By Ebele Orakpo
Professor Abayomi George Ojanuga is a professor of soil science at the Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. In this chat with Vanguard Learning in Abuja recently, Ojanuga speaks on the role of soil scientists/researchers in food security and the need for more extension workers in the field if Nigeria’s march towards self-sufficiency in food production must be realised. Excerpts:
Role of research in food security:
According to Professor Ojanuga, the role of research in food production cannot be overemphasized. “Research generates information on soils and crops and the information is passed to extension workers for onward transmission to farmers. So, there is linkage – from the field to the laboratory and laboratory to field. Farmers bring their problems through the extension officers to the researchers.
The researchers investigate and find solutions to the problems and then send back this information through the extension officers to the farmers. Research is the key to agricultural production so in optimizing production, information on the soil and water are very important and research generates all these information that will eventually go to farmers.
“What soil scientists do is to look at the soil on the farm, analyse it appropriately, characterize it and classify it and then tell the farmer its limitations. The limitations will then guide the farmer in terms of the fertilizers to use to correct the soil. So soil information is very important. You have to know the soil, get the information about it and pass it to the farmer and advise him appropriately. The soil information is given in interpreted form and not in the big sounding words. We give it to the farmer in a simple language such as ‘your soil is suitable’ or ‘your soil is not suitable.’
The farmer then asks why and we give him the reason such as low organic matter content or low nitrogen content or low phosphorus content, and then we tell him how to manage it, the kind of fertilizer to use. The fertilizer you use has to be appropriate; it must be the kind of fertilizer that the soil will be able to retain and later release to plants. It is what the soil releases to plants that they eat. Of the total elements of nature, 17 are very good for plant nutrition and it is the soil that will release them to the plants,” he said.
Soils are specific:
Asked whether a farmer can grow any crop he wishes on a soil once it is corrected with the right fertilizer, Ojanuga replied in the negative. “No, soils are specific in the kind of crops they can grow. Once you have information on a soil, then you could recommend to the farmer the kind of crop he can grow. Not only that, you also recommend the kind of fertilizer he needs to add to be suitable for that soil.”
Land resources grossly underutilised:
“When you go across the country, you see so vast a land unutilised. In fact, every year, we normally put just about 36 per cent of total cultivable land into use so the land resources are grossly underutilised for agriculture. We should not be having food problem in this country; our farmers are very energetic and ready to work but they do not have the necessary information about their soil to optimize production. There is a huge gap between what the farmers are getting and the potentials of the land. I think we need to close that gap.
Teach the farmers how to manage their soils appropriately and then fertilizer will be meaningful. The farmer can use fertilizer and not really get the best from it because there are certain things they need to know about the soil in managing it appropriately. Soil information and fertilizers go together; that means you must have the information about the soil.
“There is need for us to have enough extension workers to reach out to farmers. Unfortunately, the number of extension workers is very small and that is because in the past 15 to 20 years, the production of middle level manpower has gone down tremendously, reason being that government did not pay attention strictly to agriculture.
Then you find out that those who are in the middle level schools like the polytechnics, want to go to the university to get higher degrees instead of staying in the middle level cadre. The problem is that there is no proper attention given to extension training,” said Ojanuga.
Advice to govt:
“I think the new drive, tagged Agricultural Transformation Agenda, is a good programme but first, there is need for a detailed soil survey of the country. That detailed soil survey will determine the kind of information the farmer needs. You will tell him the limitations of his land and then he begins to work on those limitations. It could be limitations in terms of water availability, nutrient availability to plants and then he can plan appropriately to apply either water or nutrients as the case may be depending on the capability of the soil to release the nutrients to the plants.”