– The Sun News

Furthering knowledge: Potentiating food and security for national development (3)

Being continuation of the lecture delivered by Professor Placid C. Njoku, at the 8th convocation lecture and silver jubilee of Michael Okpara Federal University of Agriculture Umudike, Abia State

(Continued from yesterday)

d) Climate change causes an increase in ambient temperature resulting in the melting of the ice cap in the North Pole. In Nigeria, the high ambient temperature aggravates drought, hastens desertification in the North of Nigeria, causes low crop yields, and loss of fodder for ruminant livestock. The drying up of Lake Chad has been attributed to climate change. It also causes flooding in many states resulting in the inundation and destruction of farms as well as intensification of gully and coastal erosions with the attendant extensive loss of farmland and property. It is responsible for inconsistent weather patterns and the promotion of crop and livestock diseases. It is important to point out that some of the cultural practices in the South also exacerbate climate change. The burning of the bush and farms, the resort to firewood, the flaring of gas, the rumination of improperly fed ruminant animals, all these cause the production of greenhouse gases (GHG) with attendant depletion of the ozone layer.

e)   Bio-fuels – Various crop products are currently being used to produce fuel. Consequently, food products, which include staples like cassava, maize, sugar cane, sorghum (and jatropha) can be converted into alcohols such as methanol, ethanol, propane and used to fuel automobiles and machines. This is a major loss to available food and is also a further challenge for more production of these staples.

f) Funding – Providing adequate funding for agricultural development and food production has been a major challenge to Nigerian governments. Agricultural funding windows have included 

i) The Agricultural Credit and Guarantee Scheme Fund, the scheme was established in response to government finding in the mid-1970s that funding was a major challenge for farmers as the deposit money banks reneged in lending to agriculture because of high default of beneficiaries.  Established in 1977, the Agricultural Credit and Guarantee Scheme was to share in the risk of the banks in agricultural lending and hence encourage them to continue to extend credit to the sector. The fund loaned farmers up to N20,000 without collateral and above N20,000 with collateral.

ii) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme,  this agricultural funding  programme is  based in the Central Bank of Nigeria and targeted at providing loans in cash and kind for small-scale farmers (the largest cohort of Nigerian farmers) to support their production of an agreed commodity with the explicit promise that they sell their product  to the Anchor who is an agro-processor. The primary objective of the programme is to develop mutually beneficial partnership between the small-scale farmers of a particular commodity organized as cooperative (of 5 – 20 only) and a processor, the Anchor, who takes the commodity from the farmer, pays off the farmer through his bank. Other programme objectives include to reduce the level of poverty among smallholder farmers and to assist rural smallholder farmers to grow from subsistence to commercial production levels.

Specific guidelines have been published to enable interested budding and small-scale agri-preneurs take advantage of the funding programme (CBN, 2016).  It is my call that, functionally, the programme be expanded to include all commodities and all states of the federation.

g) Brazen corruption:  Corruption is endemic in Nigeria. Daily reports of the amounts of public funds reported to be misappropriated, stolen and misapplied by individuals are just incredible. These are funds that could be used to fund development projects and programmes, including food production programmes. We must appreciate that corruption is not just related to stealing of money. Non-payment of tax, padding of contracts, cheating at work, cheating in examinations, obtaining favours that are not entitled, all are corruption. The saying that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria is certainly true. Nigerians must kill corruption for the good of nation.

h) Nomadism: This is a cultural practice of cattle rearers, who herd their cattle in search of water, forage and fodder. The issue of herdsmen-crop farmers’ conflict is well known across Nigeria. The challenge is that there is a clash of rights and cultures. The herdsmen exercise their culture of being mobile and their right by trying to feed their animals when they take their animals to areas they can get pastures – such that the animals can be food for Nigerians. The crop farmers also exercise their culture to be sedentary and their right to plant crops to be able to feed their families and the nation. However, the problems are that the herdsman claims that the farmer is encroaching on their gazetted grazing reserves and stock routes while the farmer claims that they inherited their land from their ancestors or that they bought the land. On the balance, both can claim to be right. The saving grace is that knowledge has provided innovations and technologies to make pastures available year round so that the herdsman does not expose himself to the inherent dangers of snakes and wild animals in the bush, avails himself of social programmes of government and he can achieve more secure environment for his animals, including from rustlers. Potential programmes that can help water retention in the Savannah belt include the Great Green Wall project, the Water-trap technology, and Irrigation from high water tables. Such programmes will help in pastures and fodder production. However, to control the number of animals on a unit area, the pastoralists must have certified ownership of the land and endeavor to plant and produce their pastures. Furthermore, this offers an opportunity for entrepreneurs to engage in pastures production and sale to the cattle farmers.

i) Perception of igriculture as a traditional activity: Basically, Nigerians regard agriculture as a cultural or traditional activity. Agriculture was regarded as an activity practiced to produce food for the family. Usually, the labour input of the family was not seen as a cost item, the seeds used came from the previous year’s harvest, a particular farm location yielded very well and so was used yearly. The attitude was that, ‘My father did it this way’ and so it must be right. ‘My father believed that the use of fertilizer would cause the yam to rot soon after harvest’ and so I do not need to use fertilizer. Today, we know that agriculture is a business and, therefore, must be for profit, that what drives Agriculture is technology and not cultural norms, that there are costs to every factor used in agriculture, that agriculture is not just production but involves a value chain involving all activities from obtaining the inputs, to production, processing, storage, distribution and marketing, that efficiency drives agriculture, and that profit must be the motive force behind agriculture. It is indeed basic to agriculture that knowledge, innovation and profit must be the key undercurrents in agricultural business.

Universities of agriculture in food production

While the universities of agriculture may not be able to cure corruption and defeat Boko Haram, the universities can certainly define and re-define the elements of the agricultural process/ business in each zone and if necessary design remediation programmes for their respective zones. Consequently, the experts from the universities of agriculture can certainly breed seed varieties of our crops, livestock and fish to ensure that the seeds available to farmers are of improved quality and productivity. There are the classical cases of cassava varieties  (from IITA and NRCRI) which today can produce up to 40 metric tons (MT) per Ha instead of the usual 10 – 15 MT/Ha; and of the Shika Brown egg-poultry bred at the National Production Research Institute (NAPRI) in Shika, Zaria, which can lay up to 300 eggs a year instead of the 36 – 60 eggs a year of the local chicken. The implication is that Nigeria can almost triple its cassava production on the same unit of land, and that we can also produce almost 10 times more eggs from one layer chicken.  With increased production of cassava, the nation can convert some to bio-fuel, some to food staples, and still be able to convert some to value-added products such as flour and chips for export. Through genetic selection and manipulations (including artificial insemination and genomics for livestock), Nigeria can produce improved varieties of yam, cocoyam, potatoes, as well as Nigeria broiler chicken, heavier and more productive dairy and beef cattle, sheep and goats. I wish to recall that three years into the commencement of this university, we produced breadfruit (Ukwa, Treculia), pear (Ube) varieties that produced fruits in two to three years instead of five to 10 years. We produced and propagated improved citrus and oil palm seedlings and many farmers planned their cash crop farms with the belief that they would get seedlings from the university.

Cognisant of the overwhelming importance of the oil palm crop in the former Region, this university had the following three-pronged plan to make the oil palm a celebrated Eastern crop.

a) First, the university designated the oil palm as the strategic cash crop of the Eastern Region;

b) Second, the university sought and received initial funding from government to establish a 2,000-Ha oil palm plantation on university land, an effort that was sadly frustrated. In the effort, the university had planned to establish the estate to bring a level of independence to its funding challenges from government. The Federal Government was excited about the novel plan of the university but the plan was thwarted locally.

c) The university had planned to promote the massive re-plantation of the old oil palm groves in the former Region with high-yielding hybrid varieties. To have the authority and the necessary resources to do it, this university sought that government should declare it as the second Centre for Oil Palm Research in Nigeria. This is a vision that should still be pursued.

Today, the University of Agriculture Umudike has the competence to do even more, for example, it can design an appropriate resilient response to emerging challenges of climate change on crops and livestock. University experts can also monitor the initiation of the rainy season and be able to advise farmers on the best times to plant various crops. It is their responsibility to study and disseminate information on breeding, feeding, management and processing systems for crops and livestock to bring increased productivity, efficiency and resilience in the local agricultural system. The university should be in a position to promote the commercialization of agriculture through designing appropriate commercial arrangements between small/medium-scale farmers with off-takers to increase their opportunity to access broader marketing systems and earn more profit from their efforts. These arrangements, which worked for example for the Tobacco industry, would involve preparing water-tight agreements between cooperative producers of an agricultural commodity and an off-taker who would process the commodity into a value-added product. Such an agreement should bond the off-taker to provide key technical and resource needs, mainly in kind, to enable the farmers produce by indicated time lines. Also, the farmer must covenant to use the resources efficiently, produce the quality of commodity as agreed, and offer the commodity to the off-taker at a pre-agreed price. On delivering the commodity, the off-taker pays through the bank the full value of the commodity less the cost of the resources supplied towards the production.

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