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Maximising public-private partnership potential for food tech adoption

By y Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
29 March 2021   |   3:09 am
To avoid the frustration of scientists and technologists working on agricultural research and development in Nigeria, the government has been urged to deepen the town-and-gown relationship

Silo developed by FIIRO

To avoid the frustration of scientists and technologists working on agricultural research and development in Nigeria, the government has been urged to deepen town-and-gown relationship through public-private partnership (PPP) initiatives in the efforts to encourage the adoption and commercialisation of various technologies that are capable of turning agriculture around and reducing youth unemployment.

PPP models would also facilitate access of micro, small and medium-scale entrepreneurs to agricultural and industrial equipment that could be deployed for productive businesses, which, in turn, would create employment opportunities.

Post-harvest losses emanating from inadequate storage facilities and lack of cold chain resources would also be minimized with post-harvest management technologies if they are adopted and widely utilised.

Adoption of agricultural technologies is poor, according to Dr Anthony Okere, Assistant Director, Research and Development at the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), because of lack of adequate advocacy using the extension service delivery system; fear of failure of new technologies and varieties on the part of farmers and entrepreneurs; failure of scientists and researchers to carry farmers and industrialists along while developing new technologies/varieties and inefficacy of research products, technologies and varieties to meet their immediate needs.

Dr Okere said the inability to mobilise industrialists, small-scale entrepreneurs and farmers while designing, developing and perfecting agricultural solutions has been a major stumbling block.

Professor Gabriel Oluwatosin of the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Moore Plantation, Ibadan, said research is viewed from two angles: basic and applied. The applied research is supposed to be demand-driven, in partnership with industries and farmers, and entrepreneurs.

“Farmers and industries do not take up research products, technologies or varieties because they are not part of it,” Prof. Oluwatosin said.

Dr Olaoye Afolayan, a former Director of Research, the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), said in places where the adoption rate is high, research is demand-driven.

“These countries coherently channel farmers and industries to research institutions to find solutions to challenges in food and raw material crops production and value chain developments. Such coherence is not here, for stakeholders go their different ways, and funding is a serious challenge,” Afolayan added, “and no farmer is ready to gamble with new varieties, and most of them are hybrids, which cannot be replanted. Therefore, farmers are hesitant in taking them up, because they are also resource-constrained.”

Pitching his tent with Afolayan, Professor Emmanuel Ajani, a former Head of Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, University of Ibadan, said extension services needed to accelerate technology adoption is non-existent, hence poor awareness and adoption rates.

Hence, a partnership of public agricultural institutes with private operators to create awareness and technological adoption becomes imperative as the number of unemployed youths soars, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The NBS, in an analysis entitled ‘Labour Force Statistics, Unemployment and Under Employment – Q4 2020’ on its website recently, said the number of persons in the working-age population (15-64 years) during the fourth quarter of 2020 (Q4, 2020) was 122,049,400.

But the total number of people in employment during the reference period was 46,488,079. Of this number, 30,572,440 were full-time employed (i.e., worked 40+ hours per week), while 15,915,639 were under-employed (i.e., working between 20-29 hours per week).

NBS also added: “The unemployment rate among rural dwellers was 34.5%, up from 28.2% in Q2, 2020, while urban dwellers reported a rate of 31.3% up from 26.4%. In the case of underemployment among rural dwellers, it declined to 26.9% from 31.5%, while the rate among urban dwellers decreased to 16.2% from 23.2% in Q2, 2020.”

It said the unemployment rate among young people (15- 34years) was 42.5% up from 34.9%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group declined to 21.0% from 28.2% in Q2, 2020. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings.

Buttressing the necessity of adopting agro-industrial technologies emanating from research institutes in the country, the acting Director-General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), Dr Agnes Asagbra, during a conference organized in partnership with Applied Engineering Technology Initiative (AETI) Ltd, said the institute had developed over 250 research and development technologies and had completely packaged about 100 of them ready for immediate commercialisation.

“FIIRO and AETI share the same passion with the Federal Government of Nigeria to drive technology and innovation adoption amongst MSNEs in Nigeria. In the light of this partnership, both parties have come up with a series of training that can improve Nigeria MSMEs’ access to production equipment for industrial growth and national development,” Asagbra said.

The investment forum, tagged, ‘Improving Nigeria MSMEs’ Access to Production Equipment for Industrial Growth and National Development,’ was an initiative of FIIRO and AETI with a view to positioning MSME’s for investment opportunities available in FIIRO and other national agro-allied institutes.

FIIRO has been at the forefront of industrialisation and socio-economic development of Nigeria through its research outcomes such as in food and beverage, pulp and paper, textile, cement, ceramics, paint, soap and cosmetics and engineering industry, to mention but a few.

The institute has trained over 500,000 techno-entrepreneurs and provided services to about 70 per cent of the SMEs operating in technology incubation centres all over the 36 states of the country.

“We in FIIRO are enthusiastic about the common vision we share with AETI, the similarities in our culture of knowledge in action, and the added value we can create for entrepreneurs,” the director-general said.

Meanwhile, the chairman of AETI Limited, Francis Oluwole Kudayah, said the opportunity to partner with FIIRO for sustainable growth of the manufacturing sector in Nigeria and accelerated national development would be optimised to harness the over 100 FIIRO inventions to promote the utilisation of locally available raw materials already identified in all the local government areas across the country, for which production machinery has been researched and developed.

“We intend to partner to bring these opportunities to entrepreneurs, and would-be entrepreneurs, the various chambers of Commerce and industry, manufacturers and members of the organized private sector.

“These would be through scheduled investment fora, the first of which is planned for the end of April 2021, for the Lagos and South West region, and subsequently in Port-Harcourt, for the South-East/South-South zones and in Kano for the Northern zones,” he explained.

Kudayah explained that the firm’s engineers would work with FIIRO scientists and technologists to research and develop new technologies, providing assistance in automating all existing and future inventions by FIIRO.

The third element of the partnership, he added, would be leveraging on the core competencies of AETI and FIIRO to develop the capacity of new and experienced engineers in the areas of automation/instrumentation, mechanical and electro-mechanical, electrical/electro-mechanical engineering for industrial Nigeria.

“We are very optimistic that this partnership will provide invaluable contributions to the development of the MSME sector in Nigeria, thus contributing to accelerated National Development,” he said.

A beneficiary of one of the training programmes, Callista Ndekweme, who processes and packages plantain flour and smoked catfish, said though training and entrepreneurship are good, acquiring equipment without government assistance in terms of loans, linkage to market and shared utilisation of expensive machinery were difficult for most small-scale agribusiness owners based on her experience.

Another trainee-entrepreneur from FIIRO, Alhaja Mulikat Ogunlola, CEO of Yukawam Foods Service, producer of smoked and processed catfish, urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to include catfish farmers and other small-scale agribusiness value adders into the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme in using the public-private partnership models.

Other national and international institutes that have developed agricultural technologies are the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), the National Cenre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), Ilorin, Kwara State; the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan; Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zamaru, Zaria; the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan and Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, among others.