By Jimoh Babatunde
The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) after its 50 years in existence has become synonymous with transforming Africa’s agriculture and nourishing rural development.
IITA was borne out of the need to have an African version of the Green Revolution that substantially increased agriculture production in Asia in the 1960s.
Since then, there has been broad and strong interest in agriculture in this part of the world, as the continent is rocked by a myriad of challenges to food security.
Today, the institute has become a leading research partner in the continent as it has continuously addressed the issues of poverty and food insecurity, ensure nutritional health and well being of the millions of farm families, and making the environment more resilient through its cutting edge research on agriculture in collaboration with its many partners.
Leading the team of world class scientists spread all over Africa in the fight to help smallholder farmers and farming communities attain a better life using novel scientific approaches is Dr. Nteranya Sanginga.
Dr. Sanginga has been at the helms of IITA since November 2011 when he assumed office as the 7th Director General of the institute and the first African to be so appointed by the board
Looking back, Sanginga paid glowing tribute to his friend, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the Africa Development Bank, who was instrumental to his appointment.
And since his assumption as the Director General, he has transformed IITA into a strategic centre, go-to institution for innovation and knowledge on tropical agriculture and a leading partner for research-for- development in sub Saharan Africa.
Today, IITA has over 240 scientists addressing the challenges of natural resources management,climate change, food and nutritional insecurity and youth unemployment.
The institute also leads a multi million dollar initiative to transform African Agriculture to feed it’s teeming population along with multi institutional partners.
As a visionary leader, Dr. Sanginga has been effective in the development of Agricultural institutions and building of capabilities of young scientists in Africa.
His ability to build and maintain effective internal management partnerships and good teamwork has enhanced the nurturing of good communities of practice between and within science and administration , which has contributed to the strong institution that IITA has become
Under his watch, IITA has built up the cadre of scientists in the institution and partners programs, expanded the research infrastructure with laboratories and field facilities now being used by about 200 research for development programs in DR Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia.
Sanginga has effectively led the institute’s research, natural resource management, plant health, agric business, value addition, innovative partnership and institutional platforms.
IITA’s research efforts are now showing impact at both the farm and community levels.
Recent results from impact assessment studies across several countries revealed that at least 4.3 million people had been lifted out of poverty in sub Saharan Africa as of 2016 through the adoption of improved agricultural technologies developed by the institute and its partners.
Two studies conducted in 2016 in Nigeria on the impact of adoption of improved cowpea varieties and drought tolerant maize varieties, DTMV, showed that the two technologies had contributed to getting an estimated three and a half million people out of poverty.
Also through an integrated research program, Africa Rising, hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmlands in target regions have expanded , increasing both maize and rice yields by 50%.
The project provides a pathway out of hunger and poverty for smallholder farmers through sustainable farming systems that sufficiently improve food, nutrition and income security, especially for women and children.
Another IITA success that Sanginga has championed is the Business Incubation Platform for a food sufficient Africa.
Through the platform, IITA partners with the private sector by providing agricbusiness opportunities in seed systems and products that increase yields and food quality and by value added processing.
The Business Incubation Platform links research, development, commercialization and capacity development that lead to establishment of full scale production facilities for adoption by the private sector.
An example of the development is the Aflasafe which reduces aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnuts by 80-90%.
The technology improved both food safety and the health and livelihoods of rural households.The investment return on Aflasafe for farmers is between 200 and 480%.
Now 98%of maize harvested by thousands of farmers in Kenya meet aflatoxin standards in the US.
In 2017, the institute turned over 35,930 kilograms of improved seeds to Borno State government to help rebuild the livelihoods of farmers and the food insecure population in the state once referred to as the bread basket of Nigeria.
The seeds, tagged ‘seeds of renaissance’ contained cowpea, maize, soybean, rice, sorghum and millet.
The donation was part of efforts at cushioning the humanitarian crisis in the northeastern part of Nigeria being ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Besides donating seeds, IITA stepped up its operations in Northeast with the implementation of the Zero Hunger Initiative spearheaded alongside President Obasanjo’s led government.
In 2019, IITA started a new project funded by USAID called Integrated Agriculture Activity as part of the Feed the Future Initiative in Yola, Adamawa state, which is already having impact in the farm communities.
IITA has inaugurated six research stations across the country as part of its efforts at expanding the institute’s research agenda.
The research stations are in Ago-Owu, Osun State; One, River state; Abuja; Mokea in Niger state; Minjibir, Kano State and Ikenne, Ogun State.
The institute has a total of 15 research stations spread across Africa that conduct research aligned to the strategic needs of the countries.
As part of his success stories in Nigeria is the release of Yellow cassava by the federal government in November 2011.
The government through its National Variety Release Committee , releases vitamin A enriched “Yellow”cassava cultivars bred by IITA and partners, particularly the National Roots Crops Research Institute at Umudike and CIAT, under the aegis of CGIAR Harvest Plus.
The yellow cassava was cost effective for delivery of Vitamin A in Nigeria, where deficiency of it afflicts about 20 % of pregnant women and 30%of children five years old and below.
The average Nigerian consumes about 600g of cassava daily and the high yielding, pest resistant, yellow fleshed cassava cultivars provided up to 25% of the daily vitamin A requirement for both the children and women.
There is no project as dear to Sanginga as the Youth in Agriculture Initiative that started under his leadership.
He started the IITA Youth Agripreneurs , a landmark program that provides youth from diverse disciplines training band opportunities to engage in agriculture business or entrepreneurship.
The program has changed the mindsets of the youth about agriculture, build character , Forster determination and promote self worth.
The program has also provided youths with start-up upport, capacity building and opportunities that give them with gainful employment in agricultural businesses.
This movement has taken root in the farm of IITA, with a pilot group of enterprising young men and women. The success of the model has attracted strong interest from various African governments and development partners, including the African Development Bank.
One of the beneficiaries, Adewuyi Gloria, once said ” Before now, there was no provision in IItA for youth to be gainfully involved in agriculture.
“Dr. Sanginga introduced the IITA Youth Agripreneurs scheme which is why I am here today. He constantly encourages us and at no point has he let is down or looked down on us. Keep up the good work.”
But, Dr. Sanginga said the good work he has executed in IITA would not have been possible without putting the people first.
He said when he assumed leadership of the institute that he adopted the People Strategy to inform the Business Strategy as the best approach to lead and develop the organization.
He said both strategies had to work together to enable the organization to deliver on its mandate and mission of transforming the agricultural agenda in Africa.
“The way I see IITA , it is a ship with its passengers on a journey, our mission, sailing towards a destination , our vision.
” Through calm and rough seas, we sail with her. what happens to our shi affects us and what we do affects her. This is the message that I have always wanted people to know, to internalize and to live by.
“I have tried to develop a powerful institutional culture within IITA to make employees “own” IITA, to believe in what we do and what we stand for by answering their questions, from the lofty of how the future developments of food security will affect IITA ‘s development , to the every day of how it will affect their jobs.”
One of the scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Parkes, said the decision of Sanginga and the management to provide a building where the IITA cassava and yam teams can work comfortably was a good one.
“He refurbished the old building and put it in very good shape. It is now indeed like a modern office with a modest laboratory. There is no doubt that good science is taking place there .
“The new building and the modern facilities for staff, students and technicians alike send a clear message to all who work for hours on field in the tropical sun that their hard work , commitment and efforts in driving forward IITA’s R4D agenda are greatly appreciated.”
For Bukky Adeyemo, ” from the first day Dr. Sanginga stepped into IITA there have been lots of changes. Right from the gatehouse, you will see the beauty of IITA.
“Also the interaction among staff is better and you can see joy in the eyes of the people. The style of administration is transparent and open. This has helped to build trust and hope. People are now happy to work . He has the mind of improving the lives of humanity.”
As he serves out his two terms , Sanginga sees a better future for youth in agribusiness with the Start Them Early Program, STEP
The program is an intervention designed to take agribusiness studies to primary and secondary school students, engaging them in club participation, course work ND experimental learning.
STEP has been operating in DR Congo, Kenya and Nigeria for over two years and in nine secondary schools.
Very recently, the program and agribusiness facility were formerly launched in a grammar school in Fashola, Oyo State, championed by Governor Seyi Makinde.