Building Capacity for the Next Generation of Agribusiness Professionals

With the rise and fall of the Naira against major currencies of the world in recent past, we are reminded too clearly that we are living in uncertain times. The cost of goods and services has soared in our dwindling economy as a direct response to the weakening strength of the Naira. Some organisations have shut down operations; many organisations are silently laying-off staff daily; a lot more are cutting down on salaries and allowances etc to shrink overhead cost. Some parents whose children/ wards are in fee-paying schools in Nigeria or abroad, are finding it not too easy paying tuition. This is just to paint a few scenarios we can quickly relate with.
Although the government is currently putting in place some palliative measures to ameliorate the situation, to the discerning mind, the ‘atmosphere’ is tension-laden and the next minute is hard to predict.
The agriculture sector in Nigeria is also not far from this situation painted above. Over the years, hundreds of ageing farmers have been retiring from farm work, without having many interested young people to pass the baton onto. The resultant effect has been the neglect of farms in the rural communities by the younger generation to search for greener pastures both in other sectors and the cities.
Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife, further asserts this position as he was reported by The Punch Newspaper, dated 17th February, 2016 to have said:
“We have been able to assemble over 200,000 youths within a space of 30 days; it is unbelievable. We are encouraging them to go back to the farm. Something happened in Nigeria that we did not notice. Last year in October, crude oil price started going down astronomically but cocoa price went up by over 100 per cent and nobody noticed it. Nigeria in the early 1930s and 1940s was the largest exporter of cocoa in the world and the farmlands are still there. So, what we have been able to do now is another positive indicator for the nation’s economy. We have been able to assemble youths and we shall give them five acres per youth so that they will go back to the farm. The Federal Government is supporting us very well. So, it is going to be a model that will be replicated in all parts of the country. As a royal father, I am also encouraging the youth not to look for fast ways of making money; let us go back to the basics.”
This is a pragmatic approach to the situation at hand. Oba Ogunwusi’s intervention in the area of youth empowerment in the agriculture space is commendable. Most importantly is that Oba has the buy-in of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD). It is only hoped the royal father as well as the FG would walk the talk by making provision for the infrastructure, including working capital, seedlings, processing equipment etc for this initiative to become a reality.
Now, with the gift of foresight, we can decipher that the solution put forward by the Ooni of Ile-Ife is to react to the deplorable state of the agriculture sector. Alongside his intervention therefore, we should be a proactive in our approach in order to see the long desired transformation in Nigeria’s agriculture sector.

Some thoughts to ponder; should we:
Increase food production versus reduce post harvest losses by ensuring value-addition;
Encourage industrial agricultural model of production which makes use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) versus develop organic agriculture model on a commercial scale;
Continue with traditional systems of agriculture versus adopt technology-driven, precision agriculture, climate-smart agriculture systems etc;
Allow haphazard planning and approach to the immediate, short and long-term challenges confronting Nigeria’s agriculture like deforestation, environmental degradation (from pesticides use etc) versus deliberate proactive approach;
Surrender to status-quo versus commit to the transformation of agriculture in Nigeria?
There are more thoughts to unearth and ponder, but that is not the focus. Because of the neglect of the agriculture sector yesterday, so much is going wrong today. But if we can devote ourselves today to tackling some of the seemingly insurmountable challenges, we can appreciably secure the future. That is the crux of this write up.

Preparing for the Future: Support; Collaboration; Partnership
Abraham Lincoln, the great American President is credited to have said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. Creating our collective future in agriculture is not as easy as it sounds. A whole lot has to go into it. One of such is the development of the competencies of current practitioners in the agriculture sector as well as building capacity of the next generation of agribusiness professionals.
Either way, there is a dire need to set up a privately-run institution, perhaps non-governmental organisation whose mandate is to continuously develop curriculum to cater to the human capital needs of the agriculture sector across the value chain. Bright minds are needed to research and continuously develop the curriculum; bright minds are likewise needed to transform the agriculture sector.
Government’s role is support. Until capacity development is seen as a need, resources to establish an institution saddled with continuous development of curriculum will not be put in place. The institution set up will develop curriculum in collaboration with the private sector. Again, partnership with international agencies in the development and implementation of the curriculum cannot be over emphasised.
Your argument may be that isn’t this duplication of function or responsibility since there are colleges of agriculture, faculties of agriculture and even universities of agriculture in Nigeria. Well, truth is, the mandate with which each institution is set up differs. Again, time plays a key role as to why an institution is established.
The need of this time is to develop competent hands now and the near future who will take over from the aging farmers. The future beckons and we have to prepare for it.
What do you think? I would be glad to learn of your thoughts, please send me an email. Let’s enlarge this intellectual discourse!