Unemployment, Agriculture and Sustainable Development
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
At a time Nigerian youths were waiting patiently for the Federal Government to offer sustainable road map for restoring the health and vitality of the nation’s democracy, the Federal Government on 30th June, 2020, through the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, announced the commencement of the disengagement of the batches A and B of the Npower volunteers which was completed in July without providing them exist package or technical/specialized support to start the business of their dreams.
Again, in a period when policy makers across the globe are actively integrating policy frameworks that both protect the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches, the latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), published Q2:2020 labour statistics, says something else.
The data going by reports reveals that Nigeria’s second-quarter unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9%, up from 29.7%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2% from 25.7% in Q3, 2018. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed.
For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, youth in every society says a study report, has the potential to stimulate economic growth, social progress and our all national development. The strategic role of youths in the development of different societies of the world such as Cuba, Libya, China, Russia and Israel are obvious. Youth unemployment is potentially dangerous as it sends signal to all segments of the Nigerian Society. Here in Nigeria, the rate of youth unemployment is high, even at the period of economic normalcy i.e. the oil boom of the 1970s (6.2%); 1980s (9.8%) and the 1990s (11.5%). Youth unemployment therefore is not a recent phenomenon.
But if what happened in the 1980s/90s were challenge of sort, what is happening presently, going by latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is a challenge. This and many other concerns have expectedly caused divided opinion and proliferation of solutions.
To demonstrate this position, many expressed concern that it is not right for state and federal governments of Nigeria to create agencies that dole money to Nigerian youths with the aim of eradicating poverty. Such huge resources do not have economic value. Instead, such amount should be used to build industries and factories of production, they added that considering the slow growing economy but scary unemployment levels in the country, the current administration will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until they contemplate industrialization, or productive collaboration with private organizations that has surplus capital to create employment
Others are of the view that less emphasis on university education should be done. Technical and Commercial colleges should be established and funded to produce graduates that are technically fit. The state they argued should engage in owning business and manufacturing outfits like what was done in the 1970s-1990s in Nigeria. Companies and factories wholly owned by state governments under a new management system should be built to absorb graduates and skilled workers. It is still possible to operate profitable businesses by state government using the Indian/Lebanese system of business model. Independent auditors should be hired to check their books, they concluded.
To the rest, Cooperate organisations and entrepreneurs should engage in production of domestic and industrial goods. And a long term goal of exporting such goods to West/African markets should be brought into focus. Commercial farming into such specialised areas of diary farming, essential fruits such as apple, etc. will help to reduce unemployment. And a long term goal of exporting such goods to West/African markets should be brought into focus.
Indeed, whilst the first option (industrialization) may offer considerable solution, the second has more reward and comes with a reduced risk. However, as country desirous of achieving sustainable development, there are in my views both specific and specialized reasons for the government to throw its weight behind agriculture by creating enabling environment that will encourage Nigerian youths to take to farming.
First, aside from the worrying awareness that by 2050, global consumption of food and energy is expected to double as the world’s population and incomes grow, while climate change is expected to have an adverse effect on both crop yields and the number of arable acres, we are in dire need of solution to this problem because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation that does not have job creation at its main objective will not take us anywhere’’And agricultural sector has that capacity to absorb the teaming unemployed youth in the country.
The second reason is that globally, there are dramatic shift from agriculture in preference for white collar jobs-a trend that urgently needs to be reversed.
Take as an illustration; over the past century in the United State of America (USA), study has it that there exists shift in the locations and occupations of urban consumers. In 1900, about 40% of the total population was employed on the farm, and 60% lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about 1% and 20%. Over the past half century, the number of farms has fallen by a factor of three. As a result, the ratio of urban eaters to rural farmers has markedly risen, giving the food consumer a more prominent role in shaping the food and farming system. The changing dynamic has also played a role in public calls to reform federal policy to focus more on the consumer implications of the food supply chain.
Separate from job creation, averting malnutrition which constitutes a serious setback to socio-economic development of any nation is another reason why Nigeria must embrace agriculture-a vihecle for food security and sustainable socio economic sector. Infact, it was noted recently that in Nigeria, governments over the year have come to realise that sustainable growth is achievable only under an environment in which the generality of the people are exposed to balance diet, not just food. This explains why agriculture production should receive heightened attention. In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5 million children under-five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (sam) annually, exposing nearly 420,000 children within that age bracket to early death from common childhood illness such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.
For us to therefore, achieve this objective in agriculture that will guarantee food security as well as brings about development that is sustainable, the government must provide the needed support-funding, technical known how and other specialized training. But most importantly,must start thinking of developing a rail system that offers low fares and connection of major economic towns and landlocked cities to aid distribution of food products and other economic products from advantaged to less advantaged areas. Evidence abounds that such towns/cities referred to as disadvantaged often always hold the domestic trade and market prices of such commodities.
Malawi, a small landlocked country in the south of Africa, a report noted, is a practical example of a country where transportation by rail is low-cost and contributes to lower food prices through its impact on the operation of market, increase the welfare of household and improves food security, increase trade, lead to lower prices and lower price dispersion, and offer farmers incentives to commercialize while leading to a reduction of overall transport prices through railroad competition.
This objective if replicated here, will help the poor village farmers in Benue/Kano and other remote areas earn more money, contribute to lower food prices in Lagos and other cities through the impact on the operation of the market, increase the welfare of household both in Kano, Benue, Lagos and others while it improves food security in the country, reduce stress/pressure daily mounted on Nigerian roads by articulated/haulage vehicles and drastically reduce road accidents on our major highways.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.