By AndrewÂ Dada
SOPEÂ Johnson in his Just A Thought, (see Vanguard, September 8, 2009) underlines one of the major problems the nation must tackle if our leaders seriously intend to develop agriculture in Nigeria. The question of funds is crucial because, as Sope Johnson puts it correctly, modern agriculture is capital intensive.
This explains why many have often called for governmentâ€™s subsidy and of the need to provide the enabling environment for the active participation of foreign entrepreneurs who have the technical know-how to achieve our dream of agricultural development.
Apart from huge capital requirement, there are of course other challenges some of which have not featured much in public discourse in recent times. As I see it, one of the most important of these challenges which seems to have been pushed to the back burner of public attention has to do with the role of the veterinarian in agricultural development in Nigeria.
To understand the point here, one only needs to consider the fate of the cocoa farmer, for example, whose farm is often ravaged by diseases. Many would recall that in the early ’60s, there were several cases of poor quality and quantity yields from cocoa farms resulting from the adverse effects of diseases on cocoa and other cash crops in Nigeria. Faced with such devastating experiences, a peasant farmer simply threw up his arms in pains as if to say: â€œWhat could I have done?â€
Now, with increase in awareness amongst farmers since those long years, would it be safe to assume that the modern-day farmers now know what to do? I would say “no”. In a large number of cases, many, especially the new entrants into farming, do not know what to do, or how to go about it.
Only a few appreciate the role of the veterinarian in controlling diseases. The same is true with animal husbandry. Many poultry farmers across the nation do not have sufficient information on the control of avian flu, for example. And for a nation in short supply of poultry products, the control of avian flu poses a serious challenge to agricultural development.
That is why I think that the leadership of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN) deserves praise for focusing on a topical theme, â€œDisease Control in the 21st Centuryâ€, in its seminar for veterinarians held in Benin-City, Edo State, recently. The seminar was said to be a part of the Councilâ€™s continuing education programme, and it provided a much needed opportunity for veterinarians to up-date their knowledge.
The papers presented were, according to expert opinion, well researched and relevant to our peculiar agricultural problems. I would suggest that the leadership of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria should, in addition to up-dating the professional knowledge of its members, reach out to farmers across the nation with the relevant information required for improved farm yields. Indeed, the practical application of the veterinarianâ€™s knowledge is crucial in the concerted efforts to develop agriculture in Nigeria.
Professional knowledge and experience, hard work, creative talent as well as patriotic fervour can bring about the desired difference in agriculture, as the career of one outstanding veterinarian shows clearly. As far back as the 1970s, Dr. Joseph Edeoghon Akhigbe single-handedly revolutionised poultry farming throughout the geographical Niger Delta region. First, he established a government poultry farm in Oleh, Delta State.
And not one to adopt fire-brigade methods, Akhigbe took practical and proactive steps to stem the outbreak of diseases in his farm. Next, he built an incubator from materials that were 100 per cent sourced locally. Before long, â€œDr. Akhigbeâ€™s agric. chicksâ€, as they were then called, replaced the local breeds known for their lean meat and low egg production.
And perhaps more importantly, Dr. Akhigbeâ€™s breakthrough impacted positively on the social and economic well being of many throughout the Niger-Delta and beyond. Backyard poultry farming became an economically-rewarding venture for many.
In all other positions he held, Dr. Akhigbe made a difference. He revitalized Kikachukwu Farms made up of poultry, piggery and arable crops; and all Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) birds supplied to the then Bendel State by the Federal Government were reared to maturity by him. Records also show that while at Government Livestock Farms as Chief Executive, he produced day-old chicks in millions, broilers in millions and eggs in millions.
The Veterinarian and agric development DR. Akhigbeâ€™s brain child, the incubator, has been copied by enterprising Nigerians and it is serving the needs of poultry farmers throughout Nigeria. He is also renowned for his role in stemming the outbreak of avian flu in Edo State in 2006. Dr. Akhigbe is author/co-author of many publications which are generally acknowledged as key reference materials in veterinary medicine.
The point is this: The role of the veterinarian in accelerating agricultural development should be appreciated by the people. I think it is regrettable that many do not realise that increase in animal protein intake of Nigerians depends heavily on the work of the veterinarian.
Similarly, the control of animal diseases and transmittable diseases (Zoonotic) from animal to man is also one of the major responsibilities of the veterinarian. And, in general, the veterinarianâ€™s activities lead to the creation of jobs. In sum, the veterinarian deserves the nationâ€™s recognition, at least, as a way of motivating other professionals.The promotion and projection of the crucial role the veterinarian plays in accelerating agricultural development should also be an integral part of the efforts of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria.
Mr. Dada, a commentator on national issues, writes from Benin, Edo State.