Right policies, enabling environment key to agric growth, says FCA Provost
The Executive Provost of the 100-year-old Federal College of Agriculture, Dr (Mrs) Elizabeth Augustus, spoke with Head, Agro-Economy, FEMI IBIROGBA, on the contributions of the college to agricultural science, technology and manpower development in the sector, and other milestones; how the country can achieve food sufficiency and why research and investments are essential for agro-economic growth, youth employment and poverty alleviation.
As an expert in agriculture and allied matters, how can Nigeria become food-secure in the face of production challenges?
The basic essence of research is to resolve problems, especially, within the immediate society. We are not oblivious of what the problems are (which would have been worse), we only need carefully drafted resolution plans that will be executed to details. One thing I can assure you without doubt is that Nigeria has the human resource and environmental capability to achieve food security.
Institutions must be adequately empowered and supported to make significant impact and proffer solutions. Enabling environment must be provided for the expertise to manifest acquired skills, while individuals (especially, those in the agricultural sector) have to be more committed to the cause of achieving food security in the country.
Nigeria has consistently allocated less 10 than per cent of the yearly budget to agriculture since the current govt. came in, contravening the Maputo Declaration of no less than 10 per cent. How does this affect the sector? And how would you advise the government?
In the final analysis, I believe laws are made by the people. This is because the lawmakers are elected by the people to represent their localities, this is why we must first deemphasise the word “government” as it applies queries, as well as appraisals.
As I have earlier stated, enabling environment is a prerequisite to agricultural growth, this is inclusive of the right policies, support and required protection. We must come to a point where we itemise the problems, draft sincere and workable solutions and call for implementation.
Lack of rural development has forced rural-urban migration of farm labour force, affecting food production. How can this be mitigated?
Rural areas are the food baskets of our nation due to expanse of land available for cultivation and the conducive environment. But humans naturally desire better quality of life at each stage, and without the production of necessary developmental facilities targeted at both agricultural practice and the improvement of living standards, such rural-to-urban migration will persist to the detriment of agricultural growth.
What is your advice for graduates of agriculture and youths on taking up agribusiness?
Firstly, I hope such “graduates of agriculture” have indeed acquired the right skills needed to excel in their field, and I mean such essential skills as those taught at the Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan. With the right skills in place, I can only advise them to fortify themselves with the entrepreneurial cycle of business operations, as it applies to agricultural business. Fortunately, our students are equally equipped with the entrepreneurial skills applicable to agribusiness, right through their ND and HND programmes. Business transactions requires diligence, knowledge of the production and distribution chain and the efficient management of resources. The required skill sets may vary, based on the agricultural product in question, and time; they must be able to identify such instances. All of these must be their watchword, and as much as Godliness may not be considered as essential in the business world, especially, in making quick gains, it is the most important character that will ensure sustainability and gains that span beyond a lifetime.
As the college continues to deliver the very best in all areas of agricultural innovations, we encourage aspiring students, entrepreneurs, youths and the general public to get involved, share and contribute to moving the college forward by cutting a niche in academic standardisation. This will aid in improving on staff and students’ development to produce middle level manpower for rapid agricultural growth. It will also boost economic development at national, as well as subnational levels, and eventually play a pivotal role at ensuring poverty eradication in the country.
As the college marks its centenary anniversary, what are the milestone achievements?
This can be described in two parts: the feats since inception and the achievements of the current administration of the College, both of which are not easy to be brief, due to the robust impacts recorded so far. However, we may highlight a few.
Since inception, the College has always been involved in, and contributed to producing well trained agricultural manpower in such areas as extension services; offering short courses and training programmes targeted at boosting the competencies of Nigeria’s agricultural personnel.
Our graduates are well equipped with necessary theoretical and practical skills required to easily excel in their areas of specialisation. Almost every year, during their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), graduates from the College often develop agricultural machines for local governments in their place of service and they receive NYSC awards. The College constructed two soybean threshers for Ghana Crop Research Institute in 1994; soybean threshers for Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which was distributed to Kwara, Niger, Kaduna, Plateau and Benue Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs); as well as locust bean dehuller for the Ministry of Women Affairs, Oyo State.
We equally have an endless list of agricultural production impacts aimed at achieving food security, job creation and poverty eradication in Nigeria. Some of our production capacities include 200 acres of land for crop production, in addition to other cultivated farms towards food security. We produce rabbits, cane rats and snails; and we have college abattoir for the processing beef and other meat products. We produce fresh eggs, fish, sell beef in the college. We have 800-layer bird-capacity, 2000-broiler pens, and we have a piggery pen of 200-250 piglets, growers and breeders. We have a garri-processing unit, 1.5 hectares of maize/cassava intercrop, one hectare of coconut and a hectare of plantain as well as an oil palm production facility, just to mention a few. These contribute to food production, research and training of students and farmers.
The college is, however, not resting on her laurels. We remain committed to our vision, ‘Agriculture for Self-Reliance.’ As a result, the current administration has recorded significant success in the last couple of years. This, by the grace of God, is accomplished via repositioning of the college through consolidation and innovations in research and development, publication of the College Journal (Journal of Agriculture and Bio-Environmental Engineering), entrepreneurial and skill acquisition training, uninterrupted academic sessions, completion of students’ hostel renovation, introduction of virtual learning to keep students abreast of their academic work, stocking of college soil and microbiology/pest management laboratories with spectrometer, flame photometer, microscopes, reagents, autoclave and other analytical and bio-assay facilities for teaching, students’ project analysis and generation of revenue for the college.
We have upgraded the college meteorological station for teaching, research and revenue generation, constructed a 1000-seater lecture theatre to enhance teaching and learning in a conducive environment; procured chairs for units to improve comfortability and enhance productivity, renovated college main hall and restructured College Health Centre for improved medical service delivery.
Other achievements include empowerment of 400 youth and women through vocational training in different agricultural enterprises, construction of 68-metre road and 140-metre drainage.
Also, we recently cultivated 4.0-ha of arable crops; 2.3-ha of tree crops; 3.0-ha of vegetables, and raised 530 seedlings and produced 500 broilers.
We procured six (4.8KVA) generators and installation of 10 solar powered lights, office fittings, office tables, executive tables, and conference meeting tables and chairs, among other achievements.
100 years of the college implies a period of scientific agriculture in the southwest and Nigeria. Would you say this has helped agriculture in Nigeria?
The deliberate introduction of science to agricultural practice is expected to limit drudgery, optimise production and revitalise the agricultural sector. As much as we may agree that we are not where we should be in terms of scientific/innovative agricultural practices, we will equally admit that we are certainly not where we used to be.
With the intervention of institutions like ours, farm inputs and equipment are now fabricated at considerable rates, there are research outputs on safer for cost-effective, optimum and efficient agricultural practice. Although, more should be done in the area of research uptake, mechanisation, computation, agricultural predictions and translation of outcomes to achieve the best precision agriculture.
What are your plans to take the college higher to contribute to agriculture?
Plans and vision for the college are clear and properly articulated from the beginning, and by the grace of God, we are assiduously working at it and gradually achieving what we set out to achieve.
I have a vision to move the college forward to cut a niche in academic standardisation, and improve on staff and students’ development to produce middle-level manpower for rapid agricultural and economic development at national and international levels.
We plan to provide innovative ideas in generating appreciable revenue for the college through effective production, storage and competitive marketing of agricultural produce; lead the college to an enviable standard with a passion for success backed by integrity; work in tandem with the mission statement of the college, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, vis-à-vis the vision of Mr. President on Green Alternative and Agricultural Transformation Agenda for job creation and food security.