For Africa and Nigeria in particular there is the looming threat of food insecurity. Arable lands are dwindling, climate change is taking a toll on agricultural practices,the farming population is aging and going extinct, famine is ravaging the Horn of Africa. This should be of urgent concern to all stakeholders and getting young persons to invest in or practice agriculture is a way of translating the threats to opportunities.
Agriculture is not exactly attractive. Drudgery occasioned by crude methods, low profitability of agricultural products, difficulty in accessing agro-markets among others are factors conspiring to discourage young people from Agriculture. Besides among young people including me, there is the wide-spreading mentality of “making it big” and practicing agriculture rarely guarantees that…only with telescopic sights could one see the money-spinning potential. In spite of these glaring challenges, I think young persons can still be steered to develop interest in agriculture. One effective means of doing that is making the subject Agricultural Science as practical as possible in secondary schools.In secondary schools all over Nigeria students offer Agricultural Science for six years as part of the curriculum but much of this is geared towards theory – memorizing the concepts and duplicating them in exams. This in my opinion barely encourages the practice of the subject. I recall in my first year in high school as part of our Agricultural Science activities we were divided into groups and asked to provide seeds, plant them on allotted pieces of land, weed the farm and even do the harvesting of our plants for our consumption. So we had a small school farm for the class and my group planted groundnuts. Although at that age I was already a practicing farmer those practical sessions further cemented my interest in agriculture.
That farm for me was like a personal investment – one to be treated with utmost diligence. Participating in those agricultural activities were simply exciting to most of the students in my group. Off the record though, when it came to the harvesting we were not invited, I guess the Agricultural Science teacher and his family did that at night. Even though I felt gypped of the expected harvest, the experience was still an empowering one.Only recently during my youth service some students came to the staff room with various vegetables. So much so that you would think the Agricultural Science teacher had taken to petty trading of the leaves. The vegetables were from the class farm, cultivated by students. Well, this particular teacher was not like mine, she merely took a fraction and let whoever wanted to share in the harvest take a share, including the students. I thought that was a nice approach to learn Agricultural Science – practice the parts that are feasible rather than merely feed students with notes upon notes.Students who participated in nurturing the class farm above are bound to appreciate the subject more and even become stakeholders in agriculture whether they decide to study agriculture as a discipline or not. Letting them partake in the “fruits of their labor” is also a means to encourage students to grow into practicing agriculturalists.
Many Nigerian schools can inculcate the approach of building a school farm, no matter how small, a nursery even. Let students practice the concepts of harrowing, ploughing, tilling, planting, weeding, manure production and application, harvesting and most importantly “reaping the fruits of their labor”. Some schools can as well afford to have a small poultry farm and have student groups take turns to tend to the birds. The cost of such a class project can easily be shared by the students in a particular group.There is no doubt that farming is not exactly that “sexy” job most young people want to practice. And most people will only read agriculture when they have been denied Veterinary Medicine or some other “sexy” course choice. But in truth, we really don’t have to read Animal Production or Crop Production to engage in agriculture. Sometimes all we need is to see the opportunities and the needs and invest our resources in the field. For Africa and Nigeria the food insecurity threat is just enough incentive to seize the opportunities of a largely untapped sector. Making Agricultural Science truly engaging in a practical way at the secondary school level is an effective way of catching the needed farmers young.
Anthony Itodo Samuel
He is a graduate of Petroleum Engineering from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. From a tender age he has been involved with agriculture, growing up in an agrarian family. By the age of 14 he had his own small poultry and a sesame seed farm. You can read more of his works on http://poeticfarmer.wordpress.com/