Jennifer Cooke, a Senior Associate in the Office of the President, the United States of America (USA), leading research and analysis on political, economic and security dynamics in Africa, has the following to say on Nigeria's food production before and shortly after independence.
"During its first decade of independence, Nigeria was one of the world's most promising agricultural producers. Regionally focused policies based on the economic principle of commodity comparative advantage ensured that the agricultural sector served as the nation's main source of food and livelihoods. Nigeria was not only agriculturally self-sufficient and food secure, but it thrived in global markets as the world's largest producer of groundnuts and palm oil and as a significant producer of cotton and cocoa."
Problems of agriculture in Nigeria that have eroded the scenario described above have been pin-pointed at one time or the other to include oil discovery in commercial quantity and subsequent over-reliance on the accruable revenue; lack of supporting basic infrastructure for mass crop production such as dams and irrigation facilities; poor means of land preparation; and storage and processing facilities are still in short supply.
Other challenges include poor yield per hectare in all the arable and cash crops; inadequate financing systems; poor industrialisation of raw agricultural products; difficult business operation environment and grossly epileptic power supply.
Prominent among what experts suggest should be done are research and development of improved farm inputs; government and private investment momentum in land preparation technologies and equipment; production and processing technologies; and post-harvest management technologies, all supported with a robust and low-interest financing systems.
Development of improved seedlings, seed varieties
To tackle the poor yield per hectare phenomenon, unsustainability and low income accruable to food cultivation improved, early-maturing, high-yielding and pest/disease tolerant inputs of seeds, seedlings and other planting materials are essential, which, in turn, will help the economy sustainably.
A few research efforts to do these have resulted in some registered, approved and released varieties of crops and animal strains by the National Variety Release Committee of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
Local and international institutes/organizations which have developed improved varieties include, among others, AfricaRice Centre, Ibadan (NERICA 8 &9, FARO 44), which has helped in increasing paddy production from an average of two tonnes per hectare to about six; and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) (vitamin-A bio-fortified cassava, improved cassava varieties TM419, potato and maize).
Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Benin City, Edo State has come up with some early-maturing palm and coconut varieties.
The Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan and the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria have bred early maturing and drought-tolerant cereals, grains and pulses.
The Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) and the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Ibadan, respectively have developed early maturing cocoa, cashew and bitter kola; and the Nigerian Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), has bred improved horticultural products, fruits and vegetables seeds/seedlings.
However, adoption and up-scaling of these varieties are retarded by a collapsed extension system, reluctant and scanty investments into research, extension and further research on industrialisation of crops, as well as poor agricultural financing.
On this, Akin Oloniruha, a former Provost of Ahmadu Bello University College of Agriculture, Kabba, Kogi State, advised more interface between researchers and farmers, saying, "We have several agricultural research institutes, faculties and colleges of agriculture in the country, but in most cases, other than the researcher publishing articles in journals to earn their promotions, such efforts are mostly not available in forms that the farmers can understand and use."
Preparation (land) technologies
Land preparation has gone beyond traditional and labour-intensive means. Manual and primitive tools of land preparation restrict farm operation expansions, and put the farming population in a threshold of subsistence farming. Mechanisation holds the key to commercial and sustainably profitable crop production that is capable of bringing returns to farmers and securing the nation in food sufficiency.
The foremost institute championing the development and improvement of farm mechanisation devices in Nigeria is the Nigerian Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), Ilorin, Kwara State.
Developing and promoting home-made land preparation equipment would put the country on the path of industrial and technological development. There should be deliberate efforts to learn from India and China on the development and manufacture of home-made land preparation equipment. This will stop exportation of resources, jobs and dehydration of the economy.
NCAM and other institutes should truly be empowered to research into farm tools design, production and extension by training local agricultural machine fabricators through their associations.
In the meantime, acquisition of adequate number of tractors and implements for land preparation that could help boost commercial agriculture should be sustained through private-public partnership (PPP) initiatives to encourage farm mechanisation and economy of scale.
A good example is the recent partnership between the Nigerian Agricultural Mechanisation and Equipment Leasing (NAMEL) and Mantrac Nigeria for clearing of about 500,000 hectares of forest for farm operations.
The Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T) and IITA, Ibadan, have developed mechanical weeding machines, which is a starting point in equipment adaption, fabrication and mass production move.
Professor Lateef Sanni, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said, "the government should enable the business environment up to the local government level; rehabilitate and modernise the existing farm estates, involving youths in farming businesses; and funding innovative agricultural solutions with the research and academic institutions nationwide."
Agricultural production technologies are methods, techniques, improvements and innovations that have been observed, adopted, adapted and developed through research activities not only on plant population, weed management, crop protection, and harvesting but also on pre-processing procedures, packaging, harvest handling, transportation and preservation.
Development of these, extension of same to farmers and gross adoption rate are factors that would put the country on the path of agro-industrial revolution that could help diversify the economy. They, however, require adequate, consistent and timely investments.
Good agronomical practices, procedures, innovations and improvements should be constant on the radars of scientists, the government and industrial off-takers of these food and industrial agricultural products.
The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabir, said the government should create a three-year $10 million National Agriculture fund, identify regional crops, as well as livestock competences and incentivise duly identified interested youths to be engaged in developing the various value chains.
"This will make Nigeria food sufficient in the first instance, enable us to cut a niche in West and North Africa agricultural trade. Our contribution to the global food security will be ensured, and by so doing, our economy will sustainably become robust and fully diversified," the AFAN boss said.
A similar suggestion was earlier made by the Acting Executive Director of the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, Dr Patricia Pessu, while delivering a keynote at the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State.
She had advocated creation of Agricultural Research Trust Fund (AGFund) to address research and development challenges and fast-track technological solutions in the sector.
Dr Olabisi Awoniyi, Chief Agricultural Officer, Commercial and Training of the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin, said agricultural production depends majorly on climate. Climatic changes are unpredictable due to many reasons. These changes affect the onset and cessation period of rainfalls, and amount and duration of rainfalls in the country.
Rainfall patterns determine the time of planting of crops, types of crops to be planted and how many times the crop could be planted in a year, Awoniyi explained. However, development of irrigation facilities would tackle this problem of uncertainty in weather and even supplement food production in the dry season.
Cost of agricultural machines is beyond the reach of farmers, but the government could empower farmers' cooperative bodies through provision of tractors and implements on hire purchase to serve farmers in such cooperatives, Awoniyi added.
Inputs such as seeds, chemicals and fertiliser can also be passed to farmers through the same means.
He equally advocated that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) should be mobilised to have commercial farms in all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, where fresh graduates of tertiary institutions in Nigeria, especially those with bias for agriculture, could undergo practical training for a period of one year. This would encourage the younger generations to have interest in agriculture and get imparted with production techniques, agribusiness ideas and problem-solving kits, he argued.
Professor Samuel Olakojo, a breeder at the IAR&T, Ibadan, said challenges include but not limited to climate change and its effects, such as drought, excessive flood, erosion, and high runoff that degrades soil fertility. Solution to this, he added, is focusing on any farming system that reduces heat generation, emissions of high carbon, and adoption of crop varieties that can cope with the effects of climate change.
Also, he identified marketing of agricultural products as a major problem for farmers, advising that farmers should be assured of a guaranteed market and offtake of produce before cultivation to minimise waste and debts.
Olakojo equally emphasised the importance of mechanization, saying absence of mechanisation equipment is a major issue retarding the economy of scale and sustainability of food production business. Machines for land clearing, he said, are capital-intensive and unaffordable to farmers.
"This problem is actually begging for coordinated government intervention," he said.
Another challenge he identified is poor rural infrastructure such as deplorable roads, absence of potable water and electricity for storing perishable goods for enhanced profit, suggesting that private investors could be involved developing such through a coordinated approach for sustainability.
Post-harvest and processing technologies
The Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), Lagos, among several other research institutes, has developed over 250 technologies and these technologies, based on the comparative strengths in certain crops, can be deployed in the 774 local government areas of the country for job creation and socio-economic growth through processing and value addition to raw materials of relative advantage in each locality.
The Director-General of the institute, Professor (Mrs) Gloria Elemo, disclosed that "We have developed a blueprint on how this process could create about 5 million jobs annually through direct and multiplier effects. This will ensure economic independence through drastic reduction in imported goods, thereby saving foreign exchange."
The Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA), a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-financed value chain development research project, coordinated in Africa by Prof. Kolawole Adebayo, has facilitated local fabrications of home-grown processing equipment and helped cassava and yam value chains development.
The research activities in these value chains are anchored by the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), IITA and other universities/institutes in Nigeria and Africa. This has deepened induslisation of the root and tuber crops and improved farmers' propensity to earn better income.
However, national investments in processing technologies should be consistent, as foreign aids, sponsors and support would not last forever, and the country should look beyond them from now.
THE post-harvest technologies would help in drastically reducing food wastage in the country; would increase the profitability of farmers because they would have more products to sell and they could sell at desired periods.
Institutes in the forefront of post-harvest technology research and development include NSPRI and NCAM, all located in Ilorin, Kwara State.
An aggressive pursuit of these, especially home-grown technologies and home-made equipment design and fabrication through the many moribund, poorly-funded and under-utilized research institutes would help the country move a bit closer to agro-industrial development.