How to make farming appealing to youth - Daily Independent Interwiew
In this interview, with IKECHI NZEAKOR, African Farmer Afoluwa Mogaji speaks, among other critical issues in agricultural sector, on his passion for farming and farmers as well as how to breed young farmers and entrepreneurs in country. Excerpts…
You bear an unusual name, African Farmer. How did you come by the name?
My original name is Akinoluwa Abayomi Mogaji and I added African Farmer to my name. Now my name is African Farmer Akinoluwa Abayomi Mogaji.
I had a divine inspiration that I would be farming across Africa. Not just farming; that I would be raising farmers and young entrepreneurs as well as consulting across Africa. A farmer farming in Nigeria will be called a Nigerian farmer and a farmer farming in Kenya will be call called a Kenyan farmer; but a farmer farming across Africa is an African farmer. That is the concept.
To what extent has the dream been realised?
It has been a long journey. It has not been easy; it has been challenging. However, in the last four years, the journey has become smoother because it can only get smoother, you cannot arrive. There were a lot of challenges in terms of infrastructure and acceptance. However, with the current Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina, a lot of things have been put in place that will make the farming industry acceptable by the private sector and the professionals, employed and unemployed graduates in the next five years.
What are some of these policies you are talking about?
In many years, we now have a Minster of Agriculture who does not only know theory and paper work; he has done it before and now he is implementing. He has also been involved in Nigerian agriculture for a number of years. So, getting to that position is like getting authority to implement policies that reflect realities on the ground. One of the things he is paying attention to is infrastructure, and when I say infrastructure, I do not mean in terms of roads or such things, but data. Data are a major tool required for planning. For instance, in the GES (Growth Enhancement Scheme), they are assisting farmers with fertilisers. They also give free maize seeds to farmers. Now you pay for two bags of fertiliser and they give you one free. What used to happen before now was that people like me who used to grow about 200 acres, when you want fertilisers, you first apply, then they would come and inspect your farm. Between application and inspection, it would be two to three weeks. They would go and write a report, and by the time they approve, your maize is already mature. You go to the warehouse and see the fertilisers and you are happy that the fertilisers needed are there. But to get 300 bags of fertiliser with your cash in hand was difficult. Today, because they have made it unattractive to smugglers with the removal of subsidy, the fertilisers are there and you can buy them; they are readily available. Then they were unavailable and a lot of corruption was associated with the distribution of fertilisers. Before now, the product was not accessible to farmers, but that situation has been reversed. A major thing the Minister has done is giving hope to both farmers and people in the private sector. A lot of them had lost hope in the agriculture sector, but some of us do not have any other thing we can do aside farming. But as hope has been rekindled, we know there is a brighter future. We know we do have someone who is not just talking in Abuja; he is going to the villages. Apart from that, he is also drawing investments to the sector. For instance, the tomato processing factory Dangote is doing in Kano. You might say Dangote has the fund and network. If Dangote sees something in tomatoes, other smaller investors will begin to see it and say “if Dangote can do it, then there is something in it”. Other people can do the same in the South West and South East by setting up their own tomato processing plants. The Minister has not only built infrastructure in the sector, he has also made it appealing to the private sector. We now have more industrial cassava processing plants than ever. We have a lot of plants spread across the country looking for cassava to buy, thereby making rural cassava farmers to sell their produce.
He is also bringing awareness to the industry and this is helping the industry. More people are bringing in fertilisers and other chemicals. More people are buying land for agricultural purposes. We have gone beyond farming to agribusiness.
How do we change the perception that farming is for the aged and rural people and bring in graduates, young people and entrepreneurs into the sector?
I am one of those who believe that to catch a monkey, you have to behave like a monkey. We need to speak the language of the youth, who are wired for employment from the university. Knowing that capital is scarce and banks and microfinance firms hardly support freshers – they want them to provide part of the capital. How do you do that, when you do not have money? You have to speak the language of the youth. We have to make farming appealing to the youth. Get Tuface Idibia or any other artistic or musical star to drive tractors on the farm and sing on it; get them to show that they love farming. This will re-programme the minds of the youths. We have to change the mindset of the youth on farming. The reason most of these programmes do not work in Nigeria is because you bring someone from an urban area and put them in a rural setting where there is no electricity and other infrastructure. The government can create the infrastructure and tell the graduates and other young persons to stay in urban areas and form cooperatives. They will pull resources and farm. Government will provide part of the capital, and with a scheme like this, members of the cooperative will not have to visit the farm very often in the life cycle of the crop they have planted. This means that they can still do everything in the urban areas where they live. This means that if he is working or unemployed, he can dedicate two Saturdays in a month to visit the farm. After harvesting and sharing the profit, their interest in farming will increase; persons will want to emulate, and this will have a multiplier effect in the sector. It is not enough to just create opportunities; it is more important to create opportunities that are accessible to the target group. To be fair, governments have been releasing the more, but little is being achieved because the right infrastructure has not been put in place. Half of the money that is being released does not get to the target group; there is need for a change in approach. There is need to go back to the farm settlement approach as was done by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe during the First Republic. Everything was provided in the farm settlements; the farmers did not have to go to town to buy things. People from the towns wanted to visit the farm settlements. There is need to practise cooperative farming; that is the way to go. The commercial farming that is being talked about is not working; China, whose agricultural sector is leading in the world, is based on smallholders and the West is copying the Chinese model. Again, there is need to create a value chain. For instance, I will not advise a young graduate to plant cassava; I will advise him or her to go to the villages and buy cassava tubers and sell to the numerous cassava-processing plants all over the country. Two, instead of planting cassava and waiting for it 10 or 14 months to mature, they can go into cultivating and sale of cassava stems. There is lot of thing that can be done in the value chain, which Nigerians need to take advantage of.
How come most Nigerians are not aware of these opportunities?
Agric extension is a major part of the sector; it is the lifeline of agriculture. Communication with farmers and others on innovation and development is the way to go. However, today, we do not have extension in the Ministries of Agriculture. Media is key to agriculture; without the media, innovations and developments in agriculture will not be disseminated. That is why the Minister of Agriculture, who knows the power of the media, is using the media extensively. There is the need to devote more resources to publicity; there is the need for the people to be informed.
What is your advice to young people?
One, I will say, get a mentor; one who has gone ahead of you and who can find time for you – some whose mistakes you can avoid. Get a mentor and be patient. If you do, in a particular year, do not expand your farm; stay on that level. In farming, if you make two and half tonnes from 10 acres, it means that next year if you use more quality input, you can get 10 to 15 tonnes on that land. Start with what you have and do not expose yourself to too much debt. Start small and grow big.