By Cecilia Ijuo
Cuso, an international development organisation has trained over 10,000 Nigerian youths in its 15 million Canadian dollar Youth Leadership Entrepreneurship Access and Development (YOULEAD) Project.
Cuso Country Representative, Mr Ebrima Sonko, made this known at its YOULEAD Learning and Sharing Forum in Abuja on Wednesday.
YOULEAD is a five year project, implemented by Cuso, in partnership with Cross River State Government and other partners, and funded by the Canadian Government through Global Affairs Canada.
Sonko said that of the 10,000 youths that had been trained, the organisation had assisted 3,500 to be gainfully engaged.
He said that the project, which was being implemented in Cross River, was meant to create a supportive platform for young people to have access to information on value chains, training opportunities and employment information.
He said that while the project was streamlined to Cross River, it accommodated all eligible youths from different parts of the country, residing in Cross River.
“The project value is 15 million Canadian dollars and it is funded by the Canadian government through Global Affairs Canada.
“Our interventions are at different levels, the technical training on entrepreneurship and more than 10,000 youths have been trained and out of that, 3500 have been put on jobs to ensure they started something.
“I am sure you are wondering what happens to the gap.
“We do not have the financing means to put everybody in business and not all the people that you train are actually meant for entrepreneurship but the good thing is that once they have that orientation, they go ahead to start their own business,” he said.
The country representative disclosed that the project, which was due to wrap up in December, had impacted tremendously on the lives of the youths from surveys carried out so far.
“The programme started some five years back to respond to the key issues we found in our analysis in Cross River, including high level of unemployment.
“That was the bad part, the better part is that Cross River is naturally endowed with vegetation and we thought that was an advantage.
“So we thought that a programme that will look at youth employment within the natural resource sector will be a good way to approach the challenges in the state.”
On getting youths to key into the project in view of supposed youths’ apathy to agriculture, Sonko said it was true that young people did not like agriculture.
He, however, noted that the problem was more of lack of orientation on potential and opportunities that abound in the agriculture value chain.
According to him, agriculture is not limited to farming but encompasses processing, marketing and distribution among others.
“We know clearly that young people are not lazy people, they want to do something.
“When we called for young people to apply to work with us, we received good response.
“The only problem is that they do not know exactly what they want to do. They do not know how to do it, the opportunity is not there and all of that.
“That is why our first training was not straight into business. To change their mindset, we started off by letting them know that they have to start and pull through gradually.
“We also told them they have to be dedicated to know the principles of entrepreneurship.
“Then we put them through in technical training in the area they want to work and attached them to the right people and financing institutions so that they can get some funding.
“This programme will be ending in December. It was meant to end in March but then the donor extended it by six months so that we can responsibly close this project.”
Sonko said the project was meant to focus on the natural resource sector while narrowing to the agricultural sector.
According to him, youths have been trained in the various value chains in poultry, cassava, palm fruit and other agricultural areas.
On the Learning and Sharing Forum, Sonko said it was meant to share lessons from the project, stimulate discussions on sustainable and inclusive youth employment and entrepreneurship.
Ms Sophie Price, the Canadian High Commission First Secretary and Senior Development Officer, Development and Corporation Section, said the Canadian Government was graciously funding the project in view of its expected impact.
She said while the challenge if unemployment among the youth and particularly the women was real, it was not insurmountable.
According to her, with the right environment and necessary support, Nigerian youths will surpass expectations, adding that “Nigerian youths have creativity and ingenuity”.
She called for women mainstreaming, saying “women are disproportionately affected by poverty. There should be inclusiveness for women and children.”
Mrs Ibironke Olubamise, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Coordinator for the Global Environment Facility Programme said it was time youth entrepreneurship was taken seriously.
She encouraged youths to embrace entrepreneurship, saying, “this is where the world is going’’.
“The advantages of green economy are enormous and the first thing is the desire to make a change and to live a meaningful life.
“If any youth is ready to live a meaningful life and not wait for white collar job, that gives such a person an open mind to explore opportunities.”
On youths not finding agriculture interesting because it is perceived dirty, the coordinator said, “there is no job that does not have its good and ugly side.
“As it stands agriculture is our future as a country. If you get your hands dirty, you can also get it clean and then smile to the bank.
“Waiting for white collar jobs will get you frustrated and when it comes, if it comes at all, they cannot pay you what you are worth.
“Farming for instance has even gone beyond getting hands dirty. You can go into mechanised farming, partnerships, processing, sale and marketing and all that. The opportunities abound.”
While commending the Federal Government for its interventions in youth empowerment, she called for a national plan on youth entrepreneurship with emphasis on environmental management.
She urged government to do more in the area of power, road and all the needed infrastructure to boost agriculture and encourage entrepreneurship.
Olubamise said with proper plan and the political will, Nigeria would be able to make the needed change and provide the needed support, particularly to the youths.