Agriculture in Nigeria has an image problem, particularly among its youths population. Simply put, for the majority of the Nigeria’s youth, agriculture is simply not considered attractive. Perhaps because the government in the country had overtime failed to make the sector attractive despite the huge roles it plays in contributing to the GDPs of most of the biggest economies in the world. Most think of it only as back-breaking labour, without an economic pay-off—and little room for career advancement.
However, as tough times beckoned following the drop of crude oil price in the international market, there has been a resurgence of interest among young Nigerians who have recently discovered a new trade in farming. Some have tagged farming as the ’’pin code’’ to unlocking the gold mines in the country’s arable lands. These youths have not only taken farming as trade but have also seized the opportunity to express themselves as part of their contributions to nation building.
They have not only defied the curse of joblessness through farming to earn a decent living but also using the efforts to create and provide jobs for other youths like them and even for the old. They do not stop there; while doing this, they are also adding values to the life of the host communities. And there are those who have been outstanding in their efforts in self-empowerment.
For Retson Tedekhe, earning a decent living through farming to make ends meet is a necessity, not a choice. He wants to have an impact on the society. He wants to make a difference so as to touch lives as part of his human desire. He said that is the only way to express true patriotism to the country in the fight to encourage food security and provide jobs through the informal sector.
’’You can’t grow your country without looking at the agricultural sector. I can afford to live without my phone or car but I can’t afford to not feed because that is the essence of humanity. You must eat to live. Every other thing can wait but food cannot wait. Development is premise on how you are able to feed yourself or provide food for your people, Said Mr Retson.
When you find a youth who is so passionate about agriculture despite the challenges he had encountered in his journey in the agro business, you would want to know what really went wrong.
This is the story of Retson Tedekhe, young graduate from Delta State now doing his exploit in the agricultural sector, coordinating a national movement that have provided over 1,200 jobs to Nigerians through its agricultural initiatives in less than a year, who said he left the creek some years back when he realised that he had no life there and wanted to contribute meaningfully in building a system that will fast-track the development of the country.
Coming to Abuja in 2016, he organised several protests and one of them was the popular Occupy NASS which led to the shot down of the National Assembly gate for two days before he was granted audience by the Senate President, Snator Bukola Saraki.
Retson and his members were simply demanding for good governance and the probe into corrupt cases among members of the National Assembly. But as it will always turned out to be because of the usual Nigeria factor, nothing was done. So to most people, it was an effort of futility but for him, it was a success because he had made an attempt to correct some societal ills, and voice was registered.
What next? ’’It was the insanity of our mentality that drove us to the farm’’, he told Leadership Weekend while relishing his experience in a recent interview. Retson initiated an idea (Occupy Farm) where he called on other youths across the country to put resources together to occupy the farms, a direct replacement of the Occupy NASS agenda, and it spread like wild fire attracting hundreds of Nigerians who immediately keyed into the idea. He said the idea was to liberate the people to become decision makers in what affects them in the polity.
’’’Instead of going to the national assembly to shut down the gate and hoping that politician will perform overnight, of course we knew that most of them would not, we felt that let us look for a way to empower our people so that when it is time to elect their next round of leaders, they can have an independent voice to make that choice that would affect their lives in the future which is far secure than collecting one thousand naira from a politician, said Mr Retson who spoke passionately about the need for young Nigerians to be encouraged to occupy farms.
’’Look at the Nigerian economy today, one of the things we have that is capable of driving real growth is agriculture. We have land and we have the manpower. So we felt that if we were able to use what we have as a nation and come together and empower our people, then we can give them a voice.
’’And not just that, you are also creating a process where you can empower the Nigerian economy. We are talking about diversification, we are talking about moving from the oil economy, which is defiantly going to kill the Nigerian system and you have to consider other alternatives and so on. That is the essence of the occupy farm initiative.
Today, under the Occupy Farm initiatives, over 250 people in Geate, Gokona Local Government Area of Nassarawa State have been engaged through the initiative, with over 3,000 hectares of land being cultivated with maize while preparations are on-going for other crops in the circle of cultivation.
’’With the farms in Gatea in Nassarawa and in Adamawa, it became clear that if you are paying a man in a rural area over thirty thousand in a month couple from what he gets from his own farm, the temptation of collect one thousand naira from a politician in every election circle won’t be there. The idea here is not only empowering them but also educating them on the need to see themselves as potential stakeholders in the affairs of the nation. It is impossible to look at the actual figures. Here in Nasarawa State, we have about 250 people on our direct pay roll and in Adamawa, we have about a thousand of them. Through this initiative, most of them have been able to pay their school fees, take care of their families, feed and take care of their basic needs. The impact has been there. We have been able to construct a community learning centre for the Gaete community.
How he was able to fund the project, Mr. Retson said, ’’it has been one year of hell but that was actually what we expected. It is the same narrative we are making in regards to the Nigerian state today. People want change in a twinkle of an eye. That is not change but miracle and magic. If you decide that you want to change, you have to go through the process that other nations took.
He said he thought it was something the government was to come in to subsidise and even provide incentives like loans through the Anchor Borrowers Programme when they started but nothing has been done. Funding according him was made available through individuals and loan gotten from non-traditional micro finance bodies.
’’Funding is a major issue with regard to the Nigerian farmer today. But there are opportunities and project where companies and individuals who believe in the same course are willing to support the process.
’’The processes of development are rough and tough and it is always going to take time. It is always going to be process of internal struggle. And so the struggle of the Nigerian state is the struggle we are having in the farm. It is been difficult but we have been able to weather the storm despite the numerous challenges we have encountered since inception.
’’This year, we are going to have not less than 3 thousand tons of maize coming out from the farm and when you look at all these indices, you can said yes we have added something to the society. We have added something to the Nigerian state and of course we have also added to our personal development and growth out of the experiences, added Mr Retson who said that was the holistic approach to the change Nigerians are talking about.
’’It has been a battle to raise fund and let me tell you the truth that Nigerians are willing to go to the farm. Farming is a very lucrative business if the government is willing to make it attractive but access to funding, resources and subsidies have become a major issue and that really need to be worked out, he appealed.
Ibrahim Adamu, the traditional ruler of Gaete community said he never anticipated what these Nigeria youths are doing. ’’The first time Retson and his group visited my community I thought they were coming to grab our lands in the guise of farming but today the narratives have changed. He is a good person, and he has succeeded not only in providing jobs for our youths, women and their husbands, he has further strengthened the unity of the community through the sports competition he organised for our youths.
He has through this farm initiative, with his comrades help us build a community learning centre and equipped it. It is unprecedented.
Youth leaders of the community, Adamu BabaGaete, said ’’if other Nigerian youths would have the heart of Mr. Retson, life in the country would have been better. He said ’’the story of Occupy Farm has changed the story of the Gaete community. We now see government paying close attention to our community because of the news of a massive agriculture investment here.
’’We have been engaged and empowered through this project and we are happy. We are appealing to the government to come in and assist because it is not easy for private individuals to run a massive project of this nature without government inputs.