The Oasis Reporters
March 3, 2022
By Prof. M. K. Othman
In the early part of the year, 2013, the Agricultural Complex of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria received members of the Joint House Committee on Agriculture who came for an oversight function.
During the introduction of personalities, the then Executive Director of the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Professor Balarabe Tanimu of blessed memory was introduced as professor of groundnut agronomy, and IAR, a research center with the mandate of genetic improvement of groundnut among other agricultural commodities.
During the opening remarks, the leader of the delegation, a distinguished senator, enthusiastically challenged the distinguished scholar, Professor Tanimu, and the Institute to bring back the “great” Kano groundnut pyramid of the 1960s and 1970s. After eulogizing the tireless efforts of the groundnut farmers of that epoch, he pledged a sturdy House support to the Institute with enough budgetary allocation to achieve the challenge.
In his response, Prof. Tanimu appreciated the benevolent gesture of the House members for their keenness to increase the Institute’s budgetary allocation. He stressed the importance of adequate funding for agricultural research as the most viable means of decupling production, addressing production challenges, and/or enhancing crops’ nutrient content.
He assured the guests of IAR’s readiness to judiciously utilize the fund allocation for higher research outputs. He pointed out that even with the inadequate funding, IAR was able to develop new varieties of groundnut, which produced high yield and the quantum of production was much higher than what was being produced in the 1960s and 1970s.
Similarly, the level of consumption was much higher due to population increase within the period (about 45 million people in 1960 and 170 million in 2013). Nonetheless, Tanimu pointed out that reviving the groundnut pyramid was not the aim of IAR.
Those pyramids served as aggregation centers for feed-stocking the Agro-industries of foreign countries. Professor Tanimu, an excellent diplomat cum academic, carefully chose his words not to hurt the feelings of the august visitors. Yet, the message was very clear; the groundnut pyramid was a symbol of colonial exploitation and underdevelopment.
Then, groundnut and other cash crops were being produced for exportation to European countries, which processed and imported into the country at ten times the prices of the raw materials.
The best way to produce agricultural commodities is to serve as raw materials to local industries whose products would be locally consumed and exported to other countries. In any case, the commodity pyramid has never been one of the performance indicators for measuring agricultural productivity.
The simple indicator for measuring productivity is crop output or yield per unit area of production with a unit of Kg/m2 or tons per hectare. So, what was the implication of the Abuja rice pyramid mounted some weeks ago?
Mounting a pyramid of an agricultural commodity such as rice in any part of the country cannot showcase the quantum of production of such a commodity.
The associated costs of organizing and transporting the commodity to the venue can be overbearing. However, the Abuja rice pyramid event, being the first of its kind, was marked with pomp and pageantry recording a huge success. Although, this success could not stand to represent a success story of boosting rice production but has uniquely packaged hopes for a better future.
The presence of top government functionaries and high-profile personalities including President Buhari indicated the willingness of Nigeria’s leadership to support the country to achieve food security.
The commodity pyramid should not replace the annual agricultural show where innovations, ingenuity, and breakthroughs in the agricultural sector are being packaged and displayed. A few weeks after the rice pyramid event, where do we move? What are the matters arising from the Abuja event?
Fortunately, Nigeria is naturally positioned to achieve greatness in Agriculture; versatile fertile land, huge unquantifiable water resources, and virile and active human resources. In addition to these natural endowments, policies, and programs, over the years were designed to fast-track agricultural development.
Theoretically, these programs and projects sound perfect but practically, their implementations have always been haphazardly done thereby retarding their successes. In the last three decades, so many funds were sunk in agriculture in the names of programs and projects without tangible impacts on the productivity of smallholder farmers who constitute ninety percent of the farming population and contribute eighty-five percent of national food production.
The major defect of these programs/projects is the lack of an agricultural extension component. where extension component exists, there has always been incoherent roles and responsibilities because the front extension personnel belongs to the state government while the programs are mostly federal government-sponsored/supported.
Today’s agriculture is driven by knowledge and the knowledge is solely facilitated by extension service delivery. In Nigeria, agricultural extension service is poorly funded and poorly manned.
How do we move forward?
Agricultural extension entails knowledge transfer, utilization and feedback, market intelligence, skill acquisition and perfection, and productivity enhancement along the value chain of agricultural commodities (crops and livestock).
Therefore, special treatment to agricultural extension can be made through fast-tracking the release of the National Agricultural Extension Policy. The policy was already developed and I am privileged to be part of the team that finalized the policy document.
The development of the policy was a painstaking national assignment that was done over five years by agricultural experts, technocrats, and academics. Thus, the policy contains ready-made and holistic solutions to the challenges to agricultural extension service delivery. It also considers what to be done to modernize agriculture holistically now and in the future.
Fortunately, the structure of the agricultural extension system at the grassroots level, the Agricultural Development Program (ADP), developed between the 1970s and 1980s with the support of the World Bank is still in place and robust but ineffective due to gross underfunding. The policy has taken good care of how to source alternative and sustainable funds to support and develop an agricultural extension system in the country.
If the policy becomes operational, it will automatically increase public and private investment in agriculture with special attention to extension services. This will spontaneously escalate agricultural productivity in geometric proportion.
The increase in agricultural productivity will cover both crops and livestock farming with positive implications on the livelihoods of the farmers and herders.
In conclusion, instead of having commodity pyramids, efforts should be geared towards adequately funding extension services through legislation of agricultural extension policy. This will sooner than later bring the desired result of achieving food security, reducing poverty, and creating jobs for millions of Nigerians.
M. K. Othman is a Professor of Agricultural Engineering at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is the immediate past Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.