Insight from Northern Nigeria

Active involvement of youth in all agri-food value chains is necessary for the sustainability of agriculture

Agriculture contributes significantly to the livelihood of Sub-Saharan countries in Africa and is a viable engine for welfare and economic development.  Besides constraints related to the growing environmental conditions (e. g. climatic and edaphic) in the region, agriculture appears to be a less attractive career path among the youth due to the poor incentives or their lack within the value chain. Three major constraints seem to make agriculture less attractive to rural youth that include, (1) limited participation in knowledge and competency-building opportunities, (2) difficulty of acquiring land due to unfavorable inheritance laws and customs in developing countries, and (3) inadequate access to financial institutions and markets.

When the agri-food system, relevant institutions, and development interventions provide the required incentives, enabling environments, together with the policies aligned with youth aspirations, the potential of youth can be leveraged to reinforce agricultural development and economic growth in the region. These aspirations are personal expectations and career goals, with noted differentiation within the youth as a group.

To this end, a group of Gender Scientists from the International Crops Research Institute in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in partnership with the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) in Zaria, Nigeria, and the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals engaged and evaluated youth involvement in agri-food value chains in three states in Northern Nigeria inc;uding Gombe State and Bauchi State located in the North-Eastern part, and Kano State in the North-West. This study aimed to understand,(1) the career and entry points of youth in Nigeria`s agri-food system, and (2) factors hindering youth from taking up opportunities in the agricultural sector?

Youth aspirations are embedded within an opportunity structure that shapes their engagement in agri-food systems based on prevailing institutions and norms

While the youth make up a significant portion of the population and are the most utilized labor force in agricultural households and communities, the potential of youth to drive the rural economy is blurred by negative popular depiction emanating from “unmet” expectations as to what and how today’s youth should be, behave, deliver, and take from and give to the society. The youth are negatively characterized as lazy, make unwise decisions, immature, and capitalize on out-of-country and rural-urban migrations for better lives. Despite this, it is recognized that many African youth are enterprising, innovative, market-oriented, and adequately organized in the provision of services. Instead of imposing blanketed expectations among the youth, social institutions can help explore and facilitate pathways for young men and women to engage in agriculture

The characterization of the respondent’s roles within the crop value chain from production to processing until consumption, indicated that a greater portion of the youth are involved in crop production, followed by processing, marketing, and a very small portion involved in transporting. Gendered disaggregation in these segments showed that males make up most of the actors in the production segment with a low difference (6.5%) in Gombe State. On the other hand, female participation tended to be higher in the marketing segment, engaging more as retailers than as wholesalers. Enterprises doing certified quality production appeared to be less explored among the youth evidenced by a relatively smaller portion of seed producers of millet, sorghum, and groundnut which are sold mainly to farmers within their communities; this despite the critical role of the seed sector in farm yield levels.

While most respondents could choose career paths, household heads, however, tended to have an influence on career choices of youth, particularly young females. Focused group discussions about choices of education models generated two groupings: (1) group preferring attaining tertiary education to position themselves better in the job market and join the national workforce, and (2) group preferring vocational training to channel knowledge and skills into entrepreneurship. This indicates a good level of interest among the youth in agri-entrepreneurship regardless of preferred educational modalities. In general, respondents expressed their need for more capacity-building opportunities for skill acquisition, regardless of career path. For youth in an agri-food system, they identified skills training in entrepreneurship programs, poultry farming, artisanship program, and skills development initiatives as most needed, especially among male respondents.

Developing a gendered youth pathway and opportunity in agriculture would revitalize the sector with implications for continent-wide agricultural sustainability

The effective participation of youth in agriculture is lacking in many African countries, despite the crucial role of agriculture in job creation while youth unemployment in the continent is high. As such, smallholder farm productivity, as well as income is reducing. One strategic mechanism to ensure the involvement of youth in agriculture is to understand their aspirations, ideas, and choice of occupation. The formation of youth and their aspirations involves dynamic processes of circumscription through which one establishes a range of acceptable alternatives. Further, within the youth group, there is differentiation in terms of experiences and ideas, which translate to diverse aspirational trajectories.

Effectively engaging youth in agriculture is one of the best approaches to reduce poverty, unemployment and improve livelihoods. But the attractiveness of agriculture is a crucial issue to opening-up the opportunities for youth to be engaged in agriculture as a sustainable way of life. Instead of adopting a top-down approach to the development process, engaging youth through consultations so that their aspirations are understood and mapped or aligned to the segments of the value chain they are interested or located in.

A look at the aspirations of the youth involved in this study showed their interest in starting up their own business as well as participating in agriculture-related activities. The government and other stakeholders in youth development should develop medium- to long-term training programs aimed at equipping them with requisite skills to help set up their businesses and other entrepreneurial ventures to become self-reliant after completion of these training.

The study recommends the following pragmatic and coordinated approach to youth empowerment: (1) Understand and examine the diversity of young people, in terms of age, gender, agricultural activity, location, education, cultural setting, and aspirations, (2) Explore gendered pathways and available opportunity structure for young women and men in agri-food systems, (3) Implement infrastructural and regulatory interventions and specific training in agricultural practices targeted at engaging youth, and (4) Democratize access to and use of agricultural technologies benefiting youth empowerment.

This policy recommendation contributes to the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) 1: No Poverty, SDG 2: Zero hunger, and SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth. In CGIAR terminology, this policy is at maturity level 1, i.e., has been taken up by next user(s) which may be a decision-maker or an intermediary thereof.

Authors: Jummai Othniel Yila (Gender and Youth Focal Person, CRP-GLDC), and Jake Carampatana (CRP-GLDC MEL Assistant)

Further reading:

FAO (2014). Youth and Agriculture: Key Challenges and Concrete Solutions. Published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for Development. IFAD.

Leavy, J., and Smith, S. (2010). Future Farmers: Youth Aspirations, Expectations and Life Choices.

Njeru, L. K. (2017). Youth in Agriculture; Perceptions and Challenges for Enhanced Participation in Kajiado North Sub-County, Kenya. Greener Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 7(8), 203–209.

Bank, A. D. (2019). Working Paper 105 – Smallholder Agriculture in East Africa: Trends, Constraints and Opportunities [Text]. African Development Bank – Building Today, a Better Africa Tomorrow; African Development Bank Group. Acknowledgement: This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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