Some weeks back, while trying to buy roasted corn from an open market seller during a long wait for an inter-city bus to fill up, I met an elderly cotton farmer who was overly impressed when I jokingly called myself a farmer.
I had been negotiating with the corn seller, who was apparently – because of the young, urban professional image I projected to her – trying to rip me off. At that point, as I am inclined to do in such situations, I jokingly declared myself a modern farmer and displayed the market price knowledge of what I wanted to buy. She was stunned.
But more surprised was the elderly man, also trying to buy from the corn seller while waiting for the bus, who swiftly combed me down with his eyes – in a quick form of assessment; the expression on his face subtly changing from that of pleasant surprise to vivid impression and then look of admiration.
There I was, a young person in my pinstripe suit and with a laptop bag dangling from my shoulder, claiming to be a farmer and showing market knowledge of crops. The elderly man could not hide his impression and soon started a conversation with me. We talked about everything agriculture we could think of; his farming business, his association, plight of Nigerian farmers, youth perception of farming in Nigeria, and even the Minister’s agricultural policies.
From our conversation, I realized he is a cotton farmer and agroprocessor, he has made quite a reasonable fortune for himself via agribusiness (and the South-West Zonal Secretary of his National Association), and he likes the programmes of the current Minister; but most importantly, he – and many of his friends, from what I gathered – are deeply concerned about what will become of their agribusinesses when they no longer have the strength to continue.
He expressed to me his disdain for the “current trend” of young people preferring “less productive jobs”, like motorcycle-taxi riders, instead of taking up agriculture and agribusiness. And from the enthusiasm he showed during our conversation, I figured he is not used to discussing agriculture with young people, because to him they are simply not interested in listening or partaking in the ventures.
Thinking about this experience later, I realized there is still much to do truly in the area of revamping the image of agriculture in Nigeria to attract young people, for us to be able to feed our expanding population. And this is a crusade some young Nigerians – myself inclusive – have embarked on for some time.
Admittedly, it is not going to be an easy task, to undo the negative perception that has probably built up over decades. But the adventures and personal stories of many young people in agriculture – among which I have shared elsewhere – indicate that it can be done if approached the right way and with the right mindset. The image of agriculture can be successfully polished and made to shine in the eyes of the youth to attract them to come invest their abilities.
All that is needed is to make young people increasingly aware of the goldmine they are neglecting by showing them more and more of these success stories, and advocating for support of the willing ones by stakeholders such as governments, research institutes and international development organizations. This is what platforms – like YPARD – with which I am associated, are currently doing, and this is what we hope to keep doing till agriculture takes its rightful place as a viable and appealing profession in the hearts of the youth.
by Oluwabunmi Ajilore, Nigeria