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Policies inconsistency responsible for vanishing school farms

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
06 May 2018   |   4:21 am
Even though agriculture is dynamic, our agricultural policies have been changing rapidly over the years. For practical agriculture to strive in schools, there are some basic structures...

Former Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Charles Aderemi Akitoye, spoke on factors responsible for vanishing demonstration farms in schools, and why government policies on the issue may not make the needed impact. The agricultural scientist spoke to GBENGA AKINFENWA.

In the 1970s up till the 1990s, farming was a major component of schools’ curriculum, with demonstration farms in nearly all public schools. What could be responsible for their gradual disappearance?
Even though agriculture is dynamic, our agricultural policies have been changing rapidly over the years. For practical agriculture to strive in schools, there are some basic structures and infrastructure that must be in place, but they are not because we keep on changing. Up till now, most of our agricultural practices are based on rainfall periods, as only minor extra water is provided for irrigation and other processes that can make agriculture year round.

When I was a commissioner, I went to a school and asked the pupils what they wanted to be in the future, none of them wanted to be a farmer; they were all interested in becoming business men, medical doctors and the rest. That singular development got me into establishing what we called school agricultural practices, where we sent money to all schools in the state to establish different agricultural practices ranging from animal husbandry to fishery and vegetable production. Some of the schools went into poultry; piggery, and whatever they deemed comfortable to do, and no matter how small they were, the children were very happy practicing agriculture. With the development, we organised a competition for the best school. Later on, some of them said they wanted to be farmers after about two years. So, what we have to do is to go back to that basis, where our children can know that farming can be a profession.

I went to a farm in America, from the gate to the harvesting point, everything was digital. The farm owner sits in the office and sets machine for everything including harvesting, without human involvement. We cannot jump to that stage just yet, but we can be moving to mechanised farming and when we’ve trained the students and let them appreciate what is called agro business, even when they are still in school, then they will know that there is money in agriculture. They will also appreciate the fact that through agriculture, they will be contributing to the economy of their country and at the end of the day, they will be able to leave school and set up nice families.

So, government at all levels must involve schoolchildren in agriculture from the start. They must get them to read it, practice it and to be motivated to go on to become farmers upon graduation.

But it appears such a difficult thing to motivate a youth to take to farming in our clime
One other thing we did when I was a commissioner was to raise what we called graduate farmers. They were graduates, who did not have jobs, so we gave them plots of land, cleared the plots for them and gave them seedlings. Quite a lot of them agreed to be part of this initiative, which went on well until the villagers started harassing them, as they wanted to sell these plots of land to people who wanted to build houses and do others things. So, our cultural practices also must be such that make room for, and encourage agriculture.

However, the emphasis should be the training and cultivation of our youths to know that agriculture is productive; that it can be a career, and can make a family and by extension a nation very happy.

So, how would you assess the impact of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) on school farming and now?
What I said earlier is that our policies should be consistent. When we did the Green Revolution, there was improvement in our agricultural productions. For instance, during the Green Revolution, the department of fisheries were being funded for inshore fishing, as well as, coastal fishing. When I was in the Ministry of Agriculture, we bought trawlers for fishermen in the riverine areas, but I am regretting that it was our politicians, rather than the fishermen that took the trawlers and they ended up commercialising them. Some even ended up selling the trawlers outside the country. It is practices like this that have been disturbing agricultural practices in the country.

The Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), under Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo-led military regime, and the Green Revolution of the Shehu Shagari’s administration were good ideas, but any agricultural endeavour that is government-based can hardly become profitable because civil servants always see such as additional income for them.

Having said that, let me add that it is important for the government to seriously look at the inconsistency of our policies.

You spoke about encouraging schools in Lagos State when you were the commissioner. What support, in terms of land provision, availability of seedlings and others were you able to give the schools?
When I became the commissioner, with all modesty, it was even registered and labeled that Lagos State is not a food producing state, I said no. There is what we call advantages, we have a lot of lands in Epe axis of Ikorodu, I went to Agricultural Bank and got the bank to start issuing our farmers Certificate of Occupancy (CoO), so that they can actually use their lands as collateral to borrow money to improve agriculture, it worked for a while, and with time, Nigerian culture will set in and delete good intentions.

I believe, and will still keep saying that agriculture must be encouraged, farmers must be motivated, school children must be encouraged to culture and practice agriculture from the school, let it be a fixed-time curriculum and at the end of the year, we’ll appreciate what agriculture can contribute to our nation.

What in your opinion should be done to revive farming in schools, which is almost dead?
What is to be done is simple; let us go back to the usage of found spaces in schools for farming, be it animal or fish farming. Even if the space is as small as a toilet pit, it can be used for fish farming, and you can farm black catfish three times in a year. If that is properly done, it will still add to our national productivity statistics.

It is not too late for government to revamp school farming because anytime you add to agriculture, it adds to productivity. Let the government focus seriously on schools because if pupils are made to fall in love with farming early in life, then their minds are trained to appreciate agriculture as a profession.

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