Jonathan launches national schools agriculture programme

By The Citizen
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President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday launched  the National Schools Agriculture Programme (NSAP) aimed at developing a new generation of Nigerian youth agriculture enthusiasts from secondary schools.

President Jonathan while celebrating the fact that Nigeria’s food import bill has reduced from $11 billion to $4.3 billion, assured that his administration places high premium on the young people, hence the programme which is set to catch them young.

According to the President Jonathan, one of the challenges facing the sector was the ageing population of the farmers, which in a way have sent a wrong message to the young people who now see agriculture as an occupation for the poor and less privileged.

He said that his administration was intent ‎on making agriculture a very profitable business venture not only to make the nation food sufficient but to also tackle the challenges of youth unemployment.

‎President gave examples with Nigeria’s business and industrial moguls like Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelu who are venturing into agriculture business, and pointed out that the NSAP is expected to build a crop of Under-20 Nigerians adequately motivated and trained to link up with and continue on the path of such great agriculture industrialists and enterprenuers.

“We need the Under-20s to link up with the Dangotes, Elumelus and other big Nigerian entrepreneurs. This is part of our strategy to tackle youth unemployment”, he stressed.

‎To encourage them the President said he will be meeting with them once a year at an annual exhibition. He urged state governments to buy-in to the programme and not play politics with it. ‎

He also said, some former heads of state will be incorporated as ambassadors and role models of the NSAP to further encourage and inspire the students, who he predicted would eventually drop their hoes and cutlasses and go for tractors and harvesters in the expected mechanised farming revolution.‎‎ ‎ On the choice of secondary schools in the programme the President noted that statistics have shown that the secondary school system provides the highest education for Nigerians.‎ ‎ About 4400 students will be involved and about half a million youths will benefit.

Sani, ‎noted that the effective implementation of the NSAP will act as a catalyst for agricultural development and poverty alleviation through closing the age gap of existing farmers, diversifying the economy and creating jobs in the rural areas.

She also noted that the multiplier effect of the programme will benefit about 372,960 households.

She described the programme as Nigeria’s first non-curriculum agricultural programme designed for Nigerian students to change their negative perception of agriculture, equip them for life, and‎ eventually help tackle youth unemployment.

Incentives for students include scholarships, and exposure to  global ‎best practices and input to agricultural enterprenuership.

According to her, the goal of NSAP is “to build technical and enterpreneural skills in students to run agriculture as a business , to leave school leavers with practical skills to create jobs for themselves, and to enable the youth develop a positive attitude towards agriculture.”

Also speaking at the event the Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina said food is also one of the biggest money making ventures in life, hence the need to bring in the young people into the business.

“We need young people in agriculture, We need to put the hoes and cut lasses in the museum where they belong” he said.

Recalling that Nigeria was the first in the world to implement the e-wallet system he said the World Bank has agreed to scale up the programme.

“This further strengthens our resolve to modernise agriculture” he said adding that “all the schools will be duly registered under the e-wallet GES system”.

The Education Minister, Ibrahim Shekarau also noted that school wasn’t only about reading and writing or just acquiring knowledge but also being exposed to the activities outside the world.

“This will be added to the chain lists of core -curricular activities” he said adding that the schools will be encouraged to ensure that the school agric clubs would be given the support they require to get to where they want.

“You will now be exposed to the challenges and things happening outside the classroom” he stated.

One of the students, Miss Hamzat Bukola, of Government Model Secondary School, Maitama, Abuja, who addressed the audience, said “before now, I had the impression that agriculture was for the old and illiterate but now I know better”.‎

Ebonyi State Governor, Martins Elechi on behalf of the governors of the Pilot states assured the President that the states will do no less to ensure the success of the programme.

“I come from a state backward in education and forward in agriculture” adding that “education seem to have driven away farming but this programme will bridge the gap”.

He said the NSAP will be supported by the governors as part of their efforts in ensuring agriculture revolution of the administration’s Transformation Agenda.

He also pointed out that “what we have now is shadow unemployment – jobs available have no requisite manpower and the manpower available have no requisite skills for available jobs.”‎

The Plateau state commissioner for education, Attanasius Doshen, who spoke on behalf of the commissioners, said We will swing into action to ensure that all programmes set in place to ensure the success of this programme are implemented.‎

Goodwill messages were also presented by the ‎Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau; and Country Representative of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Louise Setshwaelo.‎

President Jonathan named the ambassadors of the National Schools Agriculture Programme. They former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), Com. Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd), Bola Shagayya, Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Onyeka Onwenu, Tunji Owoeye, Wilma Aguele and Senator Nimi Amange.

The pilot phase of the programme, a school Agribusiness Club (SAC) is to be established in selected schools from 12 states of the federation across the six geo-political zones. Each club will comprise 120 students. ‎

The pilot states are Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Ogun, Oyo, Kano, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Enugu, Gombe, Bauchi and the Federal Capital Terrority (FCT).

The programme will also focus on food/vegetable production, horticulture, aquiculture, poultry, apiary, livestock, production, small scale irrigation, nutrition, processing, and packaging, and entrepreneurial skills for members of the SAC. ‎