By 2050, the United Nations has estimated that the world’s population will be around 9 billion. Sub-Saharan Africa has been reported as the continent to experience the highest possible growth. Nigeria is currently the most populous nation in Africa and this position is not likely to change. With billions of naira spent, as of now, on food importation (rice, wheat, fish, etc.) into the country, feeding the teeming population in a sustainable manner calls for concern for two main reasons, among many. First, there is an acute rural-urban migration of young people because of the ‘perceived’ greener pastures in the cities, leaving behind a generation of aging rural farmers. Second, despite the critical unemployment situation in the country, majority of the urban youth do not pitch their tent in the agriculture space as they do not see the potential in agriculture as a career of choice. In spite of these two critical challenges however, the world is seriously shifting focus to Africa as the continent to make happen the desired increase in food production because of the vast human resources and large expanse of uncultivated arable land.
Agriculture: Attractive to the youth? I doubt!
By default, or as required by nature, everyone eats. But why has a greater percentage of the youth decided not to engage in agriculture? Truth is, the youth are not to blame, and here is why?
- Perception: The image most people have of agriculture is that of the uneducated rural farmer who engages in subsistence farming, and associated with hard labour and poverty. Who would want to look haggard and unkempt, tending to animals or crops, and still be at the mercy of those who will purchase them?
- Parental influence: Today, a lot of parents invest heavily towards their children’s education from basic through tertiary education. This is especially true in a country like ours where public (government owned) schools at all levels have lost their once coveted glory. Education is not cheap; parents want the best for their children, so in choosing careers, they tailor their children towards choices they are convinced will promise economic gains. They guide their children to pursue professional courses so that they can be competitive in the market place. Unfortunately, agriculture is not seen as one.
- Peer Pressure: The youth see their peers enjoy economic prosperity, career progression in other sectors and they want to emulate them. The Entertainment, ICT, Financial services, Telecoms and oil sectors are always first to come to mind for youth. To many, the dream careers are not in agriculture.
What then should be done?
In order for young people to see the gains in choosing careers in different aspects of agriculture, there has to be more pragmatic approaches by the government, parents and school owners. It is now a collective responsibility to attract intelligent, vibrant and young minds needed for the transformation of the sector. Agriculture as a business is not limited to production. It includes post harvest handling and processing (including storage), marketing, until it gets to the final consumer. So, government has to continually work to strengthen various institutions within the agriculture sector, as well as research and develop decent jobs (careers) along the value chain of different agricultural enterprises.
Do schools still have the Young Farmers’ Club? This can be rekindled, but with a difference. Beyond growing vegetables, keeping poultry or some rabbits in the school farm, students’ mind can also gain so much exposure by visiting established agribusinesses. This helps them better appreciate the value chain and to see different professionals within the agriculture industry.
Parents have a lot more to do in encouraging their children to take up careers in agriculture by helping them see the vast potential in the sector, and more importantly, making them realize that the future of the sector relies on them.