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Curbing poverty, food shortage, malnutrition with innovation tech

By Femi Ibirogba, Head Agro-Economy
16 November 2020   |   4:14 am
In May 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) poverty and inequality report said that from September 2018 to October 2019, 40% or 82.9 million Nigerians earned N137,430 (322 Euros) yearly, indicating high level of poverty.

The chairman, local organising committee, Prof. Olubunmi Abayomi Omotesho and the new President of NiWARD, Prof. Oluwayemisi Fawole, at the opening ceremony of the conference.

• As NiWARD holds eighth conference
In May 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) poverty and inequality report said that from September 2018 to October 2019, 40% or 82.9 million Nigerians earned N137,430 (322 Euros) yearly, indicating high level of poverty. And, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.

Again, the United Nations (UN) raised the alarm recently that about 4.3 million Nigerians faced hunger and food insecurity in the troubled spots, apart from hidden hunger and malnutrition.

Resolving these challenges and others were the fulcrum of discourses of food, agricultural and nutrition professionals when the Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research for Development (NiWARD), chaired by Professor O. A. Omotesho, virtually hosted its eighth conference, tagged ‘Sustainable Agricultural Development Through Innovation and Global Linkages.’

NiWARD, founded by Prof. Stella Williams, is the Nigerian chapter of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), an international career development fellowship programme for capacity of African women agricultural scientists and related disciplines to promote a robust, resilient and gender-responsive agricultural innovation system for food and nutrition security on the continent.

Presenting a paper entitled, ‘Potentials of Research and Development in Alleviating the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic,’ Dr Agnes Yemisi Asagbra, Acting Director-General, Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), represented by Engineer Abimbola Olokoshe, said the outbreak had severe economic consequences across the globe, saying, “The strategy imposed significantly affected manufacturing, agricultural production and food distribution.”

Dr Asagbra said: “Nigeria is not one of the epicenters of the pandemic, but Nigeria is suffering large reductions in consumption of various goods and services, increase in business operating costs, increase in food scarcity and collapse of several businesses.”

The FIIRO boss suggested that “Research platforms should learn from and develop mitigation factors as a response to the current pandemic and future unforeseen epidemic that may adversely affect our economies, agricultural production and food supply systems.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Dr Patricia Onoghote Pessu, while speaking on ‘Creative Post-Harvest Management: An Effective Driver of Agricultural Sustainability,’ explained that while agricultural sustainability falls under SDG 2, which is focused on zero hunger, it also has strong implications for SDG 1, which is about ending extreme poverty.

“So, while agricultural sustainability places a huge premium on improving production efficiencies, it also recognizes the vital role of post-harvest management,” she added.

The NSPRI boss described creative post-harvest management as a system of handling, storing and transporting agricultural commodities after harvest that is efficient and standardised to meet the peculiar needs of various stakeholders in a timely fashion.

She listed challenges of good post-harvest management as pests, disease, inadequate knowledge and expertise, unavailability or inadequate access to basic post-harvest equipment and facilities, poor dissemination and management of existing post-harvest information and funding.

She urged investors to take up post-harvest innovations that have been developed by various institutes in Nigeria.

Prof. Kolade Luke Ayorinde, a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor University of Ilorin and a former Vice-Chancellor, Kola Daisi University, Ibadan commended the choice of the conference theme, stating that sustainable agricultural development is mandatory for Africa to overcome the scourging challenges of hunger, poverty and ill-health.

He also said science and technology and good governance are critical and highly instrumental to the developmental advances in developed countries including the availability, affordability and accessibility of food for citizens but African countries including Nigeria needs to wake up to these realizations.

Prof. Gbolagade Adesiji, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and conference’ s chief host, applauded the contributions of NiWARD towards food security with the statement, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

The Director of AWARD, Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, from Nairobi, Kenya, emphasised that the linkages between agriculture and health, medical research and agricultural research, climate change, environment and agriculture, food consumption and health, among others, have been further revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said: “Africa has made progress. We did not die in millions. We have responded so well to the pandemic than expected, and have made significant progress over the years. Africa is capable of saving itself.”

The efforts of NiWARD are geared towards reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria, especially in rural communities, through the works of AWARD fellows, their mentors (including men), their mentees and a large pool of members from Nigerian universities (faculty members and post-graduate students), agricultural research institutes, agric-based non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders in the private sector across the country.

The virtual conference brought together researchers, agricultural scientists, industrial experts, practitioners and other stakeholders from various institutes, universities within Nigeria and representatives of other country chapters of AWARD (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia).

The communique drawn from deliberations at the conference highlighted, among other issues, the need to bridge the disconnect between the country’s research institutes and markets; harness the gains of the health sector and other disciplines to solve climate change and other agricultural problems; and strengthen local food production to ameliorate restrictions posed on importation by COVID-19.

The grantsmanship workshop on writing skills was led by Prof. Kola Okuyemi, Chair, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Utah, USA. And Prof. Oluyemisi B. Fawole, President of the University of Ilorin NiWARD chapter, emerged as the new National President of NiWARD. Prof. Fawole is a professor of Soil Microbiology in the Department of Agronomy, University of Ilorin.