With the unemployment rate spreading like wildfire, youths in Nigeria, especially in the rural areas, struggle to find decent employment, agriculture is thereby seen as an alternative means of employment creation and income generation for youths, which ranges from crop production to livestock and cattle rearing, to fish farming and poultry farming. Using qualitative focus discussions and individual interview with students currently on the Farm Practicals’ Year (FPY) Programme in some universities, their perceptions and views on farming as well as the constraints faced by many were obtained. No doubt, Nigeria is said to be the most populous country in Africa with one of the largest populations of youths and a leader of various types of agricultural production such as palm oil, cocoa, beans, pineapple and sorghum.
However, youths are people known for their energy, enthusiasm, creativity and can be recognised as part of the nation’s greatest assets if properly channelled into agriculture, but many youths seek out what they believe to be profitable and business-focused career as they are increasingly turning away from agriculture. The average Nigerian youth is usually not interested in agriculture due to the perception of farming being unprofitable. In this article, I would like to share the perspectives of some students and youths on their attitude to farming. For instance, an agricultural student opened up by saying, “We only have access to primitive agricultural practices, most times, we work all day only to harvest little in return”. The perceptions and views on farming have been traced to the unprofitability of farming and the stress due to use of primitive agricultural practices such as hoes, cutlasses and reliance on animal power.
A student further complained about why farming is discouraging to youths saying, “It is not profiting, I prefer doing other businesses and getting my reward rather than having to be under the sun working with little to show for it”. Youth do not believe farming is a profitable career path. Farming, therefore, in Nigeria is seen as a profession for old people because the old are seen as capable of surmounting the stress associated with farming. This supports the statistics given by the Sahara Reporters of July 24, 2019 that the average Nigerian farmer is aged 65 and that they have developed resilience in time past. The apathy of youths engagement in farming indicates that these problems, challenges and constraints, such as lack of capital and finance, lack of inputs and equipment and lack of access to arable land should be addressed. Generally, access to land is extremely important for youths trying to earn a livelihood in agriculture. With land management system changing overtime, where land used to be owned by community, clans or lineages, are becoming increasingly individualised remains one major constraint that youths face in accessing land in Nigeria.
It is, therefore, seen that the most common means to accessing land is through inheritance, which is especially common to southerners, thereby making youths to be at a disadvantaged position in having their own land for farming. A youth further adds that “Our society considers owning lands a taboo for young people to access family land while their parents are alive”. While young people wait for inheritance, many youths just enjoy subsidiary land rights and work on the family land for little or no remuneration. Another student considers getting land for farming as the most difficult thing due to its high price of purchase, “… Land property are not affordable in Nigeria, I’m saving up to lease one so that I can pay subsequently before ending my undergraduate programme”. Furthermore, youths are not always aware of the acquisition, registration and taxation measures, and so are disproportionately affected by corruption and the fraudulent activities of land dealers, according to report by the United Nations – HABITAT, 2011.
Just as access to land is limited, opportunities to access to capital and finance are also a prerequisite in going into farming and starting any agricultural business and is often seen as a major challenge. A student further states that, “I consider farming hard labour without adequate resources, if provisions are made for this, farming would be made easy”. Even if youths have access to land, they still need finances to cover the cost of planting and harvesting as well as investment for improved capacities and with this orientation, farming is seen as a choice not an interest. The student adds that the better the yield of crops planted by them, the more the scores to be given to them. Another youth adds, “Farming is hard and unprofiting without complete farm inputs and equipment, access to fertilizers should be easy, and it can be done by making fertilizers available at cheaper rates so that our crops can do better”.
Having identified the problems and challenges causing an apathy of youths’ engagement in farming, which could in turn cause mass unemployment, decline in agricultural productivity, and food insecurity in Nigeria. For these reasons, the interest of youths to become the next generation of farmers must be fostered and promoted in the interest of all. How can we then turn around the ugly situation? To begin with, there should be a structured system to provide youths with requisite knowledge and information in the agricultural field at early stages, which should include access to training programmes, education and re-orientation activities in changing the mindset of many young Nigerians toward agriculture. Thus, these programmes would impact new knowledge, provide them with skills to improved technologies, and a better understanding of the technical-know- how in farming and agriculture in general.
Furthermore, the active involvement of the government and private institutions like the Nigerian Young Farmers’ Network (NYFN), and the National Land Development Authority (NALDA) would spur more youths into farming by providing an enabling environment, incentives and all-round infrastructural support such as access to farm inputs and modern equipment and provision of soft loans. Youth land rights should further be included in the policy and legal documents for concrete implementation mechanisms to take place. In conclusion, the government can equally engage youths at the level of solving agricultural problems and by this way, their interest would be increased as more youths would realise the importance of farming, aspire to become successful in the sector, and strive to earn a living when the right atmosphere is indeed put in place in Nigeria.
Edeamah writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State.