African Heads of State at the 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in June 2014 adopted the “Malabo Declaration’’ to accelerate agricultural growth and transformation to lift Africa out of poverty. The 2014 declaration was a formal commitment by the AU Heads of State and Government to provide effective leadership for efforts to achieve some specific goals by the year 2025. The goals include ending hunger on the continent and tripling intra-African trade in agricultural goods, among others.
The Malabo Declaration replaced the popular Maputo Declaration, whose major thrust was the recommendation for African governments to allocate 10 per cent of its national budgets to agriculture and food production. However, African states did not come close to abiding by the recommendations of the document. So, it is the same concern that the Malabo Declaration may go the way of the Maputo Declaration at the end of the day, i.e. without achieving any perceptible policy change in Nigeria, which makes one understand the importance of a document like the Nigerian National Youth Manifesto on Agriculture.
The Manifesto was put together in August 2013, in a process inspired by the GROWversation project of Oxfam (which I discussed on this space at that time), and led by the indigenous youth-led non-governmental organisation, Fresh and Young Brains Development Initiative. Since its establishment, the Manifesto has guided policymakers in the agricultural sector, specifically the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in mainstreaming the youths in national agricultural projects.
What one could consider as the major outcome of the Manifesto is the creation of the Nigerian-based Youth Farm Project, otherwise known as YFarm, launched on April 2, 2014 with the aim to establish and promote at least 10,000 youth-led farms and agric businesses across Africa by 2020.
According to Nkiruka Nnaemego, the founder and CEO of FBIN, “We believe that young people have huge potential in agriculture, and we see a huge gap in the sector after the development of the Nigerian Youth Manifesto on Agriculture. We need youth-focused, youth-driven agricultural projects and activities that will get young people interested in agriculture as a fun activity, as a culture, as a career and as a business. Within the project we organise festivals, we have boot camps, farm developments, community outreaches, theme songs and of course the agric youth awards.”
Just last week, the National Youth Manifesto on Agriculture was reviewed by a coalition of relevant stakeholders in Abuja, in a sector-specific working groups streamed under the themes of Employment and Entrepreneurship; Agriculture, Science and Technology Education; Infrastructural Development (especially in Rural Communities); and Implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and Malabo Declaration.
Obviously, the review of the document is relevant today because not only are critical policies taking new forms, the institutions of government are also evolving in line with emerging technologies and global practices. For instance, one of the policy demands in the Manifesto regarding infrastructural development especially in rural communities centres on cascading youth empowerment programmes into the rural nucleus which is mostly agro-based.
It states: “The next batch of the Federal Government’s YouWIN programme should be focused mainly on Youth in Agriculture to increase mentoring and adequate resources for young people and small scale farmers toward the realisation of the YEAP and ATA programme of the Government.”
Therefore, considering that the present administration is not showing ambition towards sustaining YouWIN, there needs to be a fresh dovetailing of present realities towards the overall Youth Agricultural Agenda. The position of the Manifesto underscores the fact that investing in young people and involving them in mainstreaming of agricultural activities is key to enhancing agricultural productivity and food security, boosting rural economies, and reducing rural-to-urban migration. This is because young people have enormous potential for innovation and risk-taking that is often at the core of growth and development in rural areas and elsewhere, particularly in smallholder agriculture.
Furthermore, on implementation of the CAADP and Malabo Declaration – as replacement of the Maputo Declaration, it states: “50 per cent of annual budgetary allocation to agriculture (five per cent of the total annual budget) should be invested in youth-based projects and programmes to properly reflect the potential, role and contribution of the youths in agriculture and to encourage further commitment by the youths in the agriculture sector.”
The position of the Manifesto is that two and a half decades after the Maputo Declaration, Nigeria continues to default and to under-invest in the all-important sector of the economy. Despite enjoying the position as the largest sector of the Nigerian economy, agriculture still gets less than three per cent of the annual budget. Ironically, considering the rising unemployment figure in Nigeria, there is no denying that the agriculture sector is the only sector of the economy that can potentially absorb millions of unemployed graduates and work force lying fallow in the country.
Thirdly, regarding employment and entrepreneurship, one of the Manifesto’s policy demands is that: “The National Directorate of Employment jointing with the Ministry of Agriculture should as a matter of urgency revive and rehabilitate agricultural vocational centres, while establishing new ones where necessary; and introduce agriculture apprenticeship programmes of equal standards in both rural and urban areas.”
The Manifesto states that the problem is that over the years, politicians and political leaders have made the issue of youth employment and job creation a cardinal manifesto item, while doing little to create enabling environment for skill acquisition and employment opportunities for the youth. The high rate of youth unemployment may be attributed therefore to various factors including: lack of proper career guidance in schools and at the community level; the hype of certificate-driven labour market system and neglect of practical skills acquisition in agriculture and related sectors; mismatch between courses offered in higher institutions of learning and job demands in the labour market; lack of adequate vocational training centres; alarming rate of rural-urban migration which largely represents migration away from arable land; lack of access to basic resources of production including land, finance and expertise; weak coordination among the various agencies saddles with creating employment; absence of credit facilities for self-employment; decaying social infrastructure including road network, power and storage facilities; overdependence of the country on importation of agricultural products which kills local production.
In the final analysis, what is needed is Government’s “political will” to mainstream the youths into governance. This will ensure that laudable projects like the YFarm is given the kind of support that will enable it to mobilise goodwill across all levels of government, while ensuring that it is sustained beyond each political administration’s.
To be specific, a more serious government would not have allowed the African Youth Agric Festival to suffer from lack of government support. The first edition organized under the YFarm platform was in 2015, and was supposed to be an annual event; but due to lack of funding it did not take place last year. This year, the organisers has stretched their ingenuity to improvise a joint hosting of the event by leveraging on the upcoming conference of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change that is scheduled to take place in Abuja on 25th and 26th of October, in a few weeks’ time.
Therefore, I call on all African and Nigerian youths to participate in the upcoming African Youth Agric Festival taking place in Abuja on October 27. You can participate by exhibiting your agricultural products and services. There is no better enterprise than agro-based because its opportunities are boundless and its value chain limitless.
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