Every government loves to talk about agriculture as the future of the economy, saying it is the pivot of its diversification policy.
But what is the evidence that this is not mere lip service or even criminal disservice to the people?
Every year lots of cash is voted to agriculture but why is there not enough food? And what kind of agriculture is in question? Is it the ancient tilling of the soil, where a peasant farmer armed with crude implements toils all season only to harvest a few hundred tubers of yam?
How can you diversify the economy from crude oil to agriculture when all the research institutes are overlooked, pitiably funded and unable to feed the agriculture ministry with valuable information on the latest practices and better ways to tackle nasty crop diseases, for instance?
In every year’s budget appropriation since 1999, huge funds are voted for the agric sector. The present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari even came with the change mantra of diversifying the economy, increasing its annual budget for agric since inception in 2015. But where is the food?
The federal Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development has, at least, seven research institutes, where research is supposed to be conducted regularly with the aim of improving agricultural practices in the country.
The National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) located in Kuru, near Jos, was meant to conduct research into animal diseases, produce vaccines for the diseases for the well-being of domestic and wild animals. The NVRI is located on the same premises as the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology in Jos.
It trains students in animal health, animal production and agriculture extension and management. Specifically the college offers training in beef production, poultry production and animal fattening.
Closely related to the college is the Federal College of Veterinary and Medical Laboratory Technology, Vom, Jos, which specialises in the training of middle-level manpower in the diagnosis of human and animal diseases.
Also in Jos is the Federal College of Land Resources Technology. This college was established to carry out research on soil and its capacity and to determine which soil is good for which crop.
Then there is also the Lake Chad Reserve Institute located in Maiduguri, Borno State, and the Federal College of Freshwater Fisheries Technology in Baga (also in Borno). In Gombe State is located the Federal College of Horticulture in Dadin-Kowa.
All these institutes are supposed to guide the federal government agricultural revolution quest. From their research, farmers are supposed to have improved seedlings, effective animal drugs, new and improved animal breeds, nourishing fish farming techniques, etc.
But the institutes are almost comatose, a fact that came to light when a senate committee on agriculture visited Jos, the Plateau State capital. All seven research centres located in the northern part of the country appeared before the committee led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu.
All of them came up with a report of poor funding. Majority of the research institutes said their allocations cannot afford them any meaningful research. Even the little fund allocated to them in the annual budget is never released to them on time. In most years the institutes only get, at most, 60% of the fund appropriated to them.
Senator Adamu, chair of the committee, pointed out that the sitting of the committee at NVRI Jos was to receive reports of the research institutes for 2016 and 2017 appropriation expenditures which must include amounts appropriated to them and the application of the budgets.
In their reports, the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology and Federal College for Veterinary and Medical Laboratory Technology said their annual budget is not even enough to change their obsolete machines which were installed about 90 years ago. They doubt if any research can be carried out with those outdated machines.
In his presentation, the acting Executive Director of NVRI, Dr. David Shamaki said, “Though the allocation to the institute increased from that of 2016 to that of 2017, the release of the approved fund however continued to decrease.
The provost of Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Prof. Garba Sharubutu said, “The budget allocation to the college has been decreasing each year, and there is no funding intervention from anywhere. The federal college of veterinary and medical laboratory technology even reported that it has been operating on “zero budget” .
Mr. Nanjuwan Jacob Dabut, Provost Federal College of Land Resources, Kuru even reported that the budget of the college is never released.
He said, “We always receive less than 10% of its budget annually and we don’t enjoy any special funding intervention like other universities and polytechnics.”
A member of the committee, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi said, “This story of under-funding is a very pathetic one, and it looks as if there is a deliberate ploy somewhere to kill these research institutes.
Because, if the idea of food security is still a priority to the federal government, then why are the research institutes in the agric sector not properly funded. How does the federal government intends to diversify the economy of the country through agriculture when the same government is not funding the research institutes?”
Professor Garba Sharubutu, the Provost, Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology said, “If you look at foreign breed of cattle, they are an advanced breed that look robust and produce much to the owner in terms of meat and milk. Our own local breed look so lean and sick, the difference between the two is that those of the foreign breed are products of research.
The federal government own institute, the national animal production institute which has been existing since in the 80s has not been able to bring up one breed of livestock. We only succeeded in coming up with only one breed of chicken known as chickabrown. Research is capital intensive and we don’t pay much attention to it. Research is the means through which new breed emerge.
“But I must commend the federal government for what they are doing in the area of crop development, a lot of varieties are coming up. The only problem is that the researches in crops are mostly done abroad, but how do you expect another country to develop your own country for you. The amount of money the federal government is allocating for research is too meagre, the time they are releasing this money is too late in the year to do anything. When government released money for research in September, and by the end of the year government moped up that money. So what have you done to research.
But some countries budgeted billions for research, because the output of one research can help the country recover all the cost at a very short period of time. But here, we look at the cost so much that we don’t look at the advantages and the revenue that research will bring in.
“But we are trying to do something in the absence of research, that is to see if we can cross-breed our local breed with those foreign ones, but you know it can’t be as good as those who did the research themselves.”