Of TETFund’s tripartite partnership with Brazil, FARA and Ochono’s research award
The Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Architect Sonny Echono, made history recently when he was honoured with the first and the most prestigious Medal of Honour Award by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).
The award was one of the fallouts of Echono’s determination to bring the needed transformations in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. TETFund’s partnership with FARA dated back to 2020 and since then, both bodies have worked together to build a strategic competence through the First Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA).
The goal of the partnership was to systematically produce a new crop of professionals in Nigeria for the delivery of necessary competence in Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D).
The partnership leverages the best practices of the South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTC) strategy for FARA to contribute to building the knowledge-based economy through TETFund Centres of Excellence (TCoE) across the country.
So far, TETFund has sponsored about 100 fellows drawn from among the country’s academia to undertake tailor-made master’s degree programmes in various fields of sciences that are related to agriculture in Brazilian universities led by a consortium of Brazilian Federation of International Education (FAUBAI) and the Federal University of Vicosa.
Meanwhile, the agreement with the Brazilian government was sealed at the First Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) Symposium, which held at Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil on April 30 with the theme, ‘Pedagogic Retooling Strategy for Africa’s Agricultural Research and Innovation System: Lessons from Brazil.’
As expected, Nigerian delegation was led by the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Arc Sonny Echono, who assured Nigerians that TETFund was committed to the success of the partnership, having appraised the multiplier positive effects it holds for Nigeria.
Some of the benefits of the partnerships, Echono explained, include helping Nigeria to improve its research framework and retool available research infrastructure; enable the country to attain some degree of self-reliance in innovation and technology.
He added that with the relationship with UFV, TETFund has been able to sponsor some Nigerians to Brazil to understudy the country’s agricultural research and innovation with the aim of gaining knowledge on how to modernize Nigeria’s agriculture, especially through the deployment of science and technology.
They were also to under-study the country’s Agricultural Revolution Policy and its impact on national economy. The ES was also optimistic that the partnership with Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) will produce a new generation of fit-for-purpose workforce to re-engineer the African agricultural produce sector to provide the change factor for rapid agricultural transformation in the next 10 years.
“The Nigerian model of the Fellowship is funded by TETFund to build strategic competence to change the prevailing narrative of the waning capacity of tertiary institutions in the country.”
“Under the partnership, TETFund supports the training of Nigerian academia to undertake tailor-made Master degree programs in various fields of sciences that are agriculture-related at the UFV.
Arc Echono believed that Nigeria stands to benefit a lot considering the similarities Nigeria shares with Brazil in climate, ecology and crops. According to him, whatever grows or works in Brazil will also work in Nigeria.
To him, true essence of research must be for development “and whatever area of research must translate to value addition to humanity and that was the reason the Fund has been at the forefront of the advocacy for research and innovation as panacea for national problems.
“The focus was leading the transformation of public tertiary institutions in Nigeria to make them more relevant in addressing developmental challenges and improve their global ranking.”
Echono assured that the Fund would stop at nothing in his determination to strengthen the collaboration for the effective deployment of science and technology research in agriculture.
He said: “Until we make our educational institutions relevant to our national development objectives in our country, we will not stop to optimize the objectives for tertiary education and that is the reason we are strengthening this collaboration.
“Our challenge is the quality of our graduates. When you say you are a graduate in Nigeria, what special skill do you have?
“In today’s workplace, it is not the length of your certificate that matters. Employers want to see what you are bringing to the workforce and what value creation you are going to be adding.
“So essentially, they want fit-for-purpose graduates, the previous and current practice of employing people and sending them for trainings in Europe and other countries to retrain them before they can work should be a thing of the past.”
The Executive Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, stated that the theory of ARIFA is to generate a new crop of science-based change-makers in agri-business.
He said the theory has to do with breaking the vicious circle in recycling of near moribund and non-functional agriculture mechanisms, which include bringing innovations for public good, massive capacity building as well as public and private sectors’ partnership.
The Executive Director noted that ARIFA has become a working model for other Africa countries to emulate as it pushes for imperative areas such as retooling Africa for development, exchange of knowledge and technology, joint capacity development and advancing research frontiers, among others.
Akinbamigo advised that for Nigeria to make a significant progress in tackling food shortage and over dependence on importation, there was need to scale up the number of scholars being trained for the agricultural programme to as much as 500. This h believed, will guarantee food security and makes the threatening food shortage a thing of the past.
Also speaking, Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil, Professor Mohammad Ahmad Makarfi. He appreciated TETFund for spearheading the partnership, which he described as very critical to federal government’s agenda on food security.
While pledging necessary support to Nigerian delegates towards sustaining a successful partnership that would translate to a major boost in the agricultural sector, the Ambassador commended TETFund for exposing Nigeria and Nigerians to modern technologies.
“What TETFund is doing is to expose Nigeria to these better technologies and I will continue to support Echono to achieve this. We must run because there is no time to waste. A lot of West African countries are depending on Nigeria for food. The Brazilians have already done a lot of research. So, we just need to get what we can from them”, he stated.
It was therefore for these visionary steps that the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) honoured Arc. Echono recently at the Extra Ordinary Steering Committee Meeting of the Agricultural Research, and the Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) held in Accra, Ghana.
The award was specifically for his outstanding support and vision for implementing the blueprint of Agricultural Research and Development by the African Union for Nigeria.
Speaking during the meeting, Arc. Echono pledged commitment to expanding the number of fellows to at least, 500, given the encouraging footprint of the programme. Presenting the award on behalf of the Chairman, FARA Board of Directors, Dr. Alioune Fall, the Executive Director, FARA, Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, stated that the award was in recognition of the Executive Secretary’s continued effort to support agricultural transformation in Nigeria through Science.
He said: “An Architect by training and well-established agribusiness entrepreneur, he comes to his current position with strong accolades and solid footprints in the Agricultural sector. As the erstwhile Permanent Secretary of Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Arc Echono demonstrated a commendable support for the efforts of FARA as the Capacity Development Cluster with accelerated vigour.”
“You are the first recipient of this kind of honour. So, it is my pleasure to give it to you in recognition of what you did for us in the past and what you are doing now. It is very inspiring for us”, he added.
The FARA Executive Director noted that the Medal is an insignia of honour bestowed on deserving laureates to promote leadership in African Agricultural Research and Innovation.