Time was when people had to toil working the land to make a living. Before the advent of mechanised agriculture, the machete was used to clear land, which was then cultivated with hoe and shovel and planted with yam, seeds and cassava. Everything the farmers did was by hand. Now that mechanised agriculture exists, hardly anyone is willing to engage in manual cultivation. Young people are running away from agriculture, above all because they lack the machinery.
In several poor countries, the governments have been trying their best to promote agriculture, e.g. through financial assistance. While this is to be welcomed, it does not tackle the main issue. Many farmers do have enough capital to embark on small- or medium-scale agriculture, but they lack the money to buy a tractor. Microfinance schemes and banks supported by the government are meant to provide farmers without collaterals low-interest loans. Those eligible to apply for the credits are individuals in paid employment, micro-, small, medium and large-scale farmers, corporate organisations, NGOs and government agencies engaged in agriculture. All the banks are required to do is to verify customers’ information and visit their proposed farm site and residential addresses to know their identity. But who actually gets these loans?
I met with farmers who were complaining that the banks had asked them to bring someone along who was willing to stand bail for them. Many were unable to do so. Some of those who had successfully secured a loan only embarked on poultry, fishery, and animal husbandry. Crop cultivation would have required a tractor, which they couldn’t afford. But we won’t be able to achieve food security only with meat production.
To me, the most important thing for farmers is the machinery that will help them do more work than they could with crude implements like the hoe or the shovel. True, they need financial support. And there are local lenders who are willing to give them loans, albeit often at a high interest rate. But offering farmers a tractor for hire would be far more important. If the government has tractors the local farmers can hire to cultivate land, I believe that more youths will venture into crop production.
Tractors ought to be available in the agricultural department of every local government authority for farmers to hire at a very low rate. Youths who are now leaving rural areas for urban areas in search of jobs they are not sure of could then opt for crop production, also on a commercial scale. Many young people are in fact interested in farming, but the lack of means to buy a tractor is putting them off. Tractors for hire and more flexible loan arrangements targeting unemployed youths in particular would be an ideal way to stem the urban exodus and get more young people back into agriculture.
About the author:
Innocent Chukuwenite is a farmer based in Anambra/Nigeria.