Venturing into commercial farming is tasking particularly for young farmers. They are faced with inadequate infrastructure, lack of start-up capital, capacity building and mentoring services, among others. Experts however, say that establishing agri-business incubators is a viable mechanism for creating an environment where youth-led start-ups can be nurtured and allowed to flourish. They note that by giving impetus to promotion of youth-driven agri-business entrepreneurship, agri-business incubators would boost agriculture and create jobs. DANIEL ESSIET writes
With agriculture as one of the major planks of Federal Government’s current strategic re-focusing on the non-oil sector to diversify the economy, focus appears to be shifting to Nigerian youths. The generational shift in favour of youths is understandable. For one, Nigeria’s farm labour is ageing, requiring young and vibrant farmers to help exploit the nation’s largely unexploited agricultural potentials. Besides, with the current challenges of boosting food security, stakeholders in the agric sector are of the view that there is need to engage many youths in agricultural production, including farming, seed supply, agri-chemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing, marketing and retail.
However, with many young agro entrepreneurs already showing keen interest in agri-business, most of them are still faced with the challenges that come with starting off new agro ventures such as inadequate infrastructure, capital and technical knowhow. To turn the tide and unleash the immense potential in agri-business, which is believed to have the capacity to take as many youths as possible off the unemployment market, experts and stakeholders in the agric sector are canvassing the promotion of agri-business incubation centres. The thinking is that agri-business incubation is a viable strategy to transform the agric sector by smoothening the way for new, young farmers’ entrants.
If Nigeria embraces the strategy, it would only be borrowing a leaf from countries across the globe where it is believed to have worked wonders. Indeed, globally, agri-business incubators serve start-up entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises and agro-tech innovators among others. Through this initiative, governments across the world have promoted the establishment of agri-business ventures through a vast pool of commercialisable agro-technologies from Research and Development (R&D) institutes, provided access to infrastructural facilities, made available capacity building and mentoring, and facilitated funding.
In most advanced countries such as the US, United Kingdom, and Germany, where the strategy has worked, more agri-business incubation centres provide settlement for activities that cover the entire agri-business spectrum including fisheries, horticulture, veterinary, agri-engineering and food processing. Such agri-business incubators are known to have empowered entrepreneurs who in turn, have created companies that churned out several jobs, thus reducing youth unemployment and also contributing to their country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Nation learnt that while government research institutes in those countries showcase ready-to-commercialise agro-technologies from different segments of the agric sector, there are few agricultural incubators in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, to provide access to land, equipment and infrastructure for farm start-ups. This is despite the fact that agri-business incubators have shown the potential to integrate smallholder farmers into the sector in a range of innovative ways that show that small agro-industrial activities can lead to massive job creation in the places where people especially youths live and work.
Speaking with The Nation, a specialist organic farming consultant, Mr. Henry Olushola, said there are no structures in Nigeria to provide agricultural business incubator programmes for would-be young farmers. He stressed the need for the government to design programmes to unlock the talent, creativity and innovation amongst youths and motivate them to go into agric-ventures that will help create jobs and reduce unemployment. With the level of entrepreneurial talent in the country, he said his organisation is capable of forming successful businesses with young people who are ready to do something to help grow the economy.
Olushola assured that through his organisation, young agri-business entrepreneurs would be provided accommodation, land and other start-up supports including seeds, nursery pots and other supplies. Through this strategy, he maintained that a lot of young people will be taken out of the unemployment market. He said this would create new enterprises and drive economic growth.
This, he pointed out, is because incubation centres create an environment where start-ups can be nurtured and allowed to flourish. “Normally, incubators provide agro-entrepreneurs training and research, which they use to develop and implement innovative solutions to the agricultural problems facing the local communities they work in,” he said.
Adigun noted that a lot of young Nigerians are now interested in working in agriculture hence, agri-business incubators present tremendous opportunities for economic growth and youth employment. He said it will also result to increase in farm productivity, which will in turn, lead to increase in rural income and livelihood.
He said by supporting the creation and development of innovative activities, agri-business incubators provide a key link in the improvement of agricultural value chains. He added that with agri-business incubators, government would create a pool of agri-entrepreneurs capable of setting off an agri-business revolution in the country.
Olushola reiterated his determination to help raise young agro entrepreneurs who will provide broad range of agricultural activities from seed production and other strategic activities in the development of agricultural commodity chains. He, however, said beyond the incubators, investors need to develop sufficient confidence to invest in agri-businesses and in agri-industrial clusters.
For founder, AgroInfoTech, Mr. Oluwajoba Ayo Okediji, agri-business incubators represent part of the ongoing efforts at increasing economic opportunities for Nigerians. He said there is need to identify potential entrepreneurs in agri-business and offer them value chain development technical support including funds. This, he said, would encourage them to nurture profitable enterprises that can create jobs.
Okediji announced that his organisation is kick-starting an agri-business incubation in Nigeria. He said his organisation has been working with smallholder farmers and some leading agri-business companies to address challenges in the sector. “We pioneered some solutions to reduce the challenges faced by the stakeholders using new technologies to enable access to market for farmers, information dissemination, farm to table services to mention a few. We need a platform where these solutions can be incubated and accelerated,” he said.
The expert lamented the lack of facilities in Nigeria primarily focused on agri-business incubation when countries such as Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal and Mali have agri-business incubation centres operated by Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN), a facility coordinated by Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA).
Okediji said this was what led his organisation to pioneer an Agri-business Innovation Centre – Agro Innovation Hub, in collaboration with the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Obafemi Awolowo University (IAR&T), and Moor Plantation, Ibadan. The centre, he explained, would provide a platform where solutions will be created using new technologies to promote agricultural research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
In Okediji’s words: “We are redefining farming through innovation, using new technologies to make agriculture much more profitable and attractive by collaborating with educational institutions and youth agencies such as the National Youth Service Corps to achieve our goals. We will be organising various youth-driven programmes, events and summits and also offer agri-business incubation, acceleration, and mentorship to interested youths.
“It will be a hub where various initiatives to add value to the agri-business sector will be launched, collaborating with various stakeholders. We have the consent of some local and foreign based organisations that are willing to collaborate with us to achieve the full purpose of the centre.” He also said his organisation is considering forming public and private partnerships in pursuit of an agricultural sector that meets the job creation requirements as a tool for fighting poverty and food insecurity.
The Nation learnt that at the sub regional level, for instance, FARA has teamed up with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based n Hyderabad, India to establish the West African Agri-Business Resource Incubator (WAARI) in Mali. It is the first ever full-fledged agri-business incubator in West Africa.
WAARI is one of the six agri-business incubators being established under UniBRAIN project of FARA, with the Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) programme of ICRISAT’s Agri-Business and Innovation Platform (AIP) as the handholding and mentoring partner. The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) is financially supporting the initiative in Africa.
The World Bank projects that agriculture and agri-business together would be a $ 1 trillion industry in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2030, compared to $313 billion in 2010. “They (agriculture and agri-business) should be at the top of the agenda for economic transformation and development,” the World Bank said.
Currently, there are successful business incubators in other sectors, especially Information and Communications Technology (ICT), engineering and manufacturing. But with the growing awareness of the importance of extending the initiative to the agric sector, Nigeria’s hope of riding on the back of the agric sector to grow the non-oil sector and create jobs is getting brighter.
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