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Reflections On The 1st African #YFarm Youth Agric Festival 2014

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Beyond words, on 12th August 2014, an epochal event took place in a sleepy village nestled along Abuja-Keffi Expressway: at the National Agricultural Show Ground. It’s the 1st African Youth Agric Festival which coincided with International Youth Day; themed: Youth at the Heart of Agriculture and Africa’s Development. Highlights of the outing include: launching of the YFarm Mobile App, E-shop and online directory of African youths in agriculture, YFarm market; YFarm Joint Donor Basket Fund for the YFarm intervention project 2014-2015; award ceremony for 12 innovative and outstanding young agropreneurs, youth hub and open mic session.

It is pertinent to observe here that the festival is a major arm of the YFarm project initiated by Fresh & Young Brains Development Initiative and Alexijan Consults with the goal of attracting African youth into agriculture for shared prosperity, improved livelihood for inclusive growth and sustainable development for Africa as she strives towards food security. The YFarm project has a target of establishing and promoting at least 10,000 youth-led farms across Africa by 2020 that will invariably create agric-business, reduce poverty and get young people more involved in sustainable agricultural development. The other leg of the project is the YFarm: My Farm, My Swag campaign which according to NKiruka Nnaemego (CEO/founder of FBIN) aims to change the poor image of young persons involved in agriculture as poor and illiterate. And now here’s my take on the initiative.

First, we will like to pause and commend the YFarm team under the infectious and energetic leadership of Nkiruka Nnaemego and her partners for organizing the maiden edition of the festival. It’s really inspiring to see young Africans come forth with innovative products, brainstorm, advocate, and network for inclusive and sustainable development. Being an impressive start, we believe that the Ethiopia edition 2015 will be better. However, there are certain concerns that FBIN must address head on in order to have an optimal result in this project.

Fundamentally, outreach is important; and outreach is a function of time and network. It’s saddening to observe at the Festival market exhibition the low turnout of young farmers exhibiting their produce. How could we possibly have such insignificant number of exhibitors in a country where 60% of her population is youth? Where our young farmers? Perhaps, they are locked out by the digital divide in rural areas – unreached and uniformed about such lofty and life-enhancing project. The YFarm team did well on Social Media, but it is not enough. Most farmers in Africa do business in rural locations not yet penetrated by broadband; so it will be more engaging if we extend our message and network to rustic farming settlements in places like Benue, Taraba, Kano, Zamfara, Ebonyi, Sokoto etc. Next time, we must target youths in countryside – they are more into agriculture than our city youths hankering after some illusive white-collar jobs.

More importantly, FBIN must build trust amongst the beneficiaries of the YFarm project intervention fund.  Nigeria, nay Africa seems to be a continent of plenty words, talk-shops, and resolutions; yet unmatched with equal work. We must walk the talk of YFarm by being transparent and sincere in our drive to mainstream African youths in agriculture. These young farmers must be kept abreast of development in the project; funds must be disbursed equitably – on grounds of needs, capacity and ability; not tainted by ethno-political affiliations. This factor is indispensable in the face of the excessive cynicism that labels the African youth, cultivated and fostered by long years of abandoned projects, unfulfilled promises, and embezzled funds. We must build trust to succeed in this YFarm project. This project must not be allowed to be hijacked by some faceless, arm-chair official-farmer cocooned in the high hill of Abuja while the earth-craving, soil-tilling young farmer is starved of resources to float his farm ad agric-business. We must build trust and credibility.

Also, to succeed in this YFarm project, we must intensify the YFarm campaign: My Farm, My Swag to alter positively the warped conception of many young people who regard agriculture as some low earth, unattractive and ‘unswaggalicious’ venture meant for the dregs of the society condemned to the lifeless countryside. Agriculture is business and as long as we all need food to survive, agric-business will thrive. We must keep showcasing the enormous benefit they stand to gain by venturing into any agric-based enterprise: independence, viable market, confidence, employment and profit. If Africa must reclaim the future, then we must be capable of feeding our teeming population to avoid a social mishap which may destroy out gains. And young people have a major role here to play. Young people must be encouraged to be creative in doing agriculture by creating value-chain system. Like a Hausa proverb says: agriculture is wealth and way out of poverty. Yes, tell our youths. Tell all African youth this inalterable truth. Besides, agriculture is the mother of industrialisation. Let’s continue to apply ICT to agriculture. Let’s make the YFarm project work. #YFarm: antidote to poverty! #YFarm: My Farm, My Swag!

                                                    Elvis-Wura Towolawi

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