Youths in Agriculture: The perspective of Graduate Internship Scheme.
By Suleiman Haruna
The most crucial period in the life of a Nigerian graduate begins with the completion of national service. The dreams that have piled up after years of study and exposure to endless possibilities, either come true or pop like balloons. Some graduates get jobs, others start small businesses, while yet others remain disconnected and roam the streets in search of direction. This sometimes takes years, leading to disillusionment, anger, and in extreme cases, negative payback.
Key things that jobs do to graduates are providing a means of livelihood, a constant destination for the day, a stream of colleagues to share with and above all a justification for all those years spent studying. Even though these are the yearnings of all graduates, only those that get jobs benefit from them; but those that do not have jobs now have a bridge that will link them to the job market and expose them to all the benefits listed above, at least on a temporary scale.
Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) has provided the bridge that transports graduates from the classroom to the labour market in a transmogrified, sharpened, blended, garnished, motivated format that makes them more appealing, hands-on and ready to perform the task set before them. GIS has done this to thousands of graduates for over a year now and every one of them has a different story to tell, putting the lie to the assertion that Nigerian graduates are not employable.
GIS can stand by this claim based on the number of graduates that got full employment within a few months of internship, others get retained at the end, or get employed by other firms that find them skillful and experienced – something they were not before their internship. The firms that take these graduates are in every sector; public and private, providing a kaleidoscope of experiences for both the firms and the interns across the country.
Beyond these individual experiences, there have been challenges that have appeared in the polity that require new windows of solution. Many states governments have over time abandoned agriculture and now desire to get back to it and make it attractive, especially to young people. They desire to contract the services of agricultural scientists, agricultural economists, agricultural engineers, veterinarians, extension workers and many more professionals in that sector. Problem is they do not want to employ workers, especially those that are not hands-on.
In Zamfara state, a conglomerate of four firms in the agriculture sector, Hoe Farmers, Food, afrimea trading and applied for 500 graduates and got approval for 250, the interns were primarily trained to provide extension services to farmers in their local governments of residence. This, according to the coordinator of the conglomerate, Hon. Abdulkadir Nasir, has become necessary as farmers are now on their own.
“The public extension workers are getting old, few and are retiring, while the service is still in demand, as farmers need to have climate information, improved seedlings, options in procuring fertilizer and information on programs and schemes of government they can benefit from.” He said GIS has provided a convenient window to get graduates that can be trained and motivated to take over the extension sub-sector and build a career along the agriculture value chain.
“We have trained and deployed the graduates and they are now in the field in their various locations to provide extension services; we will continue to update them to be able to do their jobs well. We have asked interns in each local government to register a cooperative association with a view to providing them a basis to continue as a business after the expiration of 12 months of internship. Each intern contributes N5000 monthly, out of their N30,000 stipend, to their cooperative account, so that they can use the funds to secure facilities from lending institutions. The farmers, seeing the importance of the services provided, may subscribe to the cooperatives for regular updates and queries, thus divesting government of the service eventually.”
The interns have their individual stories – Hassan Bangaje studied Cooperative Economics. He claims to encourage his colleagues on how to maximize the benefits of the cooperative associations they have set up. He participates fully in the primary assignment of providing extension services to farmers. As a secondary posting, he works in the fisheries unit of the state agricultural service centre at ..where he is learning how to raise catfish. He is already saving money to start his own fish farm to sustain himself. Mahe Bala studied Botany, works in the same unit but he has already set up his own catfish farm, which he did with savings from his stipend, he plans to sustain himself after internship. The same goes for Ibrahim Hassan Magazu, who studied agricultural engineering and plans to set up his own farm after exit.
Other interns have branched out and taken advantage of the financial inclusion policy of government, which has birthed mobile money and agent banking businesses. All interns have received training in this area and they are encouraging their farmers and community members to subscribe and make and receive payments through them. Francesca Nnaji and Amina Suleiman Mohammed are examples of interns that are taking this business seriously as it is expanding very fast and will eventually obviate the need for them to seek other paid jobs as they now make between 12,000 and 20,000 monthly. Abdurrahman Salihi has invested into agro-chemical business, for which he makes supplies to government and private agencies and believes he has no need for a paid job anymore. Hamisu Hamidu who works in the poultry unit claims to have saved N40,000 and set up a poultry business, which is doing very well.
Hon. Nasir said they have introduced all interns to irrigation farming, which is good business in the state, as well as cooperative housing which the interns can use their cooperative societies to apply for from the Federal Mortgage Bank and the National Health Insurance Scheme to enable the interns to benefit from the scheme’s Community-based health insurance package. The interns have also been keyed into the state’s tree planting campaign to ward-off desertification. “our hope is that this scheme should have a policy to make it permanent, so that this youth unemployment cancer can be done with once and for all”
Within the first six months of the scheme in Zamfara, the state government has sought the permission of the conglomerate and employed 75 of the interns, while Teasy Mobile, a mobile money firm has employed 7 interns to run its business in various localities due to the interest they have shown and progress they have made since their orientation. The conglomerate is recognized as a shining example in the utilization of interns and have been granted approval to replace the 82 interns that have moved on.
Various sectors are benefitting from the deployment of GIS interns across the country, each in their own way, having their own story. GIS will share those stories, for, there is love in sharing, especially for this project of social protection and common good.
Participating is simple. Graduates visit http://www.wyesurep.gov.ng to register, indicating their degrees, location and sectors of choice, then they wait to be matched to an employer that indicates interest to have them. The employers also register on the same site, indicating their business as well as location and branch details. They get called to confirm registration and tax details in order to screen out those that are not eligible, they also get physical visits to confirm their statements during the calls. Once they qualify, they get an approval with a ceiling on the number of graduates they can match.
Governments, businesses, NGOs, Civil Society organizations, professional bodies and institutions and any viable and verifiable organization that has mentoring capacity is eligible to apply. By so doing, they will be fulfilling their corporate social responsibility, getting free labour and selecting staff for permanent appointment with ease.
GIS is one of the social safety net components of Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).