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Our involvement in agriculture transformed our thinking – WECA participants

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By Jimoh Babatunde

THE poor participation of young people in farming and the agricultural economy has continued to be of grave concern to many leaders in Nigeria as the staying away of youth directly threatens the future of agriculture and rural economic transformation in the country.

The Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, recently disclosed that Nigeria has four million youth that enter the labourmarket each year but are unable to find jobs. While the economy is growing at 7.8% per year, it is not creating jobs enough.

So the focus of government at different level has been how to create jobs through agriculture as there is no other sector that can create jobs faster than the agricultural sector. In trying to unlock the potential of agriculture to create jobs, various state governments have tried to engage the energy, dynamism and entrepreneurship of the youth.

From the involvement of Zimbabwean farmers in agriculture in Kwara state with focus on developing the youths to the recreation of Songhai proto type farms in states like Rivers; Delta and Kastina among others all in a bid to get youths involved in farming.

In order to improve the productivity of the ageing farming population in its state, the Ondo state government also decided to establish a multidisciplinary agency named Wealth Creation Agency (WECA) that will systematically evolve a new crop of professional farmers.

WECA was to design and formulate policies and programmes that aimed at creation of wealth through provision of employment in agricultural innovations and aggressive promotion of small scale enterprises.

The scheme under the leadership of Bisi Adegoke has been able to develop and implement a participation-ownership scheme for over 15,000 graduates across the state. The participants, referred to as “pro-farmers”, have access to land, accommodation and other basic facilities and develop agro-enterprises wholly funded by WECA.

Agriculture villages
The caring heart agriculture villages as they are called are presently engaged in arable crop farming, fishery and poultry.  The government provided land, agriculture infrastructure facilities like poultry cages, fish ponds, and all necessary farming inputs and accommodation.

The participants have cultivated a large hectare of land for arable crops like cassava, yam, and maize. Those who have interest in fishery presently have over 500 fish ponds with a minimum of 1000 fish per pond at both Ore and Epe agriculture villages. And each of the participants is allocated a pond under the watchful eyes of the consultants who have demonstration ponds.

The farm manager in Ore agric village, Mr. Sadiq Olatunji disclosed that “All over the village in Ore we have about 250 ponds and since we have decided to be expanding gradually we started with about 50 ponds for this set of participants and we stocked the ponds about a month ago with 1000 juveniles.

At the Epe farm where there is over 110 fish ponds, the participants seem to be more interested in fisheries as disclosed by the consultant, Ropo Wewe, “but presently there are73 participants at the farm and each has one pond and they are stocked with 1000 juvenile each . We have four demonstration ponds here also.”

Mr.Olatunji explained why they decided to use earthen ponds, “this is constructed so that we don’t have to depend on any source of power, using power or generator or whatever is an additional cost that goes into production, but here a local technology was developed. We have a dam whereby the water is channel into the ponds through gravity. So we don’t need to pump it.

He added that “Each participant is allocated a pond, the participant manages it  till maturity with the assistance of  in house consultants. All the necessary things required are provided by the government. So at maturity, the fish will be sold and the cost of the inputs will be deducted and the profit will be given to the participants.”

The story is the same at the poultry sections in all the farms where the participants are given the birds and other inputs to raise the broilers. At the Epe farm, each participant is given a unit that contains 500 birds to manage and there are three units in a pen with twenty pens altogether.

Adeyinka Adejumobi, the farm Manager, said that about 14,000birds will be taken to Owo farm for processing this week, this is in combination with what the Owo farm will be putting out for processing too.

The Isuada-Owo farm manager, Lekan Agoro, disclosed that they have a total of seven pen houses and each unit can take between 1,500 and 2,000birds because of the pen sizes, adding that they currently have a total of 12000 broilers on the farm.

Apart from the fisheries and poultry, there is an oil palm revolution taking place at the Ore farm which is aimed at transforming oil palm production into a major commercial industry and stimulate major economic development of the state through the use of improved varieties and modern technologies.

According to the farm manager, Sadiq Olatunji, about 950,000 palm seedlings of Malaysian type and 350,000 of NIFOR breed have been brought into the farm, “so we have over one million seedlings, presently we are transferring them to farm, they are in the process of going to the permanent location.”

What do young people really think about farming?
Speaking with some of the participants was revealing as many share their thoughts on what young people really think about agriculture.

Adeyemi Bolaji Luqman, a graduate of geology
“Subsistence agriculture is not able to feed a nation. What is needed is commercial agriculture, which can be done by small, medium and large scale farmers. We must modernise, to be able to attract the youth into agriculture. We must expand the level of use of tractors in the country. The country does not have more than 20,000 whereas about 300, 000 tractors are needed”!

I graduated 2007 from Federal University of Technology Minna and since then having looking for job before coming here. I came here because of what I heard about it and I am not disappointed. I came here during the pilot scheme. I was in the fishery section; there we acquired enough training both in fisheries, arable farming and other aspects. We were given adequate training, the money given to us as part of our profit, I invested in a pond at Omifon, where I rare fish.

I am here because of the taste for more knowledge in farm management that is why I am here for the second phase. With the fish I have here and from the expected profit combined with what I have outside I see myself going places. I belief the youth of this country has a lot to gain from agriculture if they have a change of heart and with what the state government is doing here, I know there is future for us all.

Mrs. Alimi Mujibat, a graduate of French with post graduate certificate in education, said she gave up her teaching job, because she wants to be self employed. She is one of the pioneer participants who came back for further training.

“After we were paid off last year, I bought two plots of land where I put some fish. I am here again because I think there is more to learn. Before we got to Ore agriculture village last year, I did not know anything about fisheries, so I don’t believe I have learnt a lot so I am back

“The essence of the program is not just for us to be employed, but to employ people too, so as I am here, I employed somebody to work in my farm and I just supervised. The program has given me and others the opportunity to learn. For me, it has boosted my desire to go into other areas of agriculture.

Consultants and farm manager
For example, in the area of poultry, I have learnt a lot from the consultants and farm manager.  On my farm where I have my ponds, I planted some crops like cocoa, palm, ordinarily, I would have cut down those trees, but with my knowledge here I decided to leave them.

Fredrick Bello, an NCE graduate and a participant  said; “I graduated in 2004, after looking for paid job; I got one with a private school that was exploiting us. I had no option than to resign. When this program started, I applied but was not short listed then as they were after the university graduates, not until July 10, last year when I was called to resume here.

“In fact, it has been wonderful since then with the training given us on poultry and arable farming, today, I can stand alone with the level I have got to now.

If you look over there is my tomatoes farm, which I am using as experimentation farm, outside the officially allocated land. If I have any stipend now, I can go into full time farming.

I am calling on the youth to embrace the program, they should stop running after white collar jobs, and this is a profitable business. Looking at the birds we have here they are not up to two months they are up for processing. From what we have here, you can make millions of naira here. Which government job will give you that?

As I am here, if I have money, I will establish one for my wife, whatever farming technique I get here I will be passing it to her and I will employ two or three people to assist. I am also introducing this to my church members.

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