There was a time in Nigeria that every young graduate wanted to work with an oil and gas firm. Not because of the work to be done but because of the money to be made. Few got the opportunity to walk that path while most did not even get close to it. Then the trend moved to the banking industry and this has long changed since the consolidation a few years ago. And now I ask myself what exists out there for our teeming youths to do. To put things in perspective, Nigerian will be the 3rd most populous nation in the world by 2050 with about 450million people. Africa will have experienced a 55% increase in population, only followed by Asia at 36%. To make this more interesting, more than 40% of that population in Nigeria will be entering the work force, which then raises the question on your mind as well as mine, “Where is the job?”
This brings me back to an essay I wrote in 2012 when I was applying to INSEAD on how to grow agriculture in Africa. It all boils down to being able to get our youths engaged in this industry. There is no other single industry that can absorb so many youths at a time and still not sufficiently meet the demands of the market in terms of finished goods. What remains a major question is how to encourage youths to engage in Agriculture?
My single proposal on this is what I call the creation of agricultural cohorts. Very simply put, the government should create a holistic program which starts with a short intensive training on Agribusiness (see I did not say Agriculture). People need to understand how to make money from Agriculture for them to put their heart and soul into it. Teams of 4-5 diverse skilled youths should be formed from these cohorts. It should include a technical person (depending on what crop/livestock they will be assigned to), a finance expert, a supply chain expert, a marketing expert and a general manager.
Each cohort should be allocated a large expanse (also depending on what crop/livestock) and most importantly be provided with financial support in the form of a loan which will have to be paid back after a grace period at a reasonable interest rate. In this way, they are unleashed, with supervision, to go create value on the farm while being continuously supported with training and mentoring. The crop/livestock selection will also be made on the basis of alignments with major off-takers who will be ready markets for these farm outputs. The cohorts will be responsible for building a business that will employ many, and more so, become sustainable and pay back the loans with interest to the government.
This will require a long-term approach from the government and a commitment to see it through the implementation.