Nigeria is currently ranked the country with the highest number of extremely poor people. It is estimated that 87 million out of the estimated 180 million population of Nigeria, which represents 45 per cent of Nigerians, are currently living in extreme poverty.
Also, according to a recent report on labour force statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment in Nigeria increased from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018. The number of those actively seeking jobs rose from 85.1 million to 90.5 million. The number of persons with no work at all and those that worked for under 20 hours a week rose from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018 – an addition of 3.3 million people. Furthermore, the weak growth in the formal economy suggests that employment in this space will be relatively inadequate to reduce poverty.
However, can agriculture be used to reduce the high rate of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria? Absolutely! Agriculture has the potential to reduce the high rate of poverty and unemployment in the country by providing employment to millions of Nigerians across the agriculture value chain, from production to consumption.
Take cassava processing as a singular example. Nigeria is the largest cassava producer in the world. There is much to gain from knowing the value chain of cassava, starting from production, to processing, and then marketing. Cassava, just like yam, is a root and tuber crop. However, unlike yam, it can grow in relatively poor soil and in low rainfall areas. Cassava and its by-products have various uses. It can be processed into starch: the cassava starch used for making paper and textiles. It can be processed into High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) to make cakes, bread, and biscuits. It can be processed into chips usable for animal feeds. It can be processed into ethanol, which is used as bio-fuel when combined with additives. Cassava is also processed into fructose, used in industry for sweetening fizzy drinks. Cassava can also be processed into fufu, gari, and apu, etc., for local consumption. In Nigeria, we produce over 50 million metric tonnes of cassava every year, and over 26 states out of the 36 states in Nigeria produce the crop. If we embrace good agricultural practices, the production, processing and marketing of cassava can actually serve as a good tool to reduce the high rate of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria.
It is also important to note that the largest portion of the population of Nigeria is the youth category. The percentage of youth (age 15 – 35) unemployment is put at 55.4 per cent. So, with increased youth involvement in agriculture, the sector has the capacity to reduce the high rate of youth unemployment.
Yet another way of growing youth involvement in agriculture is by giving increased attention to the practical aspect of agriculture in the primary and secondary school curriculum. Establishing viable school farms is one way of achieving this. This helps to make agriculture/farming attractive to young people, right from an early age. The idea behind establishing school farms is to make agriculture an integral part of the school culture, so that the pupils and students are well positioned to appreciate farming, and make it a lifestyle, even when they do not intend to specialise in it. The knowledge obtained from practical sessions on the school farm helps not only to re-enforce what is taught in the classrooms. It also equips the pupils/students with first-hand knowledge of how to run agribusinesses, which is very important in cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in the students.
Our national policy on education lays considerable emphasis on self-reliance, and it is no secret these days that whereas many school leavers (including university graduates) are finding it increasingly difficult to secure paid employment, those of them with technical/vocational bias easily get employed as artisans. Technical and pre-vocational subjects like Agricultural Science not only impart specialized skills, they also offer opportunities for future income generating activities and self-employment.
Agriculture also supports the manufacturing industries by providing raw materials for these industries without which the industries cannot produce. These industries depend on agriculture for manufacturing their products which they sell to earn income. These industries also employ many workers in the factories, and have the potential of earning a lot of money. This can also help to reduce poverty and unemployment. Agriculture can also attract foreign exchange through added value to agricultural products which can be exported.
In view of the above, it can be said that agriculture can absolutely be used to reduce the high rate of poverty and unemployment, as well as bring many other important benefits to the economy.
IGHAKPE wrote in from Lagos via [email protected]