Nigerians have been given a ray of hope that agriculture can restore the country into global economic reckoning if the Universities of Agriculture are fully empowered to achieve their mandates, goals and objectives.

This was the crux of the papers titled The Role of Universities of Agriculture in Fostering Innovation for Inclusive Development and Universities of Agriculture and Agricultural Development in Nigeria, delivered by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Olusola Oyewole, at a one-day Stakeholders’ Workshop, held at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Ibadan as well as the 2013 National Agricultural Show, which took place at the National Agricultural Foundation of Nigeria, Tudun Wada, Nasarawa State, respectively.

The Vice-Chancellor was represented at both occasions by Professor Akin Omotayo, the Director of the University’s Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research (IFSERAR).

Rice Plantation

Rice Plantation

According to Professor Oyewole, who is also the President of the Association of African Universities, the strategic role of agriculture in economic development is well acknowledged and widely documented globally.

Over the years, the role of agriculture had expanded from mere production of food and raw materials for industries, as captured in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals programme, to include reducing poverty and hunger, fostering gender equality and sustainable environmental management, he stated.

He, however, regretted that “Africa was perhaps the only continent in the world that has not found sustainable solution to the problem of hunger and poverty.  It also appears to be the only continent that has not been able to harness opportunities and natural resources for economic growth and development.  It is a continent trailing behind others in trade and has resorted to importation of virtually everything. It is a continent that is fast losing out in the knowledge game” while in Nigeria, Agriculture still represents less than 35 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), less than 20 per cent of exports, and 60 – 70 per cent of total employment.

The Vice-Chancellor said that Universities of Agriculture (Land-Grant Universities), as obtainable in other countries like the United States of America, France, Greece, India and Kenya were established in Nigeria with the mandate to produce graduates that would transform and modernize the nation’s agricultural practices, so as to grow the economy.

He stated that Universities of Agriculture were also expected to provide independent, critical voices in the society that would be useful in challenging the establishment by coming up with new ideas, theories and models for improvements in relation to agricultural development.

Professor Oyewole added that the graduates were expected to be practicing farming as a business venture in an exemplary and successful manner that will in turn reduce unemployment level, enhance farm production, increase food production and food security, reduce food importation and improve livelihoods of farm households by invariably leading to the overall national economic growth and development.

The don observed that these aspirations remained unfulfilled despite the establishment of the specialized Universities of Agriculture for a number of reasons that had prevented the nation from attaining its desired rapid economic development through agriculture.

These reasons include the difficulty in getting fresh graduates to take up farming as a means of livelihood after leaving school, increasing aging farming population, over-dependence on food importation, food price instability and political crisis.

“Agriculture and farm-related occupations remain unpopular among young people because of its inherent association with poverty, drudgery and backwardness. The undergraduate agriculture training programmes in Universities have not helped matters much as it only mimics the existing methods of farming by the local populace with its practical component depending on manual labour and minimal application of modern technology. The result has been declining enrollment in undergraduate agriculture programmes and the growing lack of interest in farming among youths”, he stated.

Other problems identified by him include poor funding for upgrading teaching and research facilities to international standards that will promote the emergence of entrepreneurs, lack of conscious efforts at supporting agriculture graduates to own and manage farms, low adoption of research findings and innovations from Universities of Agriculture by those currently engaged in farming, the general ‘quick-fix’ syndrome that is at variance with the expected long gestation period between sowing and reaping as well as the high cost of farm machinery and other relevant labour-saving equipment.

“Universities of Agriculture by their very foundation would appear to have a covenant with the society. The covenant is to develop a cadre of young, dynamic modern farmers that would develop innovative practices in agriculture, the economy, reduce poverty and bring about sustainable development of the sector. This covenant with the society has largely remained unfulfilled”, he said.

In spite of the challenges, he highlighted the giant strides recorded by FUNAAB, one of the three Universities of Agriculture in Nigeria, in fostering innovation for inclusive development through its Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research; Agricultural Media Resources and Extension Centre; Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme/Farm Practical Year; Agro-Industrial Park Unit; the Graduate Farming Scheme, among others.

Cocoa ready to be processed

Cocoa ready to be processed

The Vice-Chancellor further disclosed that FUNAAB, through its collaboration with other Universities around the world, had been able to successfully measure the impact of climate change on agricultural production, provides early warning systems against impending disasters in farming, real time weather data and is also involved in research on food prices, alternative energy sources, changing food needs, food safety, fertilizers and seed production.

The AAU President, however, expressed optimism that Universities of Agriculture were making frantic efforts to fulfill their pact with the society by equipping graduates with the needed moral and intellectual capacity, as he called on stakeholders in other sectors of the society to work together with them to ensure success through public-private partnership, improved funding, strengthening linkages with the alumni associations, constant retooling, further reform of the undergraduate curriculum and sound entrepreneurial education.

He equally suggested that the National Research System should be more focused and proactive in finding solutions to farmers’ problems while the extension system should be revitalized to empower farmers to adopt innovations and improved technologies, as well as embark on regular and expanded investment by government in knowledge infrastructure, to strengthen research and training institutions in the agriculture sector.

Maize Plantation

Maize Plantation

Meanwhile, the NISER’s Stakeholders’ Workshop was aimed at improving the understanding of the role of Nigerian Universities in building a national system of innovation that could facilitate inclusive development and provide scientific solutions to economic and industrial challenges in the country, using the University of Ibadan, Ibadan; Federal University of Technology, Akure; and the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, as case studies. Similarly, the National Agricultural Show was organized by the National Agricultural Foundation of Nigeria, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, with the main theme, Promoting Agribusiness Investment for Job and Wealth Creation and Sustainable Food Security.