By Olatunji Olaigbe
Students of the Faculty of Agriculture in the University of Ilorin, and perhaps across agricultural faculties nationwide have a name for it—Farmercist.
The slang ‘Farmercist’ is a bridge between two words: Farmer and Pharmacy, and is comically used to identify students who applied to study medicine, especially pharmacy, but found themselves shoved into the faculty of agriculture.
University of Ilorin (Unilorin) ranks as one of Nigeria’s most sought tertiary institution. It has an estimated student population of 50,662 undergraduates and 4,516 post-graduates. It’s faculty of agriculture ranks as the University’s second most populated faculty, in the 2019/2020 session, it’s faculty of agriculture contained 5,580 students, being 9.86% of the university’s total student population.
It’s not just in the University of Ilorin. Nigeria is filled with students studying agriculture and its related courses in tertiary institutions. Yet this huge population in students does not translate to any increase in the professional sphere. Despite misleading statistics, Nigeria suffers a deficit in the practice of “worthwhile agriculture”. Many issues contribute to this, and one of the most accepted hypothesis is that the country’s youths are uninterested in Agriculture.
How does this happen? Despite the country’s large population of students studying agriculture. Professor Idris Ayinde – Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, says, Firstly, over 90% of students found themselves studying agriculture because the academic system pushed them into it, none of them chose it as a preferred course of study”. Data from Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) shows that only about 30,000 aspirants chose agriculture-related courses as a preferred course of study, out of over 1.6 million applicants.
Students lack passion or will to study agriculture, and have valid reasons to do so. “Who has passion for what is forced on you? It’s like the system saying: if you don’t want this particular type of education, then you’re not having any education”, said a student.
Problem also lay in the agricultural labor market. A senior agricultural researcher in most agricultural research institute earns around 150,000 naira (375 dollars) monthly, even in private firms. Farm managers are paid as low as 40,000 naira (100 dollars) monthly in some places, and in rare high-classed jobs – around 100,000 naira (250 dollars). Farm attendants, which constitutes 95% of jobs available in farms are paid below 30,000 (75 dollars), often to work for 30 days a month, no off days.
Professionals in the agricultural industry have to work more than their counterparts, even those in white collared offices. Yet they are paid lower compared to other professionals. “Practicing agriculture involves a lot of stress”, says Professor Ayinde, “yet it’s reward is relatively small and slow”.
Graduates of agricultural courses still compete with graduates of other science-oriented courses to compete for jobs in the agriculture labor market. “Presently, over 80% of our employees are graduates of non-agricultural courses”, says Mr. Olaitan Rafiu, a senior researcher at the headquarters of Nigeria Stored Products Research Institute(NSPRI), Ilorin.
The public also hold a deep resentment for studying agriculture. Most guardians would advise their wards against studying agriculture, and there’s the sentiment that Agriculture belongs to the lower caste of education. In Nigeria, getting a proper education is a struggle. Students and academic staffs of tertiary institutions are revered with respect. However, this respect is somehow tainted when people realize that you’re a student of agriculture.
Many students who admitted to choosing to studying agriculture also admitted to doing so because of inferiority complex. Some did because they felt agriculture had a lower study workload to other courses. Some did because they had been rejected admission several times and knew that they would be accepted if they chose to study agriculture. Some did because they had lower JAMB scores that wouldn’t stand a chance in their preferred course of study.
However, not all is a story of doom. Amongst the mass of students continuously forced into studying agriculture nationwide, there’s a growing reorientation towards the study and practice of agriculture.
Agbelere is a Yoruba term that translate to ‘farming is profitable’. It is also the name of a practical oriented club in the Unilorin. “Agbelere Practical Oriented Club (APOC) aim to encourage the skill and passion of practical agriculture in its members. Mr. Faruq, the president of APOC is an agricultural entrepreneur and consultant.
In 2020, over 40 students of Unilorin’s faculty of agriculture volunteeed in a project tagged, Farms Report. The project was convened by Odewole Abdulmumeen and included students visiting defunct farms in the country, researching the challenges that brought such farms down, and discussing solutions among themselves. The project visited 4 farms in 2 states, but it’s WhatsApp-held conversations included students from many parts of the country.
“I think studying agriculture is a privilege, says Idris Ibrahim, the student librarian of the Faculty of Agriculture, Unilorin, “it gives you a unique view into science, a different kind of exposure”. By it’s definition, Ibrahim Idris is also a ‘Farmercist’, having chosen medicine and surgery as his preferred course of study.
There are still students who choose agriculture as their preferred course of study due to passion. Students like Tolulope, a third-year student of Agronomy, University of Ilorin, to whom agriculture is literally a culture, “My life revolves around agriculture, it gives clarity to my phases of growth. Personally, it’s beyond growing plants.”