August 26, 2013

Investment in agricultural research has gone down – Akinbamijo

Investment in agricultural research has gone down – Akinbamijo

*Yemi Akinbamijo

Dr Yemi Akinbamijo has an agriculture background with specialization in animal production. As an agricultural expert who has served in various capacities over the last 28 years, he is solidly plugged-in on agricultural development issues in Africa.

Dr Akinbamijo was recently appointed Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural research in Africa (FARA), he had served the African Union Commission as head of the Agriculture and Food Security Division until June 2013 at the Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Dr Yemi Akinbamijo holds a PhD of the Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.

In this interview with journalists after a visit to the office of Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, he shares his thoughts on Agriculture in Africa.

Here is an excerpt.

On his visit the Minister of Agriculture

Where are here in Abuja because I received an invitation, from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to meet with the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. AKinwunmi Adesina.

Let me put it in perspective, this is the very first mission that I will be undertaking after assuming office, and it is very interesting for me in particular because, I am a Nigerian and I thought it right that I should commence my engagement with the international community from my home country.

I also came as the head of a delegation called FARA de Forum. Now let me make a brief description between the secretariat of FARA and FARA de Forum. The secretariat services the interest of the Forum, and de forum is the agglomeration of all the stakeholders in agricultural research for the continent. So it was a delegation that was composed of a cross-section of stakeholders.

*Yemi Akinbamijo

*Yemi Akinbamijo

In the delegation, I have three of the senior colleagues from FARA, and we have from Nigeria the head of Agricultural Research Council, Professor Abubarkar and we also have two representatives of the Director General of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Ibadan, and we also have the Director General of the International livestock Research Institute, DR. Jimmy Smith.

Basically as I said, it was my first mission out of office and I wanted to keep the minister abreast of my desire to have Nigeria continue to play an important role in the domain for agricultural research development in the continent.

However, from what I am beginning to see over the last couple of years and this is not peculiar to Nigeria, investment in agricultural research has been down.

Across the continent today, the key supporter of African research and development have been European and American countries, but we felt that Nigeria should now come to the fore and support the effort of FARA de Forum and the secretariat in its drive to have a food secured Africa.

It should be noted that late President Bingu wa Mutharika in his tenure as the chair of the AU made a pledge which we still try to uphold when he said that he wanted  an Africa where no child will go to bed hungry. And we felt that apart from me being a Nigerian that  my first port of call is solving Nigeria’s Food challenge is actually solving 25 per cent of African’s challenge, because the demographic information available to us today says that Nigeria’s population is a quarter of the continent.

So whatever, we can do to support the minister especially in the context of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA)is equally a deliverable for us in FARA.  So it is a win-win scenario for both FARA and the government of Nigeria to actually now step-up our collaborative engagement in the quest of providing research tools for our stakeholders.

On Value chain approach

As mentioned earlier on, am an animal scientist and I have made my mark when it comes to livestock research and livestock integrated systems. I am particularly delighted that the minister has chosen to pursue the value chain approach and that is the way to go, if we look at countries that have broken the food insecurity barrier of late (last 30 years), we have countries like Brazil and China; these two countries paid the heavy price of investing in agricultural value chain.

Brazil is a model to emulate and if you go to China, it is another scenario where you have demand approach to research from farm to fork which means that you disaggregate every segment of the chain from the farm until it reaches the table.

In other words, if we adopt what I referred to earlier on as demand driven research as opposed to the supply driven research, we look at the table and see what the demand on the dining table of Nigerians is and what will be the demand facing Nigeria 50 years from now.

Now the question facing us is will we be able to meet this demand? And if yes, there are a few things we still have to do. Well it is on record that about 45% of the foods we produce do not get to the table because of post-harvest loss.

One of the key issues in the reduction of post-harvest loss is definitely the issue of value addition, processing and transformation of products and when we look at the value chain, there is the issue of dealing with inputs, agro-dealership, fertilizers, seeds, access to credits and enhancing the capacity of the farmers not to do business as usual because just like Albert Einstein said that if you do the things you always did, you will get the results you always got. And we know it that the result we always got is not the result that will sustain drive.

At the moment the food import bill on this continent is in excess of 40 billion US dollars and we in this continent have the capacity to reduce this bill by the way, this is the money we do not have so it is incumbent upon us that we do anything we can to reduce this bill and we can.

We have the technology, we have the competence and we have the resources. If we have these three and they are judiciously harnessed I can tell you that the dream of the minister of making Nigeria wheat secure and meeting Nigeria’s demand for wheat will become a thing of the past and definitely be surpassed.

We have the technology, resources and competence to do so. So I don’t have any doubts in my mind that this country for once is able to be on the right track.

Nigeria is a signatory to the West African productivity programme which is meant to at addressing the food insecurity especially using the value chain approach.

Now I want to digress a little to my own area of interest in research and as I said I am a trained animal scientist and I have been in this business for more than 30 years now, when we are looking at the case of Nigeria, let me start by saying that cassava is no longer a food crop, with the kind of technology that is emerging from a segment of FARA, which is the international technology centres, we take the example of IITA where there has being tremendous input in the cassava value chain.

What that means for us is that the growing of cassava is becoming a business not just the production of Gari and Akpu and with this business beginning to emerge, we can begin to see that IITA is now beginning to develop technology that can handle 10 tonnes of cassava per day, what that tells me is that we are not just meeting our requirement for cassava, we now know that there is cassava being integrated in the bread that we eat in Nigeria this was not the case 5-10 years ago.

With the progressive inclusion of cassava in our diet, this country is a country of over 160 million people and that means if we eat 40% inclusion of cassava, there will be a time when we will need to import cassava to meet our needs because the demands is becoming overwhelming and like I said earlier, because we are now in a stage where there is rapidly growing supply of innovations and technologies to meet this demand, let us not lose sight on the fact that the same system into which this (throw-put) of cassava is coming through will generate a lot of biomass in terms of wastes .

For example you have to peel the cassava before you can use the flesh, now plants that is having a (throw-put) of 10-20 tonnes of cassava per day tell me that there is going to be enormous production of cassava peels, now to the uninformed mind, peels of 20 tonnes of cassava is a waste product but I can tell you that such a biomass is a raw material for a totally different line of industry and this can be harnessed in annual nutrition.

Nigeria is a high consumer of poultry and we also produce poultry so how do we meet the need of the poultry industry. Cassava peels are high energy compliments and can be fed to non-ruminants and ruminants alike.

In my opinion, I see a great potential of developing animal nutrition industry emerging from the cassava sub-sector, the cassava value chain itself, so we are beginning to see how we can optimize our resources, optimize the crops and the whole value chain of just one commodity where the waste product becomes the raw material of another chain.

So, in my humble opinion, we at FARA can help develop the necessary institutional support for example we can contribute to high level capacity development in terms of human resources we can facilitate exchange peer to peer capacity development from other neighbouring or non-neighbouring facilities, we can bring a network of centres of excellence that are offspring research in terms of molecular biology and high level research in the domain of agriculture.

What I said is that the plans that are being put into place by the honourable Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria is laudable and I actually describe it as a trailblazer for the continent and that is why we at FARA will do everything possible to support this whole agricultural transformation agenda  that can become a model for people to follow.

I know very well that there are countries within the south-south co-operation, the Africa-south America collaboration, Africa-china collaboration, we are very well informed that within these geo-political context, there are lessons to be learnt and of we look at the scenario of Brazil where we have the improper model where within 5-8 years, Brazil transformed its agriculture from an agrarian one to industrial one.

So, this is the kind of thing that Nigeria is beginning to embrace and our vision is to actually see Nigeria succeeding,  so that we can showcase Nigeria as a role model to other countries.

What I said that if we do what we do always did, we will get the results we always got and the result we always got has not yet translated into keeping Africa food secure, it has not translated into making Nigeria food secure.

Nigeria and Africa in general are still the largest destination of food aid in the world and we want to change this statistics and in changing this statistics, it means Nigeria cannot afford to do business as usual where agriculture is concerned and not to do agri-business as usual is the hallmark and the very centre of what the minister is leading in the agricultural transformational agenda.

So, as I mentioned that we are now beginning to see the impacts of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda in the sector, it is beginning to yield the envisaged dividends, we are beginning to see that you can actually quadruple the productivity of many of our commodities if we only adopt the right technology, if we provide the enabling agro-inputs in terms of improved seeds, fertilizer, access to credits and access to know-how. If we are able to do all of these, we will certainly see a totally different agricultural sector in Nigeria.