Prof. Eustace Iyayi is a Rector of Nigerian Institute of Animal Science, and also the Chairman of Organising Committee of Feed Nigeria Summit 2020. He spoke with Cornelius Essen in Abuja on the event, and how agricultural policies and activities can boost Nigeria’s economy.
Tell us more about ‘Feed Nigeria Summit.’
The Feed Nigeria Summit is the foremost programme of the Agro Nigeria Limited that looks at all aspects of agriculture, to as to have production, and be more on the primary phase, that is part of production itself, and takes it through value chain, to market access, and that is what it has been. The programme has been since 2017 when it was launched, up to last year. Basically, it is a comprehensive programme on agriculture, looking at the policies, production environment, youth empowerment, marketers, sales, and general contribution of agriculture to the economy.
What do you intend to do differently as far as food security is concerned in the country?
We are not seeking to do something differently, but rather we are seeking to do a lot of things that would enhance food security in the country. And because whatever we do, we must make sure that food is available for the people. So, Feed Nigeria Summit, that is the central goal, and not just to make food available for the people, but we also want to think of value addition to what we produce that would have better economic benefits from agricultural activities. So, all these are tilting to ensuring production of food supply and therefore food security.
Assess our agricultural system in the light of COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been concerted efforts and calls to improve on our agricultural space, so as to make it second alternative to oil for economic gains, and that has been on the work and we are preparing in the direction. How we are going about it is another question, and I know that remarkable gain has been made. For example, in the rice value change has been made, so also other commodities. The pandemic came to totally expose Nigeria, as a nation that is not prepared in terms of food security and production sustainability. We all saw it, we didn’t have enough to feed our people, and it was made once because it wasn’t just a problem, and pandemic was not restricted to Nigeria alone, but a global phenomenon, other nations tend to hide their food reserves. So, we didn’t have anywhere to import from. That shows that we just have a big shortfall in terms of food production in this country. I have said at various occasions where I have an opportunity to speak about the challenges we saw in terms of food production during the pandemic to me, it is an opportunity for us to do things better. Actually, it is a window that has opened for us to create opportunity out of the challenges and be going forward. That is what the pandemic has shown us.
People are campaigning for genetically modified organisms, GMO, what is your take on this?
My take on GMO foods is that there are fears. The overall is not that they are bad. The first thing a hungry man is to get fed before beginning to think whether they are genetically modified foods, or not. I know that people have genuine fear. Genetically modified organisms are just a technological tool to make better certain traits plants and animals have to improve on them for production. This leads to an increase in the size of eggs, boosting meat production generally in livestock. For plants, we have to target at high yield, sweetness, and other uses at different stages in our industries. In any case, genetically modified plants and animals are not harmful. What is important is they must be controlled because they can lead to allergy in human beings as well as cause reactions because of the change in the genes of organisms. However, if it is not well checked, according to policies, consuming them one could run into problems. In terms of meeting food requirements, GMO is a good scientific tool for food security in any country.
What could say about the government banning certain food items in the country?
Yes, we have seen this happen in Nigeria. In some cases, it is necessitated to boost rice production. People now embrace Nigerian rice. Most people consume local rice, and are not bad, but the cost is high, and this is the problem. The production is low, while the demand is very high. The other aspect is that livestock and the borders were closed. We see smuggled poultry meat started coming into the country as the result of closure of our borders. This resulted in capacity utilisation of poultry fans jumped from 45 to 70 percent. So, if we were able to do it in a controlled manner it is good and would improve local production. A call for a ban on daily dairy products would equally stabilise and sustain the dairy industries, and if we can control them it would also save our foreign exchange.
Farmers/herdsmen conflicts are here with us, what is your take on these issues?
The assessment of this is what I always say that there is a need to build comprehensive and collaborative efforts. The animals need plants to survive, and if we kill farmers it would have an adverse effect on livestock. So, it has to be a synergy between both and they should understand farmers and livestock producers (cattle), and the way to go about it is to talk to them at the community level. Besides, we also have to make deliberate efforts to make sure that feeds are available for the animals. Because this is the contention, feeds and water. So, we are advocating the establishment of commercial pastures that would encourage people to grow pastures to feed the animals. I think that will reduce the pressure from the pastoralists from going to look for where to feed the animals, and the farmers.
The impacts of the departments of agriculture in our universities are not felt, what’s your view?
My view on this is the universities of Agriculture have to key into the original vision of which they were created, that is purely for agriculture. In recent years, because of pressure from funds, we see them moving to areas that are not really agriculture related to their mandate, such as medicine, law; that shouldn’t be. We are happy that they have returned to the ministry of agriculture, and now under the supervision of the Minister. This will go a long way, and one of the things to do is to charge them technological innovations. The universities of agriculture should be given a charge to give answers to increase maize production; new breed of cattle, other animals to increase productivity, and so on. Except they are given challenges like that, they may not research them, and agriculture is a technology-driven venture.
What’s your comment on our national budget on agriculture?
Looking at the present national budget on agriculture, in terms of the allocation to the ministry, it is not enough. And the Mobutu Declaration gives the percentage to give to the sector, but what we are having is a far cry to what is needed. The declaration suggests 20 percent and above. Only 3 percent is allocated to the ministry of agriculture yearly. Even at this, we still have to try utilisation of the funds, by looking at the areas of priority in the national economy, and what we want to achieve. And when we are able to do that we will know that we have done something.
Any advice for the government?
Government should put more money in agriculture, such as infrastructure, incentives, access to funds by farmers, and for them to build on their businesses to make them strong. These have to be concretised; build an environment for them to produce, among others.
Are there programmes that the government could put in place to attract youth to agri-business?
We have a lot to do. We have to create innovative platforms for them. These are the people that are idealistic, and given them the opportunities to bring to board is great. A government may attempt to build certain things for the youths, and at the same time want to force them on them. They should equally make young people see agriculture as a money making venture. This is the only thing that would interest the youths. This is the area we should move on to engage them. The area they can deploy abundant energy that would lead to getting resources.