(Dr.) Baraka Sani At The World Press Conference At Ladi Kwali Conference Centre

By Israel Ekene
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It gives me great pleasure to address you all today on this occasion of the inaugural meeting with the members of the fourth estate of the realm. This meeting is one of my first public events since my appointment as the Senior Special Assistant to Mr President on SAP, and it goes a long way to underscore the premium placed on this noble profession by this government.

In the demonstration of an unwavering commitment to a sustainable national development, The Office of the Senior Special Assistant to Mr President on Schools Agriculture Programme was created on the 4th of June, 2014 by His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR.

Through the magnanimity of Mr President and his commitment to performance, I was appointed as the Head of this program. I am joining an on-going success in the area of agricultural transformation agenda of Mr President. Looking at some of the giant strides achieved, such as the 200 Billion naira Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) agriculture window, 'Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing system for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL)' - both with the CBN, 'The Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme using the e-wallet', 'The Dry Season Farming Programme' amongst many others, we can confidently say that the agricultural sector has received great attention under the leadership of Mr President. My job is to ensure the implementation of Mr President's vision in this project, as conceptualized in the Schools Agriculture Programme.

The Office has the mandate to implement a comprehensive agricultural programme that will introduce young students to the various opportunities contained in Agriculture, by promoting skills for life, and further contribute to the drive in ensuring the diversification of the country's economy, in line with the vision 20:20:20 and Agricultural Transformation Agenda.

Some of the objectives that this programme intends to achieve include:

Acquisition and development of practical skills and knowledge relevant to agricultural activities e.g. ICT;

Development of positive attitude towards agriculture;

Equipping school leavers for job opportunities through practical teaching of skills for life;

Building entrepreneurship skills in the students to run agriculture as a business;

To offer the young farmers a voice;
Most importantly, to create a stronger spirit of working together and unity amongst students

The programme will focus on food/vegetable production, fisheries and aqua-culture, poultry, nutrition, processing and packaging, apiarist training for honey production, livestock production and small scale irrigation and entrepreneurial programme for members of the Club.

The programme will aim at setting up the structure along with a very strong foundation so as to ensure success throughout the period of implementation. In the pilot phase, a 'Students Agriculture Club' will be established in selected schools from 12 states of the federation, two from each geo-political zone. Each club should comprise approximately one hundred and twenty (120) members. The multiplier effect of this program in the respective households would definitely play a great role in poverty eradication and the creation of jobs, especially at the rural level.

The participants will be exposed to various skills in the areas of agriculture. It is also intended to engender the interests of young Nigerians in agro business as a viable means of employment. This will subsequently lead to the creation of a new generation of committed young practical farmers who will act as catalysts for agricultural development in their communities, enriched with practical skills for life. This is a demonstration of Mr President's commitment to the widely acclaimed bottom-top approach to development. It is expected that with time, this initiative will be mainstreamed into The National Secondary Schools education curriculum by NERDC and to be adopted by The National Council on Education respectively.

We are confident that an effective implementation of the initiative will accelerate the training and building of the capacity of youths in agriculture in schools across Nigeria, while at the same time serve as a linchpin for development and engagement of the participants in the Agricultural sector and poverty alleviation, thus closing the age gap of our existing farmers.

Agriculture has over the years, remained a critical sector in Nigeria as it provides employment for about 70 per cent of the country's population and contributes significantly to the GDP. It has also been identified as the veritable sector for the achievement of the earnest quest of the government to ensure effective and sustainable diversification of the country's economy from an over dependence on crude oil. This position is buttressed by historical as well as contemporary facts.

A lot still needs to be done in the area of harnessing the enormous opportunities contained in Agriculture for national development and bridging of the inequality gap. It is in response to this need that the Schools Agriculture Programme was initiated by Mr President to create opportunities through transferring of various skills, enabling the environment for students to acquire knowledge that will stimulate the participation of students in Agriculture and Agro-processing, instil a self-reliant entrepreneurship culture within them from early age in addition to minimizing inequality and stimulating economic growth among the urban and rural poor.

As the most populous country in Africa and the 7th largest in the world with a population of over 160 million people, Nigeria human resources constitute its major asset, which have largely remained untapped. Also, a high percentage of the populations are vibrant and growing youths offering a strong human resource base. You will agree with me that poverty is a threat to peace and security. The aphorism that 'a hungry man is an angry man' holds true. This demands that concerted efforts be made by governments and stakeholders towards addressing the intractable social problems of inequality and poverty.

In line with this, institutional arrangement is a very important element in determining the success and sustainability of this programme, so, key players such as Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Environment, NGOs/CSOs, Development Institutions/Partners, Schools Authorities and the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) would be involved at various stages during the multi-level collaboration effort of the program.

There are presently many challenges in the agricultural sector. However, if young people are offered practical education in Agriculture, given a voice , and are engaged with innovation, the agricultural sector can attract the youths as we look for a solution to feeding our population of over 250 million by 2050. It is this new generation working together that can help to achieve national development, end world food hunger, alleviate malnutrition, thus accelerating the attainment of our Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Therefore Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, you all are invited to partner with this office, in our noble drive towards taking the nation to a glorious height of Agricultural development as contained in Mr President's Agricultural transformation agenda. Indeed, I have since recognized the fact that you are my partners in progress. Therefore, to a large extent, I will be relying on your support, your encouragement and your wisdom in relaying this message.

(Dr.) Baraka Sani
Senior Special Assistant to Mr President on SAP
3rd July, 2014