Reclaiming The North’s Lost Groundnut Pyramids :ATEI’s panacea for youth unemployment and food security

‘Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all’. -Nelson Mandela


In Northern Nigeria and across other parts of Nigeria, at every major road intersection are young people clutching a variety of products from recharge cards, snacks, wrist watches, mops, ‘pure-water’, bread etc. They are under the scorching sun selling wares that bring in profits of less than 5 Dollars a day. They  torturously run after speeding cars and are sometimes hit by the vehicles. However, with a well pursued and visionary framework we can end this vicious circle of poverty.

To buttress this point let’s take a look at the figures of unemployment in Yobe it stands at 60.6%, Zamfara 42.6% and Niger, 39.4% all significantly higher than the national average. It is this worrisome decline that is one of the motivating fulcrums of the Arewa Transformation and Empowerment Initiatives ATEI. A coalition of  professionals from all the northern states that have come together with the resolve to redeem Northern Nigeria from the present  socio-economic quagmire by charting a context specific developmental road map for the region with the core ideology that the centre of gravity for change in any society is from within the society itself and not with government  alone, but for the change to be meaningful, there has to be complementary responsibility between government(the state) and the society itself(civil space).

In other words ,if young unemployed people are encouraged, trained with the right skills and provided with the right incentives via an agricultural mentorship process involving different facets of agriculture we will not only have reduced poverty and also enhanced food security. Modern agriculture in Northern Nigeria can serve as a catalyst for development and also reduce migration to urban areas among young Nigerians residing in rural areas. Indeed the young people residing in rural areas and urban fringes want to work the land but not in the same conditions experienced by their parents and grandparents.

Given the challenges faced by the youth in labour markets, success in pursuing employment for young people will require long term, concerted actions, spanning a wide range of policies and programs. Indeed, success will not be achieved and sustained through fragmented and isolated interventions; but an over-arching guideline for addressing the youth employment challenge is the need for an integrated strategy for rural development, growth and job creation.

With Nigeria’s landmass, well delineated weather conditions; agriculture is the treasure trove for reducing poverty and unemployment opportunities abound in animal husbandry, fisheries, horticulture, poultry, cash crops and food crops. The value chain also brings about other service opportunities ranging from leasing of agricultural equipments, leasing of lands, and distribution of agricultural products, packaging, beverages and food processing plants, haulage, ware housing, retail, whole sale and above all exportation.

But, because most government initiatives have yet to come to terms with our imperative to transit from a mono resource based economy to an agro-allied industrialized state, we might not fully grasp the opportunities inherent in this sector. For the needed expertise to make this sector work, since pre-independence research centres were established to improve the yield of some crops in Nigeria; in terms of expertise we can easily boast of world class authorities in different of agriculture whose distinct views are respected world- wide. This then brings us to the pertinent question, why have we failed in our successive agricultural interventions? Why have we continued to grow a huge army of unemployed youths, why do we still record huge import bills?

The answer indeed lies in our policy frameworks and our inability to make such policies work, our inability to ask relevant questions and prosecute where need be. The cotton and cassava intervention funds are a clear case study, not only where farmers not able to access them but the funds have remained trapped by the red tapes of government.

A look at the intervention strategy of ATEI shows that it seeks to set up farms in each state by collaborating with the private sector based crop peculiarities. Unemployed youths will be given temporary employment on such farms where they will equally be trained to acquire professional skills in commercial farming. It further states in its radical agricultural blue print that, farmers and their cooperatives will undergo professional training towards building their capacity and the ability of accessing funding from government and private sector organizations to boost their productivity. These will be facilities owned by farmers’ cooperatives. These facilities will be in charge of collecting, packaging, selling, and redistributing profits acquired from produce of farming seasons. The facilities or marketing boards will be sited in each of the three northern zones to cater for farm produce in each of the zones; North Central, North West and North East.

Modern agriculture has considerable potentials for job and wealth creation and would absorb large numbers of would-be youth migrants or youths who currently crowd the cities with underemployment. Making well balanced choices for employment-intensive investments in agriculture and rural nonfarm activities can create immediate short term employment opportunities which can be more easily tapped by young people. Combined with appropriate local economic development strategies, it can generate more and sustainable jobs. This requires strategies to make agriculture an attractive enough option for youths to engage in, including moving away from subsistence agriculture, and introducing commercialization and productivity improvements through technological changes and infrastructure support like the Fadama project tried to do. By also creating jobs and educational opportunities, rural areas can increase their attractiveness to young workers, thus eventually delaying the rural-urban migration, which is a very critical issue should governments want to mitigate and prevent youth urban unemployment and underemployment to grow, and the well being in the already congested urbanized areas to worsen. Investing in rural education will also create better opportunities for people to migrate more successfully and contribute to the economic growth of cities. Besides expanding rural job opportunities, it is also necessary to improve the investment and macroeconomic environments; encourage and support entrepreneurship and the informal sector; improve access to education and skills; address the demographic issues, including early motherhood; tackle the problem of youth in violent and post conflict settings; and improve the labour market conditions. It can and should be done; it is time to use the double edge advantage agriculture presents to us; if to provide food and livelihoods and above all reclaim the North’s lost groundnut pyramids.

Written by   Alkasim Abdulkadir ([email protected])

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