– Saheed Babajide, a young animal production graduate and a manager at a national milk production company in Iseyin, Nigeria, is a beneficiary of the government’s youth agriculture intervention programme. But he feels he received almost no training during the three years he participated.
“We thought we will go through rigorous trainings in our various fields in agriculture, but to our surprise we were just given a training manual merely containing little or nothing about specific agricultural training as a training guide throughout the three years of engagement,” says Babajide of his time during the “N-power AGRO programme”.
The “N-power AGRO programme” was launched in 2016 as a national social investment programme designed to create jobs and empower Nigerians aged 18 to 35.
“Relatively no training was given about our fields, talk less of trainings on critical skills needed to thrive in the 21st Century [such as digital skill and socio-emotional skills]. After our first meeting, many people left to continue their hustle and bustle while they receive their salaries,” he added.
The government pays participating youths salaries during their training. But because of the poor monitoring system, those beneficiaries who left their place of assignment before the programme ended still received these salaries. Babajide admitted that the same happened when he left his place of assignment before the programme ended.
Nigeria, with over 200 million people, is Africa’s most populous country with the continent’s largest youth population. And about 34 percent of its total population is in need of employment.
But to Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), developing agriculture is key to addressing the urgent challenges of food insecurity, poverty and youth unemployment on the continent.
“Developing agriculture is key to addressing these challenges. Youth brings energy and innovation to the mix, but these qualities can be best channelled by young Africans themselves carrying out results-based research in agribusiness and rural development involving young people. Youth engagement is key,” Sanginga said in an opinion editorial.
According to Nigerian Bureau of Statistics(NBS) Q2 report 2020, “about 55.4 percent of the employable youths are still unemployed”. It is uncertain how the COVID-19 pandemic affects these figures.
While the government has set up various initiatives to address the issue of unemployment and food security, one study into the N-power AGRO programme showed that over the years the impact or performance of the programme was minimal.
Dr Khadijat Amolegbe, a lecturer at Department of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management, University of Ilorin, Nigeria, conducted a study into another government programme exploring the skills needed to motivate youth to participate in the agricultural sector.
Amolegbe conducted a randomised controlled experiment on Nigerian youth enrolled in the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) — a programme set up by the Nigerian government in 1973 to involve graduates in nation building and development. She measured the youth’s motivation to engage in the agricultural sector by evaluating the following;
Amolegbe is a an awardee of the Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence (CARE) In Policy for Youth Engagement in Agribusiness and Rural Economic Activities in Africa project, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and implemented by IITA.
Amolegbe’s IITA-CARE study revealed that the youth need training beyond basic agricultural skills. According to the research study, “socio-emotional and digital skills, also known as the 21st Century skills are indispensable, not only to motivate youths into agriculture but also help them thrive and survive the new and emerging challenges”.
“We realised that efforts made to motivate youths to participate in the agricultural sector have not yielded tangible results because they focus on basic agribusiness skills. However, youths need other skills that can help them strive the new and emerging challenges because of the risks and uncertainties in the agricultural sector and the changing nature of work around the world,” Amolegbe told IPS.
Sami Hassan is a recent graduate who is currently part of the NYSC. During the service year, graduates are engaged in various programmes designed to facilitate self-reliance among youth and to reduce unemployment.
“We were introduced to the basic skills involved in any field of our choice, but we’re expected to go into the nitty gritty of the technical skill ourselves,” Hassan said. He explained that while digital skills was offered as a course, its application in specific fields such as agriculture were not expanded upon.
Amolegbe told IPS that although the effect of digital skills in motivating youth engagement in agriculture is still ambiguous, youth with high socio-emotional and digital skills have high agribusiness test scores. This, she said, suggests that socio-emotional and digital skills are linked to increased agribusiness skills.
“With basic knowledge of agribusiness, individuals that receive socio-emotional skills training have positive significant probability of engaging in the agricultural sector than individuals that have receive both socio-emotional skills and digital skills training,” she said.
Among other recommendations, Amolegbe suggested that socio-emotional and digital skills training should be included in interventions targeted at motivating youth to participate in the agricultural sector.
“This will stimulate innovation, increase productivity and also help them prepare to counter the new and emerging challenges along the agricultural value chain,” she added.
The IFAD-sponsored study, which is part of several others carried out by young researchers under the CARE project in 10 countries across Africa, proposed that there should be an investment in digitalising the agricultural sector in Nigeria to enable youth with digital skills engage the sector.
“Input supplies should go beyond basic inputs like seeds and fertilisers, we should also encourage the use of digital tools across the agricultural value chain,” Amolegbe added.
Veronica Valentine, the Executive Director of FarmAgric Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to empower farmers and efficiently equip them with all the necessary tools to thrive in an evolving society, said the findings from the study gave a great insight into the challenges the youth have entering agriculture.
“Although our training modules at FarmAgric (which we give young farmers) are designed to sort of accommodate digital skills in order to help them in their agribusiness, especially in a digitalised world of today, we find the study very useful and hope government could implement this into their training modules in order to meet the demands of young people looking forward to venture into agriculture,” she said.