By Emmanuel U. Tibi
Fellow Deltans, His Excellency, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa promised to tackle the issues of job creation and poverty alleviation, as soon as he got inaugurated as Governor of Delta State, on May 29, 2015. That was a promise made as a politician, which for most Nigerians would go with the wind as soon as elections are won or lost. Now, May 29, 2015 is gone; he has become the Governor and he has started putting his promises into action, by instituting a set of job creation and wealth-building programmes for Deltans to key into, in order that there will be prosperity for all Deltans, under him watch. Unlike moribund programmes of such nature in the past, which became dead on arrival, due to absence of genuine commitment to their success, these programmes are aimed at fruitfully, productively and committedly making Delta State an exemplary state in matters relating to every Deltan working to earn a livelihood and so becoming prosperous through personal aspiration and perspiration.
His Excellency, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State Governor
There are six thematic areas in the programmes design that guarantee a space for each and every Deltan who has the “can-do” spirit, who puts away political patronage, post-election empowerment, cronyism, political leadership, traditional leadership etc and who relies solely on personal productive capacity for survival and prosperity. The programmes include:
Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP)
Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP)
Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP)
Extensions of Loans and
Development of Agro-industries
A cursory look at these programmes shows that provisions have been made for every Deltan who has the mindset to help drive the prosperity agenda in the state, to fit into one programme or the other. There is room for the youth, the skilled and unskilled, the unemployed, the prospective SME entrepreneur, the established entrepreneur looking to expand business, the subsistence farmer wishing to transform into a modern technology-driven farmer, the cooperative society members seeking relevance in the agro, agri-business and agro-allied concerns as well as the person with a large cache of cash looking for a profitable venture to invest in. As stated in the facts sheet, the objectives of the schemes include, but are not limited, to the following:
Create jobs and wealth;
Diversify the economy;
Engage youths in productive enterprises;
Nurture entrepreneurs and leaders;
Promote communal peace and security.
In the long term, these programmes, if honestly and diligently implemented as envisioned, will lead to:
A lasting change in the mindset of our youths concerning hard work being the only way to livelihood;
Sustainable job creation as a result of the spiral effect of new jobs creating more jobs for skilled personnel;
Having a throw-back effect on our educational system to make it more functional;
Cross Section of Unemployed Graduates in a conference in Asaba, Delta state, Recently. Many are Part of the Would be Beneficiaries of the Scheme
Instilling the spirit of egalitarianism amongst our youths and
Guaranteeing enduring prosperity for all.
In all these, there is the need for people to have a clear understandings of what are for offer in these programmes, so that those who are dubiously motivated will not face “disappointment” in future. These programmes are purpose-driven and are aimed at turning things around for the better, for all Deltans who are desirous of change. A brief analysis of my personal perception of each of these programmes might help in defining their objects and intents:
Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP): This involves training of young persons in agricultural skills for productivity and entrepreneurship in agriculture and agribusiness. Intending participants in this programme are coming from diverse backgrounds, with some already exposed to some measure of agricultural training, while others are bereft of any previous skills, but have the interest to engage and ultimately invest in agriculture and agribusiness. They all need to be skilled in practical productive agriculture and in management of agribusiness, strictly for the profit motive. They all need to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge, motivation and especially manipulative skills as well as the business savvy to benefit from the programme. Only youths who are genuinely motivated to succeed in agriculture will make it. Believe me, not every person can succeed as a farmer, you have to possess appropriate farming skills to be a successful agricultural entrepreneur. The programme is not another government employment; rather you are to be trained to become self-employed in agriculture/agribusiness to set up your own enterprise and become an employer of labour. Government will mentor, monitor and support successful agro-entrepreneurs to make the programme sustainable in the long run.
Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP): Besides agriculture, there are several other occupations which abound in our communities, that are neglected and for which operators are in short supply. These vocational areas are unfortunately looked upon with disdain, especially by our youths; yet, these are the occupations that feed the middle class who have such skills, in other prosperous climes. People who have skills in such occupations are the small-and medium enterprises owners (SMES) and in the USA, they account for over ninety percent of the work force in the country, largely made up of service providers and ground-floor factory production workers. They comprise of technicians, equipment operators, electricians, electronics repairers, masons, carpenters, caterers, musicians and instrumentalists, videographers, computer operators, auto-mechanics, auto-electricians, vehicle body workers, iron-mongers, beauticians, hairstylists, cobblers goldsmiths, blacksmiths, tailors etc.
These are stand-alone occupations and cottage industries evolve from entrepreneurships built on and around these numerous skills. Self-reliance is easy to attain by properly trained and vocationally skilled persons. Moreover, skill acquisition in these occupations will not harm or taint academic achievements of our youths; rather it will broaden the spectrum of choices available to our teaming unemployed youths. Emphasis will be on training on the manipulative skills of the occupations.
There will be follow-up activities such as mentoring on innovations in such occupations, monitoring of progress and support in form of easier conditions for accessing factors of production like land, labour and capital; management skills would be part of the training for productivity and entrepreneurship in such occupations.
Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP): This programme is a window of opportunity for agriculturists who wish to expand their agricultural enterprises as well as for non-agriculturists who wish to invest in agro-based industries. According to the facts sheet of Governor Okowa’s job and wealth creation schemes, PPSP involves the provision of subsidized inputs to crop, livestock, fish farmers and equipment for agricultural processing enterprises, for enhanced outputs and productivity, agricultural incomes and food security. This is also about entrepreneurship centred around generation of agricultural produce and their processing into agricultural products and by-products for consumption, preservation, distribution and marketing. Most agricultural produce are harvested in their raw-states which are easily perishable (low shelf-life) and so they need to be processed to reduce wastage, extend their shelf-lives and convert them into consumable or usable forms, in order to raise their values and profitability to the agriculturists/entrepreneurs. The government intends to support such farmers/investors with subsidized production inputs like seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, herbicides, land preparation equipment; livestock inputs like day-old-chickens, piglets, fishing nets, fish fingerlings etc. More importantly, farmers’ produce will be subjected to subsidized modern technology-based processing to raise their values in the market and prevent deterioration and wastage. So the subsidies are expected to be in kind, in the form of production and processing resources. This shall be accompanied with effective monitoring, in order to track the sustainable application of the inputs and the resulting outputs. Quality products will be exported to international markets and urban locations.
Tractorisation: This consists of a more efficient way of bringing basic agricultural mechanization to the rural farmers, that will not be hampered by bureaucracy, or as a result of paucity of personal funds. Land preparation is key to successful and modern farming because it lends itself to large scale agriculture, farming by collectivization as well as cooperative monocropping practices. The Tractorisation scheme is aimed at transferring the management of tractor services to farmers themselves in order to enhance affordable access to tractor services, reduce drudgery, improve mechanized agriculture and promote agribusiness, as stated in the facts sheet. Farmers that will benefit from this tractorisation scheme are likely to be those that are moving away from subsistence mixed cropping to sole cropping, commercial farmers, members of farmers’ cooperative societies and contiguous farm collectives cultivating similar sole crops. Tractors and farm implements like ploughs, harrows, ridgers, planters, fertilizer and herbicide spreaders etc shall be procured and sold at subsidized rates to farmer-groups, cooperative societies and organized agro-entrepreneurs to manage, so that farmers can benefit from the agricultural subsidy programme. The tractorisation programme will also serve as an avenue for creating jobs and skill acquisition for willing youths in tractor operation. The teaming graduates of agricultural engineering and farm mechanization from the universities, polytechnics and monotechnics will be trained in the skills of tractor operation and subsequently deployed to operate these agricultural equipment, for the upliftment of agriculture in Delta State. Benefiting farmer groups will beheld accountable for the success of the programme, through effective maintenance and management of the farm equipment.
Extension of Loans: As part of the job and wealth creation strategies of the Okowa administration, loans and microcredit facilities will be provided for farmers, traders, women and youths who are genuinely involved in enterprises, trades and service provision, to enable them expand their businesses, and invariably help to drive the job creation and poverty alleviation of the citizenry. Unlike previous programmes of loans and microcredit extension to Deltans farmers, traders, women and youths which were characterized by various forms of abuses, especially the governance process that gulped the greater percentage of the appropriated facilities, the expectation is that this programme will be managed such that the funds go directly to productive beneficiaries, who will in turn repay the credits granted, for recycling to other beneficiaries. It is hoped that emphasis will be less on ceremonies and media hype, and more on effective disbursement to functional beneficiaries and timely recovery of repayment for onward extension to other beneficiaries. Such loans should to go committed farmers, agribusinesses, processing enterprises; self-employed craftsmen, artisans, technicians and they should be encouraged to engage workers who have skills in the trades and businesses, to help reduce unemployment in the State.
Development of Agro-industries: As an agrarian State it is germane that emphasis on job creation and wealth growth should be hinged on agricultural development. Most of the other five programmes, as can be seen, are centred on evolving sustainable agriculture which will engender agricultural produce output beyond our consumptive capacity. For these produce not to go to waste, there is the need to convert them into industrial raw materials, products and by-products. As envisioned in the fact sheet, development of agro-industries involves the establishment of modular agro-processing plants (factories) to increase market for agricultural produce, develop out-growers (for commercial agro-produce), promote value addition (generate quality products that attract high market values) as well as create jobs and wealth. Research is ongoing in several institutes and tertiary institutions on ways of converting agricultural produce like cassava, palm oil, kernel oil, yam tubers, fruits, seed, animal products etc into processed products which should be preserved, added as components of processed foods and feeds, additives, medications, nutritional supplements, beverages etc.
These agro-industries are expected to mop up the glut of agro-produce which occur during seasons of harvest, that ordinarily perish because of crude preservation practices. Since electricity supply remains a major challenge, preservation of fresh agricultural produce through refrigeration and freezing is not practicable, so produce need to be preserved in processed, long shelf-life forms, which are equally easier to handle through these agro-industries. This shall encourage primary producers to increase their agricultural capacities and create jobs for the factory workers too.
In summary there are key points to note in these job and wealth creation programmes.
The programmes emphasize agricultural skills for agricultural productivity beyond subsistence to commercial agriculture levels.
Modern agricultural practices, including mechanization and tractorisation will be encouraged, with commensurate skill-building amongst youths.
There will be emphasis on specialized agriculture, sole cropping and collectivization of monocropping which will be amenable to mechanization and tractorisation, factory-based processing of raw agricultural produce etc.
Skills training shall be of top priority in the crafts, trades, agribusinesses, social services, entertainment and hospitality industries with appropriate value re-orientation for youths to become self-reliant job creators and not employment seekers.
Microcredits and loans will be extended to viable farmers, tradesmen, youths with entrepreneurial ideas, agro-processors, cooperative societies etc, who will establish or expand their enterprises, become self-employed, create jobs for skilled workers and make Deltans prosperous by earning their livelihoods through productivity and entrepreneurship.
Agricultural produce will be salvaged by being processed into products, by-products and recycled wastes, thus adding values to farm produce and growing the agribusiness market.
Conclusively, Deltans are encouraged to key into this job and wealth creation programmers of the S.M.A.R.T agenda of the Governor Okowa administration, which is poised to take Deltans to higher heights through productive work ethics and sustainable, self-reliant entrepreneurial engagements. This is the road to job and wealth creation for the prosperity of all.
Emmanuel U. Tibi, Ph.D. teaches Vocational and Entrepreneurship Education at College of Education, Agbor.