The need to create a link between small holder farmers in the southwest and research institutes to enable farmers access and benefit from research results as well as innovations that will help farm produce was the focus of a stakeholders’ engagement on agriculture held in Ibadan on a collaboration between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (DFID -PERL). YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports that creating a link between researchers and farmers will stem the tide of deteriorating food security.
Over time, the agricultural sector in the southwest has been said to operate below potentials based on many factors; finance, business management, high cost of hard farm inputs, poor organisation and management of cooperatives, invasion of farmland by herdsmen, dependence on rain fed farming and lack of agricultural data base as the major factors creating gaps within the agricultural sector in southwest Nigeria.
Another factor that has however given concern to stakeholders in the agricultural sector is the inability of farmers especially small holder farmers to access cut edge technology and innovations that will put agriculture on a better pedestal. This was also the focus of a seminar and stakeholders engagement in Ibadan last week.
The stakeholders’ engagement, a two -day program which had stakeholders from all sectors of the agricultural chain and end users was a partnership between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (DFID -PERL), not only called attention to the need to focus on improvements in produce value chain for greater produce yield and promoting food security but also emphasized the need to create a synergy between farmers and research bodies.
Emphasis was put on constructive collaborations and partnership among critical stakeholders including legislators, government policy makers, small holder farmers, cooperatives and training institutes as well as research and knowledge hubs like IITA. This is in line with constant efforts to include findings of methodological changes in agricultural research to the assist farmers’ especially small holder farmers to ensure improvement in practice and bountiful yield.
It was observed that many farmers are handicapped in getting to research institutes to learn about trends and initiatives that can make them big time farmers and avoid technological pits in farming. Stakeholders were encouraged to in their personal capacities to forge linkage paths that will connect research organizations with end users and induce linkages on behalf of small holder farmers so that they will not be lost in the system due to the influence of big farmers and government organizations.
Though efforts of research institutes is aimed at ensuring that farming techniques evolve to the use of hard and soft inputs to boost production and ensure commercial production in farms and aid food security by ensuring farmers have access to high breed planting materials, technologies and innovations.
Also, untapped potentials in the agricultural sector has been attributed as the cause of poverty and deteriorating food security in Nigeria while agriculture was identified as the major source of income for Africa during the stakeholders engagement held at the International House of the IITA. Dr Alfred Dixon of the IITA made this declaration while speaking on leveraging on IITA’s expertise: opportunities from IITA’s partnership for delivery department during the programme.
Dixon explained that agriculture remains a major source of income for Africa, adding that IITA technologies for outscaling contribute to strategic objectives.
Participants agreed that access to training and technical support to small holder farmers from research institutions for development of farmers and the agricultural sector as well as the key to ensuring food security in the nation and encouraged every stakeholder to begin forming partnerships around identified issues in the agricultural sector and identify markets as technology will go nowhere without the market
Dependence on rain fed farming, access to credit, high cost of land clearing, exploitative middle men, post harvest losses, unstructured commercial and industrial markets for farm products, system of loan disbursement and access to information were listed as major hindrances to agricultural development.
It was agreed by participants that small holder farmers should get real support in terms of access to training, seedlings, technical support and expertise from research institutes not only on paper so agriculture can move beyond theories but a commitment with focus on improvements in the produce value chain for greater produce yield and promoting food security.
Further, the need to begin forming partnerships around identified issues in the agricultural sector, give incentives that will make farming easy and attract youths to agriculture, creating a data base that will aid research, access to knowledge, innovations, finance and technology to boost productivity were listed as recipe for advancement for the agricultural sector in the southwest.
Another issue discussed by the stakeholders include the system of loan disbursements to farmers which they stated had been infiltrated by politicians; the gathering arrived at a consensus that agricultural loans do not get to real farmers but paper farmers who have no farm but are only farmers on book and by mouth who use their political will to access loans at the detriment of the real, practicing farmers. It was further stated that many subsidized soft inputs like pesticides get to the hands of people that are into retail business who then sell to farmers at exorbitant prices.
Other issues that were raised include hard cost of hard inputs; equipment, land clearing, seedlings, exploitative activities of middle men, legislation and kick backs to pass laws (patronage politics), information asymmetry between farmers and others in the value chain, post harvest losses, availability of land and orientation of farmers on loan issues.
The DFID-PERL representative listed the objectives of the organization in organizing the programme to include encouraging concrete agreements among participants for uptake of techniques and best practices, facilitating linkage between IITA as an agricultural hub and end users including small holder farmers, expanding partnerships to resolve identified issues within agricultural sector, use of independent mechanisms or tracking tools to monitor outcomes of linkages and support the flow of information including agricultural policy recommendations between IITA and others.
At the end of the programme, participants dispersed with better knowledge of ensuring agricultural revolution in the southwest and a charge to forge linkages that will lead to sustainable access to core needs for agriculture to grow.