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‘We need ethical revolution to get things right in Nigeria’

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Salako

Professor Felix Kolawole Salako, Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (FSSSN), joined the university in 2000 as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Soil Science and Land Management.

He became a professor of Soil Physics in 2006 and has to his credit over 89 publications in journals, book chapters, conference proceedings and technical reports.

He served as director, Agricultural Media Resources and Extension Centre (AMREC) from March 2008 to March 2011 and pioneer director, Community-Based Farming Scheme (COBFAS) from March to September 2011.

A two term deputy vice chancellor before his elevation last year, Salako expressed satisfaction that FUNAAB has keyed into the federal government’s economic diversification drive, recording many breakthroughs since its inception in 1988 as a College of Technology under the University of Lagos (UNILAG).

He explained that the aim of establishing the universities of agriculture was to improve the country’s research on agriculture, with focus on food production and improving on agro-extension, saying: “It is not that there were no faculties of agriculture in other universities, but the focal point of research necessitated the establishment of specialized university of agriculture.”

FUNNAB, he stressed, is playing a significant role in the realisation of government’s economic diversification through agriculture, in terms of propagation/multiplication of improved varieties of crops and improved breeds of animals.

He said: “We have the groundbreaking research of improved local chicken breed registered by NACGRAB as FUNAAB Alpha, as well as improved cassava varieties that we multiplied and we have an extension unit that is very strong.
 
“We have been able to bring advanced knowledge and technologies to our farmers, not just in the Southwest, but beyond, especially Edo and Benue states.

“We have contributed significantly to food production and diversification into agriculture through our research activities and one area where we are really making waves now is taking cassava to higher scales, in terms of industrialisation, using cassava as an industrial crop.

“We have contributed significantly in the last 10 years in making cassava acceptable for other uses beyond garri and fufu, like the High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) and the rest.” 

On FUNAAB’s mandate, which he described as tripod- teaching, research and extension- Salako noted: “One of the areas that we have made our mark, in terms of livestock, is Nabafa, which we recently celebrated and got a patent for it.

Refined palm wine too is a product of research from here, while cassava bread is a product of research that was upscaled to federal level from this university by our Department of Food Science and Technology.

“For the crop production aspect, they are not always visible, but in terms of technologies for production of crops, our university has contributed quite a number of them and we are involved in soya beans popularisation in the Southwest.

“Production of soya beans was not popular in the region, perhaps, because of limitations in weather, but we were able to create a niche and found places that we could take the crop, such as Oke Ogun, Saki, Iseyin, and etc.

“We popularise it there with support from Nestle Plc, what is more of an extension work and an extension unit were established around 1992 with that particular mandate. 
 
“This is where we are somehow different from conventional faculties of agriculture. That extension arm has to be there, we have to strengthen it for us to work with the farmers and apart from crop or livestock production, that extension arm has also involved in gender issues, which border on adult literacy, preventive healthcare and encouraging youths to come into agriculture as entrepreneurs.
 
“We have the fishery unit, where researchers have made it possible for the domestication of certain breed of fish.”

What gladdens his heart is the commercialisation of the breakthroughs, adding: “We have been able to commercialise our breakthroughs in cassava processing.

The odourless fufu production was something that we developed, based on the fact that at a point, people thought eating fufu could be offensive. Our researchers did some works and we were able to produce what was called odourless fufu.”

Salako explained: “We commercialised it, but I can tell you now that many small-scale industries, particularly in the Southwest, have taken up the technology and are producing at their own level. We are producing too, but not on a large scale. We are happy that the small-scale industries are doing the same work, which is making impact within the community.
 
“The other thing is the processing of palm wine, which we have done to our standard. It was an idea developed by one of our former lecturers/researchers.
 
“The cassava bread was an idea from our researchers, but we don’t produce it on a large scale. The federal government was interested and we supported it. Now, we produce bread for commercial purpose, enough to at least feed our immediate community and by extension our neighbouring communities.”

The vice chancellor was happy that “stability has returned in one way or the other in the last one year,” following the crisis that rocked the institution recently.

As deputy vice chancellor at that time, he said the experience has taught the leadership a number of lessons.

 
“There are times people take things for granted and we have learnt not to take things for granted by making sure that every stakeholder is counted upon to support the progress of this university.

“So, we are doing more on the need for dialogue with every stakeholder and when I say stakeholders, I mean students, staff, parents and the rest of them,” he noted.

On fears that organic foods are fast vanishing, he said: “The truth is that it is better for you to eat things that are grown in their natural form. Now, everywhere they talk about synthetic vitamins, which you can get from your food. 
 
“I think the concept of organic agriculture is, produce everything using organic materials, but where many people miss it is that if the soil is not a virgin land, if it has been used in the past, you are not too sure of what has been deposited in that soil, so you may not be producing organic food.

“The original concept is for you to start even from production level, from the soil that has not been contaminated with any chemical. Some people also miss it when you go to a poultry farm and collect the poultry litters and the birds have been fed with some chemicals and you add the litters, which has some components of the chemicals to the soil, you think you are really producing organic.
 
“This is why the definition of organic agriculture is getting confusing. It wasn’t originally like that and I think people need to go back to the basics and know the definition. It is not just about producing crops with cow dung, litters and the rest of them, what you feed the animals matter before they produce the dung.

“So, indirectly, you may be putting some chemicals in your crop through the feeds and vaccines you gave the animals.”

He continued: “I have been to countries where these things started, especially Europe. If you go to the supermarket, you will see organic market, where they have the so-called organic crops, very few things and expensive.
 
“The issue is, can we feed ourselves, a population of 200 million, with that kind of little production? We need to be careful there and balance what we need. Anything that science has intervened in will bring one problem or the other for the scientist, to have more jobs to do. 
 
“There may be organic crops, but they are restricted. If you want organic in the true sense of it, such is highly restricted. It is not that there is nothing organic, but they are restricted.”
 
On how to boost export of farm produce, he admonished: “If Nigerians are going to export anything and they want the exports to be acceptable, we must follow the standard set by those countries.

“We need restructuring in the way we administer our people, the way wealth is distributed. So, when we are talking about people being hungry, is it in terms of not really having food to eat or having food being wasted? Is it in terms of people who should be on the farm going to Lagos and congesting Lagos with about 22 million people?”

At 30, the university administrator believes strongly that FUNAAB has fulfilled part of its mandate and so can begin to count its blessings, saying: “We shall continue to count our blessings. In 30 years, we have fulfilled aspects of the mandate, but we have not arrived.

“If the University of Ibadan is 70 years and still counting its blessings, we should be ready to count more and more blessings.”

Since the 30th anniversary coincides with the 26th convocation ceremony, a line-up of events has been specifically designed to mark the occasion.

According to Salako: “One significant thing is that a science-based university is planning to give honorary awards to people who have made their marks in humanities.

“We want to tell everyone that there is a nexus between science and humanities. And you can promote science with fantastic ideas coming from people in humanities. 
 
“Secondly, we are acknowledging the intellectual prowess of individuals, such as Prof. Wole Soyinka and Prof. Toyin Falola, who have made it internationally.
 
“Soyinka has taken awards everywhere in the world, though he may not be from Egbaland, but his life was about Egbaland- Ake. So, we are bringing the Ake aspect to fore by offering him an award in FUNAAB.

“Falola is a well known historian. Apart from giving him the honorary award, we are asking him to come and talk about food security in relation to agricultural landscape and all the issues relating to conflicts on our agricultural landscape from a historical perspective, and the solutions.”


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