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Youth in Agriculture: The Way out of a Food Crisis

Yinka Adesola graduated in geology from the University of Technology of Mina in Nigeria, and holds a master degree in geophysics. Yinka digs the soil on a daily basis, surrounded by dozens of youths, but strangely enough she isn’t looking for gold…

As a geophysician you could have been working for a mining company. Why did you go into farming?

I likely found myself in the farm because for me, agriculture turns out to be fabulous. I say “likely” because I found that the most important thing to fight in my country is hunger. You can manage everything but hunger. Look at my country. We are import dependent, we import almost everything, while for most of the things we bring in, we have the land, we have good climate, we have the labor. But actually, we are not even able to satisfy our domestic market.

How did you get involved in 2SCALE? 

I was looking for information about vegetables. My aim was to meet local demand and to export vegetables to wherever the market is. I was introduced to IFDC through a European company named COLEACP, which specializes in field training on good agronomic practices. They linked me to the 2SCALE team to benefit from the trainings they organize in the framework of a vegetable partnership. I should say that without 2SCALE, we would not be where we are. Before 2SCALE, our yield wasn’t even half of what is is now. Our tomato did not germinate well and couldn’t be stored for a longer time. 2SCALE assisted us with good agricultural practices to deal with these issues. We learnt about ISFM, smart fertilization using local material, and we were linked to East-West Seed International. EWIT’s tropicalized varieties have proven to be outstanding in terms of yield and resistance to local diseases.

What was the one thing that made the biggest difference? Assistance in good agricultural practices or the training and coaching on business development?

One of the most important things we learnt was about market intelligence. Through 2SCALE we understood the importance for farmers to understand their market before they even start producing. We gained knowledge on how to assess our market and to conduct basic research to get the knowledge to be competitive on the market. You should know what your market wants even before you start seedling.

Bringing farmers together to work professionally also requires knowledge of management, market tactics and cost reduction strategies such as buying inputs in bulk or collective sales. Most of us didn’t even know how to calculate production costs. Through 2SCALE, we are now equipped with these competencies. We were also able to group farmers and to build clusters, and to develop relations with our partner’s alongside the value chain.

I really benefited from these trainings and told myself I should not keep the knowledge to myself. I wanted to set up more trainings to attract youth in agriculture. Initially, it was through a one-month compulsory training. I found that one month is not enough to train qualified farm managers, and as the demand was growing fast, and as I could not be everywhere, I decide to open this field school to train youth. Every three months, we have a setoff of trainees, and the youth are coming from everywhere in Nigeria lo learn about vegetables production and farm management.

For agriculture to be impactful, for us to stop importation, to produce and to meet the growing demand of vegetables, we need these practical and technical trainings. We need vocational schools, where people can get up-to-date practical training. We also need to combat this idea of university graduates that they should not get their hands dirty. Young people don’t work on farms anymore, everybody is going to school. So you have to come back to the farm and do the work by yourself.

yinka2Most of the farmers we meet in the field are older men and women. Would you say it is because youth don’t find agriculture attractive, or is this too short-sighted? 

I think it is much more complicated than this. One, agriculture is stressful and tough manual work. You have do bend down and till the soil. You have to stay in the sun all day. Another reason is the lack of facilities to start farms. Most of my trainees would love to own their own farm but they need access to farm equipment and water irrigation to be able to do so. You will need to uproot trees, so having a tractor will be another issue. How could a young graduate manage these issues? They would rather find another job, even if it is low-paid.

But is farming a lucrative business in Nigeria?

Farming is a lucrative business if you know your market, and if you can meet its requirements in volume and quality. In Nigeria the market is there, but at the same time it is not there.  Most farmers can’t afford to produce consistently throughout the year.  We only have 5 to 6 months of rain fall. The remaining six months, there is nothing you can do. During that time the supermarkets, the restaurant and hotels already have they sources. They import from channels that can supply them consistently all year round. If you don’t have water, you can’t compete with these channels. Drilling a borehole costs about 500,000 Naira (EUR 1,556). How many youths can afford this investment? A small imported greenhouse made of iron would cost Naira 1,500,000 (EUR 4,667), even a small locally made greenhouse would cost Naira 400,000 (EUR 1,244). This isn’t even including the irrigation and other equipment required.

It will last two years, but by then, you will have produced four times and recovered the money you invested and build a new one. If the cucumbers do well, we should be harvesting up 40 bags, and a bag can be sold from 5 to 8 thousand Naira. This year prices even reached 10 thousand Naira. So, in this small greenhouse of 20×8 meters, you can make up to 200,000 Naira (EUR 622) within 50 days, and solely with this particular cucumber variety from East-West Seed. This is far more than the salary of a local government state worker or any of the jobs people are fighting for. So the future is bright for agriculture, we just need some support. We are not asking for a fund for youth. What youth need is facilities to produce, and to do that consistently. The youth is ready to go into farming, but the encouragement is not there. What we are doing here to improve that is on a very small scale.

What can be done to achieve impact at large scale?

We have being using East-West Seeds varieties and they turned out to be very good. The issue is their price, most of the farmers can’t afford them. Assume every farmers can afford them! We will achieve impact, because what we do, is to produce together, to harvest together and to go the market together. We do this because it reduces transport cost and as we agree on price, our negotiation power becomes bigger.

We also face the issue of water because most of the farmers can’t afford to drill a borehole. So everybody produces at the same moment during rainy season, and the prices will crash because of the surplus on the market. During the rainy season, water flows away. There is something we call water harvest. Some people dig a hole of 100×100 meter in their land in which they collect rain, which they can use during dry season to irrigate up to 6 hectares. Imagine the change that can bring if you can copy this to other communities! The farmers will stay around this water source, and they can use it to be working all year round and make money. Anybody who invests in that can generate a return on investment. I don’t advocate for giving money, because no one values money for free and this is definitely not sustainable. Every farmer that uses the water should pay monthly or quarterly rent to the investor. Once again, I’m talking about business, not about subsidies. This is the way out of a food crisis and to successfully involve youth in agriculture. But to be honest, nobody is doing this at the moment.

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