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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Chinedum Nwajiuba: Resetting Nigerian youths for agripreneurship

In his comments at the Youth Agriculture Programme on Saturday, March 23, 2024, Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba lamented that the oil boom is over and there is hunger in the land. He wants the youths to become agriculture entrepreneurs to address the situation

Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba
Former Vice-Chancellor, AE-FUNAI, Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba

The core challenge – The youths have abandoned agriculture

Our farming population is aging. Our agriculture is a rural matter with mostly aged persons involved. The average age of farmers is over 55 years.

There is a reduction in the farming population without a rise in technology level. There are hardly young persons involved with agriculture, especially farming.

Projected into the future, can we imagine a society without farmers? This creates the Nigeria paradox of high youth unemployment, yet labour scarcity, and then poverty, and food insecurity.

There ought to be a deliberate and major effort to raise younger generations of farmers. This does not exist.

A number of factors have discouraged young persons from farming

Low returns on agriculture. Compared to other sectors of the economy, farm earnings are very low. There are no incentives to encourage farmers not to abandon agriculture, or to attract young persons to be farmers now and in the future.

Low level of technology. The drudgery, associated with the slash-and-burn, rainfed, hoe and cutlass farming, is not attractive to famers, old or young.

Olaudah Equiano, an Igbo, writing in the 18th century, described agricultural technology in terms of hoe and cutlass. Three centuries (21st) after, that is still largely the common level of technology we operate, even when our consumption and technology use in other sectors (transport, communication, etc.) have advanced and may in some cases be at the same level as the most advanced countries). But our agriculture mechanisation and management practices are at the primitive level.

How do we expect our youth to be as engaged as they were 60 years ago? How do we explain the absence of systematic support and incentives for agriculture, which we find in other serious countries and parts of the world? How do explain the multiplicity of universities and other institutions with agricultural programmes, degree holders and professors, with our agriculture tools and equipment largely remaining in the 18th century? How do we explain the collapse of agricultural extension services? How do we explain the idleness of the Ministries of Agriculture? How do we explain mass hunger around us?

Prof. Theodore Schultz teaches us that those who farm the same way their forefathers farmed will never be able to feed themselves no matter how hard they worked or how fertile their soil. Those who apply technologies will not only be able to feed themselves but will have surpluses to sell to their neigbours.

Yet, we have neither hardworking labour in agriculture, nor fertile land, as was the case in the past. The changes in the Nigeria economy, coming mostly with the oil boom in the early 1970s, and changes in values since then, has changed the social and policy environment significantly from the saner era of the 1950s and 1960s. In the past, youths willingly worked for adults without asking for payment (igba onwe onru; young men collectively working for each other’s family).

Today, our old mothers in the villages cannot find persons to harvest the palm fruits, or till the soils. Rising population and accelerating migration to urban areas, have also contributed to not just loss of labour, but also loss of some of the most naturally fertile lands of Igboland.

Today, anyone engaged with agriculture around here will rank our problems in agriculture as lack of labour, high cost of labour, poor soils, ahead of any other factors.

In summary, an aged rural population using hoe and cutlass, on poor quality soils, cannot feed us!

Then, Hunger in the Land

This is so evident and so obvious. This calls for all-hands-on-deck. The Igbo philosophy of ibu anyi ndada, a concept from a saner past.

Misreading the situation – The oil boom is over

With the situation we find ourselves, and desperation by many persons, it seems people who have been socialised in the way Nigerians have been since the early 1970s, do not seem to appreciate the real problems Nigeria is facing. So far, people are seeing the symptoms of what we suffer, without realising the depth of the illness. Headache is not an illness, but a symptom of an illness.

Painkillers can give you some momentary sense of getting better, but until the fundamental problem is identified and dealt with, the problems will continue, and will most likely worsen. Albert Einstein teaches that you cannot solve a problem by operating at the same level by which it was created.

What is the problem? Simple, the oil boom is over. Borrowing, creating money, and all what we have become familiar with, will not be of much help. The solution is to reset our society and our minds. The solution is to resocialise ourselves. The solution is to produce. The solution is to unleash the youth energy into production.

Lessons from Michael Okpara

Once upon a time in our history, a man and a government happened in our land, and changed the society and economy fundamentally. Get familiar with that. Find and read the book by Dr. Pius Okigbo, “Okparanomics: The Economic and Social Philosophy of Michael Okpara”.

In the absence of Michael Okpara, and the energy level he unleashed first as Minister of Agriculture, and then from 1959, as Premier of old Eastern region, which by the mid-1960s, had transformed that region to perhaps the fastest growing economy in the world, we should be waiting for no one. All hands-on deck. As agricultural, industrial and social revolution had happened to us between 1950s and 1960s, we can do it again today.

The Youth Agriculture Programme

We are encouraging our young people to get involved with crops which have high market value. Some of these crops even have export markets.

This is an important focus of the programme today. We will present other aspects of crops and livestock, light technologies and approaches in an era and area, with the challenges of scarcity and high cost of labour, and poor soils.

There are other simple things we will be recommending and presenting, but we cannot solve all our problems in one day.

We hope from this exercise today to take the Gideon way in Judges 7:4-16, and locate a smaller group for further training, and further empowerment.

Former Vice-Chancellor (February 2016 – February 10, 2021), Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State, Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba is Chairman, Board of Directors, Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST)

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