Who are our farmers? What tools do they use? What knowledge do they possess? How do they practice farming? Are they digital or analogue? What perception of a farmer does an average person on the street hold? These questions and more crossed my mind when a student of agriculture from one of Nigeria’s universities burst into tears while sharing, “Others see and treat us as trash in our faculty!” If we genuinely aspire for food sufficiency in the country, an urgent need arises to reconsider and reshape how we perceive and engage in agriculture.
Agriculture is often referred to as the backbone of Nigeria’s economy. Some even assert, “No farmers, no nation”. Food stands as a cornerstone of human existence. Where food scarcity exists, hunger and starvation prevail. Desperation to survive by any means follows closely. This desperation breeds heightened crime rates and criminal activities. A society plagued by high crime rates remains perpetually underdeveloped.
A pivotal realm that captivates the average youth is technology. Youths breathe, eat, and consume technology. For them, technology is life. It shapes their actions and decisions. It is disheartening to observe that agriculture, the foundation of Nigeria’s economy, remains unappealing to youths due to its association with archaic tools. A visit to most Nigerian universities unveils the deplorable state of agricultural education offered to students. Sadly, agricultural studies are often dreaded, with students relying heavily on traditional implements like hoes and cutlasses. They seem more akin to farmers of ancient times. Is it any wonder that they are met with disdain by their peers in other faculties? Many lose interest before completing their programmes, as they fail to envision a future in such laborious toil.
At a time when agriculture has undergone a complete digital transformation and embraced advanced technology worldwide, it is disappointing that those trained to nourish the nation lack modern knowledge and persist with outdated tools. In a nation housing a functional Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (FMSTI), along with various agencies, this trend must be halted. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and FMSTI must set policy directives. If necessary, collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Education should occur to align the agricultural curriculum with contemporary realities. Operating as if we are still in the 20th century, especially in food production, is unsustainable. A food-import-dependent nation risks severe consequences. Hence, crafting policies that render agricultural pursuits enticing to the younger generation is paramount.
Practices such as aquaponics and hydroponics, which involve the symbiotic cultivation of plants and fish, originating from aquaculture and hydroponics respectively, should be integral to agricultural education. Integrating these practices could undoubtedly ignite interest in agriculture, even among those initially uninterested. Incorporating technology into agricultural practices could revolutionise the sector, especially considering the ageing population of current farmers.
As President Bola Ahmed Tinubu aptly stated, our economy currently navigates stormy waters; adding food scarcity to the mix is inadvisable. If the youth continue to disengage from farming due to outdated practices and the negative portrayal of farmers, our nation may veer off course. Crucial stakeholders within the science, technology and innovation (STI) landscape shoulder significant responsibility. Agricultural practices must be technologically elevated to capture the interest of the younger generation.
In conclusion, cultivating the interest of youths in agriculture through technology holds the key to a prosperous future. Viewing farmers as essential contributors rather than mere “trash” is the starting point. Equipping aspiring agriculturists with modern knowledge and tools is the subsequent crucial step. Let’s not ignore the urgent call to usher agriculture into the digital age. By doing so, we lay the foundation for a well-fed, thriving nation and we empower the next generation to embrace agriculture with enthusiasm and innovation.