What comes to your mind when you think of a farmer? What comes to mind for most of us is an old man, dressed in overalls, smelling dirty, and chewing on a straw. Though farmers are considered important to food production and the economy of any nation, youth have little interest in agricultural careers. Nowadays most people equate agriculture with farming rather than the wider industry, and with the view that farming is hard, boring, physical labour.
Agriculture is important to the development of any nation, Nigeria is not an exception. Development must include the youth. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) seeks to encourage youth participation in the agricultural sector. Under the leadership of the Director General Dr.Nteranya Sanginga, IITA initiated a youth program : The IITA Youth Agripreneur, which aims to address the spiraling rate of unemployment among the growing youth population and also deal with the readiness of youths to take up agriculture as a business.
On Thursday the 19th of September I alongside members of the Young Professionals Platform on Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD) Nigeria team was opportune to meet with these youth at the IITA Headquarters in Ibadan, to inform them about the YPARD network and to learn more about the program. At this interactive session, the participants also shared their experiences, and the YPARD Country Representative gave a presentation on the benefits of social media to promote their work as agribusiness professionals.
The IITA Youth Agripreneurs are a group of young graduates involved in agribusiness have their present number at twenty-one (11men and 10 women),the group aims at being a unit that would serve as a model to other young people planning to venture into agribusiness and becoming the trainer of trainers, the program which is an experimental undertaking is now one year in its existence, it seeks to train young graduates and expose them to the various opportunities inherent in agriculture and helps themto identify entry points in the agricultural value chain. These youths who were trained in cassava stem multiplication and root production, sucker multiplication for plantain/banana, maize cultivation and all aspects of maize seed production from the preparation of land to marketing, have also cultivated 12 hectares of improved maize varieties to address the challenge of poor quality seeds which farmers have.
The Agripreneurs look forward to collaborating with sponsors and investors, as one of their future plans is to expand their production. They wish to become self-independent and self-employed, having acquired the necessary knowledge and skills, and ultimately become employers of labor.
One unique thing about them is that they cut across various disciplines that are not agriculture based some of which includes quantity surveying, history, accountancy, economics, statistics but to mention a few ranging from sciences, arts, and social sciences but yet challenged themselves to learn the agricultural operations involved, I believed this has served as a challenge to youths who didn't study agriculture in the university as a course of study, these youths who were excited to be in the program believed agriculture is practiceable and profitable and they hope to establish their own farms where they can practise what they have learnt from the program.
On my interactions with these youths I observed that they have been able to get the knowledge and experience they need to hold their own agribusiness enterprise,an interview with one of the participants Mr Gbadamosi Muritata said in his words " I joined IITA Youth Agripreneur in order to acquire knowledge in agriculture and I have come to realize the only sector that creates opportunities for youths is the agriculture sector". However, I suggest the Federal Government of Nigeria should replicate this program into all states of the Federation to get access to more youth. Also as there are farmers who desperately needs the input of these young agripreneurs produce on their fields, avenues should be created for farmers to access these seeds and banana/plantain suckers. I know and believe the program is a success but more youthstill need to be reached.
Picture : A cross-section of youth at the IITA Agripreneur Unit performing the sorting of good stock of maize - PHOTO Credit -IITA