BusinessDay

Lack of funding limits youths who want to farm

Five in 10 Nigerian youths who are interested in tapping the opportunities in the agriculture sector are unable to do so due to lack of access to funding.

Despite presenting a unique opportunity for Nigeria’s youth following its significant growth potential, the agriculture sector in Africa’s largest economy remains unattractive to many of the country’s young population, according to findings by Heifer International, a development organisation working to end hunger and poverty around the world.

Breakdown of the responses from Nigerian youth reveals that about 23 percent stressed the need for support in the area of training, behind the 52 percent that needs access to funding. 13 percent need access to agric tech while 5 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent require access to mentoring, market and land, respectively.

Youth’s dampened interest in the sector that employs the most labour in Africa’s largest economy is likely the reason why Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate rose to 14.2 percent in 2020, more than the population of Rwanda and several other African countries.

“Available data from Nigeria reveals that the current average age of a farmer is between 55 and 60 years,” the 2021 report by the US-based company with the title; The Future of Africa’s Agriculture – an Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology, states.

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Nigeria prides herself in having one of the highest concentrations of young people in the world. In 2020, the United Nations (UN) projected about 43 percent of the Nigerian population to be children (0-14 years), 19 percent are between 15-24 years and about 62 percent are below 25 years.

Despite the teeming young population fit to work coupled with the 4.5 million hectares of available agricultural land, Nigeria’s unemployment rate has been on the rise, jumping to 13-year high in 2020.

“To leverage Nigeria’s (and Africa’s) growing youth demographic, agriculture must be made appealing as a career path. Through branding, we change the rhetoric of a farmer being poor and uneducated,” Aisha Raheem, founder of Farmz2u, says.

According to Marco Hernandez, World Bank lead economist for Nigeria, unless the pace of growth and job creation accelerates, the country will account for a quarter of all people living in extreme poverty worldwide.

Economic growth in Africa’s top crude producing nation averaged 1.2 percent between 2015 and 2020. The problem with that is the population grew two times faster at an average of 2.6 percent per year.

Accounting for about 27 percent of Nigeria’s GDP and providing jobs to about 36 percent of Nigeria’s working population, the agriculture sector is one of the few analysts say has the potential to rescue Nigeria from its unemployment crisis.

Prior to independence, Nigeria had a significant agricultural sector, however, that has since declined and the country has moved toward heavy dependence on imports for food. Africa’s largest is dominated by the oil industry, which is the government’s key source of revenue.

Since the 1970s, the survey report by Heifer International notes that agriculture in Nigeria has faced numerous challenges that have resulted in low yields and post-harvest losses.

These include resource shortages (limited access to inputs supply, inadequate irrigation, and harvesting systems), violent conflict (nomadic herdsmen conflict with crop farmers and conflict in food-producing states), and out-dated system of agriculture (limited adoption of modern technology).

“Absence of value addition and supply-chain linkages, insufficient supply to meet population growth and food demand, and lack of access to finance have exacerbated the situation, leaving Nigeria, a former agricultural powerhouse, with low agricultural productivity compared to its neighbours,” it states.

All hope is not lost for Africa’s most populous nation. The deployment of emerging technologies in agriculture, which is driving youth inclusion into the sector, is one of the opportunities Nigeria can ride on to include more of its young population into the sector.

Young people are more ready and eager to master these new technologies and apply them to agriculture to increase productivity and solve challenges, the report sampled respondents from 12 countries across Africa, states.

“At the same time, these technologies can help demonstrate to youth that agriculture can be a viable and profitable business opportunity, increasing the desirability of agriculture-related career paths as Nigeria has one of the most active agritech ecosystems in Africa along with Kenya and Ghana, collectively accounting for 60 percent of active agritech startups in Africa,” it explains.

Analysis of the survey findings shows that Nigeria was not the only country where lack of access to funding was preventing the youth from going into agriculture. Ten out of 11 countries, with the exception of Tanzania, agree that the most important support required is funding.

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