmers will see the need for membership of various farmer cooperatives and other farmer organisations. This will also address most of their challenges like sourcing of funds, utilizing feasibility reports, and accessing improved input varieties for optimal yield.
With NYSC farms as research bases, corps members will be educating farmers on proper utilization of their products through application of value chain or value addition methods. This way, wastes will be checked; their undue exploitation obviated, and their income enhanced to justify the efforts and resources exp,ended. Identified agri-business niching can also be introduced to tap into hitherto unexplored but nonetheless lucrative aspects of agri-business.
As part of their outreach education and enlightenment, NYSC members will put farmers through the economics of various crop production techniques for enhanced profitability. They should sensitize the local farmers to the health implications of their animal rearing practices and the need for eradication of pests and diseases of their crops.
As links to various tiers of government, the corps members can communicate current agricultural empowerment schemes to the local farmers and educate them on desirable storage systems, modern processing techniques and accessibility to credit.
In the era of inadequate agricultural extension staff in Nigeria, NYSC members, through their farm schemes, will readily come to the rescue. With all the experiences gained, participating NYSC members, through this NYSC farm scheme, would have grown to love different facets of agriculture beyond theory to the point of embracing them for entrepreneurial projects.
From the foregoing, it is hoped that since most successive Federal Government administrations did not see a serious need for effective revival or sustenance of NYSC farms, the current President Muhammadu Buhari regime’s Green Alternative Agriculture Policy, will be remembered for putting NYSC Farms Programme back on track by giving it all the needed encouragement. This will include motivating NYSC members who studied agriculture with special incentives to engender enthusiasm. In doing this, all the 774 local councils, without exception, would be target beneficiaries of grassroots NYSC agricultural extension services.
This advocated NYSC Farm programme, with government support, should be attractive enough and devoid of any form of rhetoric to make the farm a compulsory place to be for successive large batches of National Youth Service Corps members with agriculture background. The nation’s land mass is massive enough to engage and feed the populace, including NYSC members, if the potentials of our vast arable lands are fully harnessed.
Obasi writes from Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ebonyi State, via [email protected]