By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
The President of Young Farmers Network, Mr Promise Amaha, has said that he and his colleagues see the recently inaugurated National Young Farmers Scheme designed by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) as clearly another political rigmarole which is poorly conceived, saying that it lacked a strategic framework for its implementation.
He believes that the only way to address the age-old issue of lack of trust and confidence on government initiatives by the Nigerian youth is to leverage on youth-led networks to serve as a bridge in restoring their confidence. Except:
Now that National Young Farmers Scheme designed by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to elicit more youth interest in farming is here. How much of advantage have the youths taken of it since inauguration?
I have said it in various fora that one thing very difficult to hold against President Muhammadu Buhari is his sincere passion and commitment towards Agriculture as a critical sector for economic diversification and growth. I personally think that if it’s left to him alone, the budgetary allocation for agriculture would have drastically improved. Unfortunately, politics and sustainable development in Africa are two parallel lines. That said, honestly, I would have loved to avoid this issue of NALDA considering the many intrigues and controversial circumstances surrounding the scheme. In any case, as incurable optimists, we wrote officially to NALDA introducing ourselves and seeking for collaboration. As a matter of fact, I called and sent messages to the DG of NALDA personally and even on WhatsApp and he received and read them without response. After several months of making contacts to them across all relevant channels, we are yet to get any feedback. The general reaction of young Nigerians towards the NALDA driven National Young Farmers Scheme is not hidden. They clearly believe it’s another political rigmarole which is poorly conceived and lacks a strategic framework for its implementation. It is also a critical challenge that underscores the need for strategic collaboration in solving challenges to youth development. Rather than taking advantage of Mr. President’s genuine passion for Agriculture, we must address the age-old issue of lack of trust and confidence on government initiatives by Nigeria youth. The only way to address it sustainably is to leverage on youth-led networks to serve as a bridge in restoring the confidence of the youth. Youth problems should be addressed with innovative youth-inclined strategies and implementation plan. Part of our focus at the Nigeria Young Farmers Network is to leverage government initiatives and adapt them to attract young people. That is the motive of our recent government stakeholders consultation and we hope they get the message soon enough to avert impending danger of unemployment and growing insecurity across the country.
Do you think the Federal Ministry of Water Resources is doing enough towards reviving our irrigation schemes which used to be the backbone of off-season farming in Nigeria?
The importance of irrigation for food security and economic diversification cannot be overemphasized especially in view of current demographic bulge and climate change realities. I am aware the Minister of Water Resources has embarked on some reforms geared towards reviving the irrigation systems, but more aggressive innovative approach is needed to accelerate irrigation development and application especially for food security and wealth creation. The various River Basin Authorities across the country need to be quickly repositioned to support modern agriculture. Dry season farming has the potential to address food inflation, food insecurity, job and wealth creation, ramp up local production and serve as a major economic stimulant. The key to unlocking dry season farming is effective irrigation systems. Modern irrigation technology will greatly attract more young people towards agriculture.
Do you really think the youths can go back to the farms?
Absolutely! As a matter of fact, young people are beginning to embrace the global awareness on Agribusiness as an avenue for wealth creation. Like I always say, one of the main challenges is the knowledge gap. Right after the knowledge gap is the adoption of modern farming systems which will not just attract young people to go back to farms but will keep them. Unfortunately, the current state of security across farms nationwide has become a huge cause for concern for young people and a sad setback to our massive efforts towards attracting young people into farming.
With insecurity threatening the Agric sector as well as food security, as the leader of Nigerian Young Farmers Network, I’m sure you feel the pulse of your colleagues, what are their fears and how can they be addressed?
The state of insecurity across the country has definitely affected the morale of my colleagues but then again we are reminded that our vision is built on resilience and unwavering optimism. Our cohesive team spirit and structure has enabled us keep hope alive and come up with various suggestions on how to mitigate the challenges. We have identified a couple of gaps and inefficiencies fueling the farm insecurity situation and food security issues. Hopefully before the month ends, we will share our findings and recommendations with the relevant stakeholders and hope we can collectively confront the challenges.
Mechanical farming is not cheap and at the same time, if we are to feed more than 200 million people, we cannot engage in the traditional way of farming. What modern technology are you bringing on board and how accessible will it be to young farmers?
Let’s even start with the most basic; Tractors. Nigeria is largely under “tractorized”. Nigeria needs a minimum of 750,000 tractors to be at par with global average. Access to the limited tractors obviously become too expensive for young farmers to afford. To address this challenge, we have developed a Tractor subsidy and ownership scheme (TSOS) to enable availability, affordability, and accessibility of tractors for our members. The scheme provides for tractor ownership among our members with a tailor made acquisition payment plan spread over a five-year period. We have entered into agreements with tractor companies and also keyed into the FG Green imperative programme. We have also identified technical partners for local assembly and production of mini tractors as well. Secondly, we are reaching out to universties and institutes of technology to develop home grown solutions for our mechanization needs. Adoption of greenhouse technology for farming is also on our priority list as a climate smart solution for agriculture. Local engineering of greenhouse farms and irrigation systems is on our midterm goals. Most of our mechanization needs can be provided through reverse engineering and technology transfer at a very reasonable cost. This approach is the only realistic way to attend to the need of our rapidly growing population.
COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the nation’s economy and revenues are dwindling. How can this work in favour of young farmers?
Through Science, Technology and Innovation led agriculture, young farmers can take on the post COVID-19 economic challenges and use it as an opportunity to create solutions across the value chain. Remember they say “necessity is the mother of invention”. Innovation is the way out and young farmers are positioned to make it happen by strengthening vulnerable value chains and value added production.
What are the gaps in the agricultural sector and how do you think those gaps can be addressed?
The first gap is the knowledge gap and can be addressed through a well thought out communication strategy, massive public enlightenment and sensitization. The transition from agriculture for subsistence purpose to agribusiness for wealth creation requires knowledge. The foundation of all other gaps is the knowledge gap. The next gap is the skills and vocational training gap. What you do with what you know largely depends on the skills and training you have. We need to refocus our attention on modern skills and vocational training for agribusiness development. The next gap is the equipment gap. After acquiring skills and vocational training, equipment is necessary to harness the capacity developed. This speaks to mechanization even beyond the value chain to value added production. Slow migration into modern technology driven agribusiness is also a major gap considering the opportunities for smart Agro, fintech for Agro etc. The fastest way to address this gap is to fix the most dangerous gap which is the very poor youth alignment in the sector due to poor enlightenment. The youth who consists majority of the population have a major role to play in addressing all other gaps. Therefore, the critical gap to be addressed is youth enlightenment and mobilization which is at the core of our work.
I know you are impressed with the Buhari’s administration performance on Agric sector but with just N110.2 billion budget for capital expenditure in that sector, do you think the country’s plans to generate revenue from non-oil sector can be realized?
Ten per cent is the minimum budgetary allocation for agriculture, according to the Maputo agreement, which Nigeria ratified. Anything short of that does not position the sector to lead the charge in revenue generation. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This scenario has to change drastically if we expect a major boost to our revenue generation through agriculture.
On December 29, 2020, President Buhari reiterated his directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) not to grant foreign exchange for food importation, stating that his administration would in 2021, address the rising food inflation in the country. What are you thoughts on this?
Quite commendable stance which ideally should strengthen local production and SME’s but as positive as it sounds, it maybe counterproductive if we don’t fix the critical infrastructure and issues responsible for rising food inflation across the country. This is also part of the reasons we couldn’t make the most of the border closure. However, the decision not to grant foreign exchange for food importation may have a bandwagon effect and trigger other necessary reforms. That also seems to me to be wishful thinking even on my part. Action and reaction are equal and opposite. How we react to the Presidential directive will determine the result we get. The directive is insufficient for results.
How can Nigeria address the two key gaps in agriculture today – an inability to meet domestic food requirements, and an inability to export at quality levels required for market success?
The only way out is to address the main gaps which I already mentioned earlier, namely; the knowledge gap and youth mobilization/inclusion gap. Once those two gaps are addressed, the rest gaps will fall in place.