MINISTER ADESINA AND HIS 700,000 FARMERS

In contemporary Nigerian journalism, The Guardian newspaper is arguably the flagship in the area of devoting at least three pages every Sunday dedicated to the extensive coverage of the agricultural stories and development in Nigeria and around the World.

One of the beauty of this kind of developmental journalism is that in the case of The Guardian, the pioneer Agriculture pages' line editor for many years is a professionally trained physician – Olukayode Oyeleye , a man who brought excellent touch to bear in those agriculture pages.

This gentleman has moved on to join the minister of Agriculture Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina as his Special Adviser on media and all indications show that he is indeed a square peg in a square hole because as can be seen, the minister is busy making the right pronouncements and the media is generously extending their coverage to his activities.

The above story takes us logically to one of the most innovative programs of the current Agriculture minister which is aptly titled as presidential initiative on Agricultural revolution aimed at creating about 700,000 young farmers all across Nigeria. Well, in a nation of over 30 percent unemployment among the younger population, the agricultural initiative to create 700,000 young farmers may be dismissed cynically as too little an effort or a drop in the ocean.

Mr. Adesina, [who dresses often in his European made suits] had in a lecture delivered at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), said the initiative, tagged 'Youth in Agribusiness' would attract the youths to agriculture.

According to the minister, since the three tiers of government need to create jobs for many unemployed youths, the agriculture sector holds the greatest potential to create millions of jobs.

“These will be farmers of the future, under mechanized agriculture, who will make Nigeria's agriculture competitive for decades into the future”, he said.

The minister who was quoted in the media, said in order to achieve the objective, the federal government would work in partnership with the state governments to set up technical training facilities, business skills acquisition centres and entrepreneurship development centres, adding that the government would complement these by access to land, finance and mechanized centers.

The minister lamented that agriculture graduates rather than practice what they were taught in schools, run away from the profession and look for jobs in other areas.

“Agriculture is changing rapidly. Today, only countries that move into commercial agriculture and agriculture as business have a chance to compete, we must change the way we train students, how we train them and what we prepare them for.”

“Look at any profession, lawyers practice law because they were prepared for it; doctors practice medicine; they were prepared for it, but the agriculture graduate does not practice agriculture. They run from it, they look for jobs in other sector.

“We must train our students to become job creators and not job hunters. The faculties of agriculture and the universities of agriculture need to change their curriculum to be in line with the realities of the labour market and prepare students with practical technical and business skills they need to set up agri-businesses”, he said.

But he failed to say whether government will actively involve the various agriculture faculties in Nigeria in implementing this new idea.

I am glad to note that if this revolutionary idea is carried through, it would not be the first time that government has attempted to diversify our mono-economy and make Agriculture as a credible profession for the youth.

In the late seventies, the then military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo introduced what it called “Green Revolution”, aimed at growing the agricultural sector to compliment the dominant crude oil sector as one of the fastest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria. Again, successive administrations also played around with such wonderful concepts as “back -to- land” among others which were targeted at uplifting the agricultural sector. Regrettably, due to failure on the part of government to properly lay the ground work for a durable legal framework to sustain these wonderful pro-agricultural programs, these programs were abandoned by successive governments.

The best way to sustain this new effort by the ministry of Agriculture is for the participating states to pass enabling laws and set up durable structures on ways and means to sustain it. The reason why such a noble idea needs to be sustained is that agriculture if developed and galvanized, could provide the single largest employment slots to our Nigerian youth and also make Nigeria the food basket of the black world given our comparative advantages of large younger population and huge agrarian lands spread across the country.

To begin with, the National Assembly in partnership with President Jonathan must reform Nigeria's land laws to enable rural farmers fall back on their landed assets as collaterals to procure good credit facilities from the banks to enable them go into mechanize agriculture. Religious and community based organizations must also play significant role in this because studies have shown that most Nigerians are on paper, regular worshippers at their respective worship centers of the two dominant religions. Nigerians also listen to their religious leaders. Rather than these religious leaders use their resources to procure exotic private jets, it will be good if they set up large functional mechanized farms whereby their young members will be trained and assisted to start up making use of all available credit lines in the commercial banks to become self employed.

In conclusion, it is a notorious fact that without effective land reforms, it is almost impossible for the federal government to sustain this good program and if land ownership revolution is actualized, the number of young farmers may increase to about 20 million because out of an active population of over 60 million youth in a population of over 160 million, the paltry number of 700,000 farmers is grossly inadequate to feed the nation and also export their produce.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, [email protected] www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.huriwa.org.

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Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko