Eds: Many thanks to Adebola Adedugbe for agreeing to do the interview after a lengthy power cut in Abuja!
Energetic, resourceful young Africans make up roughly 50% of the Continent’s population. And their rising numbers go hand in hand with a decreasing agricultural workforce. Waves of young people migrate from rural to urban areas in search of white-collar jobs and better earnings. Why pick up a hoe on a farm and toil away for a meagre daily wage of less than US$1 when bright city lights beckon?
by Pauline Bugler
Innovators in ICT are now steadily eroding this outmoded image of agriculture with social media platforms, blogs and mobile phones. Farming is the mainstay of most African economies and one of the Continent’s biggest job sectors, employing 90% of the rural population. Agriculture accounts for 40% of export earnings and supports over 50% of household needs and incomes.
In 2012, Adebola Adedugbe, of Bonifab Nigeria Ltd., launched an ICT project to disseminate information about job opportunities in agriculture. This training programme targets both university graduates and unskilled youths – the mix reflects the opportunities available.
300 youths have already been trained directly and 800 along the agricultural value chain. Youth and youth-based organisations in Nigeria are now effectively involved in agriculture using ICT platforms.
Adedugbe said: “There is a need to acknowledge the importance of education in rebranding agriculture as a competitive career choice.” The sector has the potential to create millions of jobs for young people. ICT is becoming an educational tool and a strategy for promoting entrepreneurship, boosting the availability and diversity of online information. Young people can find credible and reliable information on capacity building, training and access to funding and how to start an agribusiness through social media. This, Adedugbe added, encourages youths in small to medium-sized enterprises to fight poverty through job and wealth creation and compete favourably and effectively.
As part of this innovative scheme, which was first rolled out in West Africa and Nigeria, farmers receive subsidies on fertiliser directly through a mobile-phone-based system in the form of electronic vouchers. So far it has reached 1.5 million farmers and 7.5 million felt the impact of the scheme in its first year. The objective is to reach 20 million farmers by 2015; 10 million farmers have already registered.
The scheme supports all sorts of agricultural practice across the Continent, from fish and snail farming in Nigeria to animal husbandry in Uganda. But regardless of the location, its impact is due in no small part to the engagement of youths. These tech-savvy people are busy grabbing the windows of opportunity offered by social media to pass on information, share their experiences and get to know the business side of agriculture.
“Many of these youths are bloggers and social medial coordinators… An increasing number of youths in the country are members of Young Professionals in Agriculture Development (YPARD)”, Adedgube.
Yet compared to other countries, agricultural production is still quite low in Africa and this prompts the question of sustainability. Agriculture should not be treated in isolation, if Africa is to realise its full potential to feed its growing population and achieve sustainability, he noted. ICT can link up farmers to markets, value chains and other networks. Exchanging information is essential for improving performance, productivity and economic competitiveness on both local and international markets.
Yet there are constraints to this development and one of them is power. Unreliable networks, poor infrastructure and high costs hamper the use of the Internet in Africa. And connectivity is often notably better in the cities. Of course, that’s of no help to farmers in far-flung regions keen to see the latest market price for their plantain crops. Thus it is up to young people to come up with solutions themselves.
However, current government policies and practices are not always conducive to youth involvement in agriculture and related fields and value chains. As the Nigerian government offers little financial support, Adedugbe runs free training workshops for youths, supported by his family. If this state of affairs is to be alleviated and the opportunities offered by ICT seized, both the government and the private sector must start building capacity among all stakeholders to achieve sustainable agriculture.