Youth, Tomatoes and Orchard in Nigeria

Half of the world’s population is made up of young people, 90% of whom live in developing countries. Young people tend to be interconnected and innovative, open-minded and mobile. Young people are creative in problem-solving and finding solutions. At the same time, skilled young people who have developed entrepreneurial skills, self-esteem and confidence by managing their own projects will help the economy of their countries thrive.

According to National Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Nigeria is 23%, approximately 39 million people, and the number is growing daily. Women and youth participation in the agriculture sector in many developing countries is very low, largely because the sector is highly unattractive due to risks, costs, inefficiency and its labour-intensive nature. The current mode of education in most developing countries is geared towards educating white collar workers, which doesn’t reflect the economic and social context for which they are being trained. Strong messages emerging from primary research with young people in rural areas under the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project – a four-year study across ten developing countries – and from the Future Agricultures Consortium  youth theme, focusing on young people and agricultural policy processes in sub-Saharan Africa, shed light on young people’s attitudes towards agriculture and the likelihood of being able to address food security concerns via engagement of young people with the sector. Some of these attitudes include:

  • Most women and young people have no interest in agriculture,
  • Agriculture is not considered to be delivering the types of lifestyles and status that young people desire and expect,
  • Education is a double-edged sword,
  • Agriculture is often seen as a last resort.

These emergent findings suggest the need to think beyond the conception of young people as units of labour to be placed in jobs. To engage and empower young people in agriculture, the sector needs to be able to address young people’s aspirations and their expectations and offer potential for social mobility. The increased participation by youth in agriculture in Nigeria is necessary and vital to facilitate food and nutrition security since:

  • There is compelling evidence of an ageing farmer population in Nigeria which must be addressed to facilitate sustainability in agricultural production and by extension, food availability in Nigeria from internal production. The average age of farmers in Africa is 45 – 55 years and life expectancy averages about 65-70 years. Consequently, if young farmers do not replace the ageing producers the production of food within the region will be seriously compromised in the next 10-15 years
  • Food import continues to increase while regional agricultural production and output falls. If these trends continue, the availability of food in the near future will be dependent on extra food production, making Nigeria vulnerable to appalling events that may have negative impacts on food production. This will significantly increase in the price of food due to shocks such as regional conflicts and movement in oil price. As a result, it’s necessary to encourage increased food production in Nigeria, investing in the number of producers and the level of productivity. The youth population remains strategic to the success of these efforts to boost regional food Production. The energy that youths possess and the fact that their number is significant provides tremendous opportunities for increasing agricultural productivity.
  • The poor image of persons involved in agriculture needs to be changed and the young people are the ideal catalysts for such change given their greater propensity and willingness to adopt new ideas, concepts and technology which are all critical to changing the way agriculture is practiced and perceived.
  • Increased employment particularly rural employment is required. Given the many opportunities available in food production, agriculture can play a significant role in impacting youth unemployment and by extension, unemployment generally in Nigeria
  • To facilitate increased agricultural production, this contributes to food autonomy. Food is required to drive all productive activities and therefore it is imperative that Nigeria has significant control over this strategic resource both in terms of quality and quantity.
  • Provide productive alternatives for the engagement of youths to reduce social problems. The availability of real income generating options in agriculture can offer opportunities preventing and indeed rehabilitating young persons whose alternative options are neither socially acceptable nor responsible.

Increasing the participation of women and young persons in agriculture between the ages of 15 to 35 will contribute to the agricultural sector and Nigerian society economically.

Nigeria ranks 16th on the global Tomato and Orchard production scale, while the it produces 65% of tomatoes in west Africa, accounting for 10.79% of Africa’s and 1.2% of the world’s production, it is now the largest importer of tomato paste. However, an alarming 40-50% of Tomato and Orchard harvested in the country is lost due to poor management of Food Supply Chain (FSC); price instability resulting from seasonal fluctuation in production, and supply. Climate change poses a threat to Nigerian agriculture – the World Bank recently predicted an up to 30% drop in the country’s crop output due to erratic rainfall and higher temperatures.

Tomato farms are found mostly in the northern parts of the country, and some harvests could be transported about a thousand (1,000) kilometers to the end retail markets by road. The demand for tomato is currently estimated at 2.3 million metric tons per annum, while the output is 1.8 million metric tons because due to lack of good storage facilities and poor developed marketing channels. The loss, according to the Horticulture Transformation Tomato Value Chain Implementation Action Plan 2012 – 2015 of the Nigerian Federal Government, amounts to about 750,000 tons per year, equivalent to millions of Naira. This is even though the country has not been able to meet domestic demand for Tomato and Orchard. Amidst 2009 and 2010, Nigeria imported a total of 105,000 metric tons of Tomato and Orchard paste valued at over N16 billion to bridge the deficit gap between supply and demand in the country. An estimated 40-50% of primary produce lost before reaching the market is due to lack of proper handling, cleaning, sorting, grading and packaging facilities at the farms. Access to credit, improved seeds, fertilizer, information on weather, poor prices and markets to sell their products, among others, pose enormous challenges to farmers, especially small holder ones. Poor road infrastructure across the country has worsen the situation, as most of them are unable to transport their produce to markets or travel to where they can have access to vital input, such as fertilizer and pesticides. Experts blame poor infrastructure support to smallholder farmers for the nation’s failure to fully exploit its potential to increase food and agricultural production. Farmers ought to have easy access to markets to reduce post-harvest losses.

Enormous social and economic constraints (institutional weakness as expressed in declining traditional extension services and agricultural research) surround the entire key actors in the Tomato and Orchard value chain in the Nigeria. This makes producers to experience annual post-harvest losses up to 40-50% due to market surplus brought by poor production planning; disorganized market transactions, lack of value addition, lack of good quality and non-existence of processing facility that would otherwise absorb the large production output across Nigeria during growing season. Tomato and Orchard Producers Association of Nigeria seeks to advocate support for farmers to engage best practices in growing and storing farm produce and create ready markets to stem the massive wastage of horticulture, thereby reducing post-harvest losses.

Despite that the country is gifted with fertile soil, favourable climate and water basins, which should have positioned it as a flourishing farming hub in the sub-region, farmers try to reduce their exposure to risks associated with dearth of infrastructure in the sector by minimising investment in inputs, most of them are trapped in a cycle of low productivity and poverty. Farming needs a change of image to get over entrenched, though not unfounded, beliefs that it involves dirty, laborious work at low skill levels for low returns. And we need to reassess what we mean by ‘farmer’ in the 21st century. We were looking at agriculture as a developmental activity, like a social sector in which you manage poor people in rural areas. But agriculture is not a social sector. Agriculture is a business, Seed is a business, fertilizer is a business, storage, value added, logistics and transport – it is all about business. The Horticulture industry has great potential in contributing substantially to the success of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Nigerian economy, the second largest producer of tomato in Africa.