Experts have asserted that Africa has the youngest population in the world with more than 200 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24.A critical concern among researchers, analysts and policymakers continent wide, is how to utilize the youth population effectively. Youth comprise nearly 60 percent of those unemployed in the continent. The situation in Nigeria follows the same pattern. A publication by Thisday has stated that Nigeria’s youth population comprises nearly 100 million people of which more than 25 percent are unemployed. The challenge of youth unemployment is perhaps most vividly remembered in the tragic incident on March 15 when seven youths died while in the process of applying for jobs with Nigeria’s immigration services. The challenge remains that as more and more youth graduate, access to employment continues to be elusive for millions.
One sector of the economy offers the promise of opportunities to absorb Nigeria’s jobless youth. Africa’s agriculture has tremendous promise for economic growth given that growth in sub-Saharan African agriculture is 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. Agriculture also has the potential to lift 85 million people out of extreme poverty by 2024. A World Bank report released earlier this year also stipulates that Africa’s food markets will increase in value to the tune of $1 trillion in less than 20 years by 2030. Agriculture is Nigeria’s next big economic opportunity or if you will, its “green oil”, a notion well understood by Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture Dr. Akin Adesina. Nigeria has abundant agricultural resources. Three of these require mention. Only 40 percent of Nigeria’s 84 million hectares of arable land is cultivated. The country boasts 263 billion cubic meters of water. And it is equipped with a vast workforce. With the rising demand for imported food and the growing urban population, the opportunities hidden in agriculture prime the sector for the next economic revolution.
Given agriculture’s potential and promise, how can young people take advantage of this rising opportunity? The answer lies in the agriculture value chain. The agriculture value chain is comprised of all the actors involved in getting food from farm to fork. These actors include input suppliers (seed, soil and fertilizer merchants), raw food producers, processors, transporters, and food retailers. Together with government, private sector, and civil society stakeholders, they are responsible for the business of agriculture. Through the value chain, actors and stakeholders add value at different points in time to products and services before they reach the consumer. However, constraints existing in Nigeria’s value chain have a distorting impact for all actors along the chain, and most particularly on smallholder farmers who comprise the majority of actors along the value chain. Some constraints include a limited number of processors, limited availability of resources like financing and access to support services, and weak organization within and between firms.
The current global discourse seeks to find solutions for rural youth employment. Present trends in rural to urban migration finds many youth in rural areas abandoning agricultural jobs for the hope of better life in the cities. In countries like Nigeria, the challenge of unemployment persists even for urban youth. An often recommended solution to the challenge of rural to urban migration and unemployment among youth is to create more opportunities in agriculture. For Nigeria, one best practice solution to encourage the participation of young people in agriculture is to integrate youth employment opportunities with existing gaps and activities along the agriculture value chain.For example, youth can provide support to activities that require low cost technology, currently not widespread, to smallholder farmers. These could include supplying seeds, fertilizer and machinery.
For activities requiring skill and training, designing apprenticeship and internship opportunities will allow youth to gain a valuable skill and knowledge base that will enable them to become useful to agribusinesses along the value chain. Youth can also serve as extension workers to smallholder farmers. The current number of extension workers in Nigeria is grossly inadequate to meet the needs of millions of farmers. Increasing funding for the extension service training and for workers’ salaries can reverse the current trend and help to ensure that farmers are equipped with up to date knowledge for growing their agriculture.
Private entrepreneurs can also play a significant role in coordinating various links within the value chain and facilitating the processes between those links. For youth to participate in these value chain activities, they need access to finance, training in financial literacy, and basic training in business management. Youth in rural areas with this opportunity can take advantage of local opportunities to become self-employed. For instance, while many youths troop out of the rural areas, those getting involved in market sourcing for products from the rural areas have gained tangible income from linking products with urban markets using their knowledge of the production centers.
But in order for youth to take advantage of these aforementioned opportunities, they must become equipped. Education remains a critical component to prepare young people for work in the agricultural market place. For youth in rural areas, this is particularly salient. Policymakers must ensure the provision of adequate education for business and technology and skills training in agriculture. Increasing availability of high quality, relevant education in agriculture has the added effect of instilling pride and motivating interest in the sector.
Finally, government intervention remains integral to creating an enabling environment for youth to thrive. The government must continue to fulfill its promises made in the 2003 Maputo Declaration. Increasing investments in agriculture, developing strong rural institutional frameworks, and implementing strategic policies for transforming the sector is instrumental to fostering an environment in which economic opportunities in agriculture abound for youth and smallholder farmer alike.
Foluso Philips is Chairman – NESG