My journey into the field of agriculture was an accident. I was an academic refugee.
Growing up, based on my social background, I had only two views of agriculture; one, as a means of livelihood for villagers with little education (and large areas of land), and the other as a pastime for educated city folks – with probable village backgrounds – who need something to fill their downtime or who grow part of their food to augment their inadequate income.
For me, then, agriculture as a profession or career was nothing to aspire to; it was not even something I could imagine, neither did I know much about it.
This view – I mean my ignorant perception of agriculture – did not change much until the later part of my second year as an agriculture student in the university, and it changed only through the positive stories I heard from three respected sources: my friend’s brother who was an I.T. specialist with IITA and saw agriculture researchers as “kings”; my school friend whose father (a trained agriculturist) is a successful farmer and politician; and my former lecturer and mentor whose successes as a researcher and patience to share his knowledge with me deepened my short-sightedness as regards farming and agriculture.
I will later go on, not just to obtain a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, but also acquire a Masters degree, aspire for a PhD, and to take up online agricultural communications/reporting and blogging as a passion. All these as a result of the positive stories and images of agriculture I stumbled upon that changed my views.
Today, I am going to be continuing in that line of showing and telling positive images/stories of farming/agriculture to win more young converts to take on the responsibility of feeding the world’s growing population – while making profitable gains for themselves.
Today, I will be telling you the stories of a few young people I am proud to have associated directly or indirectly with, who are challenging the assumption that young people, especially the educated ones, do not find agriculture appealing.
First is Gboyega Adesida, a friend, former classmate, and the founder and CEO of Charms Horizon International Farms, located in Jos, Plateau Nigeria. Gboyega has a combination of greenhouses and open fields where he produces fruits and leaf vegetables which he supplies to hotels, shops and large supermarkets like Shoprite in Nigeria.
With an annual turnover of between 8 – 14million Naira (50 – 88 thousand dollars), and a workforce of 15 people – Gboyega is an example of a successful youth in agriculture, who is also contributing to improving food security and reducing unemployment. Besides farming, Gboyega is also an animal science lecturer at the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, Jos, Nigeria.
Second is Olawale Ojo, an agricultural engineer by training, and the founder/coordinator of the Agropreneur Nigeria, a platform – with which I proudly identify as a communicator – that seeks to encourage and provide information to young Nigerians on the prospects of farming and assist them in developing plans where possible. In recognition of his contributions, Wale was recently shortlisted as one of the 3 final nominees for The Future Awards (2013) in the agriculture category.
Lastly, we have the IITA Young Agripreneurs, a group of young graduates, with varying backgrounds, who chose farming over the search for the traditional white-collar jobs, despite some of them just having their first contact with farming. In the last one year, these youth have learned so much modern farming that their leader, Bankole Akinyele, once told me and other YPARD-Nigeria members that he believes “agriculture is practicable and profitable”.
In all, the stories of these young people serve to negate the often-publicized narrative that most young people do not want anything to do with farming. Still, to contradict this perception and arrest the negative image it forms in the heart of other youth, we will need to push out more stories of young people like Gboyega, Wale and the Young Agripreneurs and ensure their success stories do not just get heard but reach our target audience – the youth.
Through that, we can be sure of appealing to more youth to invest their energies in solving agriculture’s many challenges – and by extension improving food security. By that we will not just succeed in producing enough food for the hungry billion of today but also be able to feed the expected billions of the next decades.
In conclusion, one of the main problems of agriculture is the image problem; change the image and many young people will see it as a viable professional future.
Picture: some members of IITA Young Agripreneurs and YPARD Nigeria meeting at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria