Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA, writes on the apathy of farmers and entrepreneurs towards improved crop varieties, agricultural technologies and innovations being developed by universities, research institutes and agricultural colleges as well as how to speed up the adoption rate to ensure productivity and food sufficiency.
Agricultural technologies and food sufficiency go hand-in-hand as obtainable in the developed economies. Desiring to depart from food insecurity without new technological innovations, their up-scale, widespread adoption and maximisation is a wishful thinking. This realisation accounts for aggressive technological developments in Europe, America and Asia, which have helped in frog-leaping them in food production and value addition.
Contrary to the world’s logical order, Nigeria not only struggles with technology development despite availability of a good number of research institutes, but also flounders in its utilisation.
Agricultural technology, as defined by the New World Encyclopedia, refers to technology for the production of machines used on a farm to help with farming. Beyond this, it involves new ideas, improved varieties of crops and breeds of animal strains, innovations, techniques and inventions for livestock feeding, land preparations, planting seeds, irrigating the land, cultivating crops, protecting them from pests and weeds, harvesting, threshing grain, preservation, processing and packaging the products. It also covers value chain development and transportation improvements.
Crop and animal production technology is among the most revolutionary and impactful areas of modern technologies, driven by the essential requirement for food. A well-known example of agricultural machinery is the tractor. Currently, mechanised agriculture also involves the use of airplanes and helicopters. Olam Rice farm in Rukubi, Nasarawa State, employs these sophistications, using airplanes to apply pesticides, herbicides and ferterliser.
With the coming of the industrial revolution and the development of more advanced machines, farming methods took a great leap forward in the advanced countries.However, in Nigeria, the adoption of foreign and homegrown technologies is abysmally low, and this, The Guardian has found out, is a cardinal factor contributing to low productivity of farmers and the inability to break away from the mono-cultural economy of crude oil.
Mechanisation of farm operations with tractors
The conventional practice in the developed economies is that farm operations for arable crops are 100 per cent mechanised from land preparation, weed management and harvest for greater efficiency and better productivity. In contrast to the above, statistics still shows that over 70% of Nigerian farmers do practise farming at the subsistence level; that is, unable to mechanise and scale up production and productivity.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), while explaining reasons for low mechaniation in Africa through one of its reports, says low farmer’s income results in very low potential for investment in inputs. Inputs refer to seeds, fertiliser and agricultural machinery/technological innovations. Therefore, there is low demand for tools and machines. The lack of investment in production-enhancing technologies also leads to very low level of productivity, which further consolidates the continuing situation of low farmer’s income, leading to a miserable cycle of poverty and unsustainable farming.
Apart from this, fragmentation of farmland by small-scale farmers, holding and cultivating approximately one hectare of farm each, prevents them from adopting mechanisation, compounding the poverty cycle described by the FAO.
Corroborating this, the Cassava Project and Agro-processing Project (CAMAP) Coordinator, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Mr Ayodele Omowumi David, said, “considering the conventional challenge of land fragmentation by small holder farmers, we ask cassava farmers to cluster themselves in groups of 20 to 25. This grouping helps us to scale down the cost per hectare. The only things the farmers need to bring are their inputs – fertliser and cassava stem cuttings. If all cassava production operations – ploughing, harrowing, planting and boom spraying, planting and fertiliser are timely and efficiently done, farmers may not need to weed till harvesting.”
Tissue culture technology
At the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Ibadan, Oyo State, the tissue culture technology used for multiplication of virus-free seedlings and planting materials is grossly underutilised because of farmers’ apathy. The molecular laboratory unit of the tissue culture facility is used in analysing, identifying and selecting the DNAs of any planting material (ex-plant), using a Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR) technique. Identified desirable seeds are technologically purified and multiplied in millions within a maximum of eight weeks.
Put succinctly, Dr Olayiwola Olubamiwa, Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, describes the tissue culture technology or somatic embryogenesis system as “a laboratory process in which plants are derived from ordinary plant cells or tissues. It is a rapid means of producing high yielding planting materials (seedlings) that are disease-free on a large scale.”
The same technology is available in the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), all in Ibadan, Oyo State.Advantages of the tissue culture technology include multiplication of seedlings in millions from a grain or stem within a short time, as explained by Ilesanmi Akinkolade, a scientific officer at the NACGRAB tissue culture laboratory while conducting The Guardian round the facility. The planting materials coming out of the laboratory are also free from endemic viruses that inhibit optimum performance of crops.The technology saves thousands of hectares of land needed in raising seedlings or cultivating seeds, and the associated cost of doing so.
Over 627 improved crop varieties
It was discovered, during a visit to the NACGRAB’s office, that the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, Livestock Breeds/Fisheries has approved and released 627 improved varieties of 39 crop species and two improved animal breeds, submitted by over 20 national and over 10 international breeding research institutions/seed companies, but most of the approved varieties are on the shelf, waiting for acceptability and wide adoption by farmers.
At the cocoa institute in Ibadan, eight series of improved cocoa varieties are available (CRINTC1-8), but the story is the same. Farmers are not planting the new varieties, and cocoa production figure remains lower than the potentiality the country can attain.At the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), there are improved early-fruiting economic tree crops developed by the institute, including bitter kola, shear butter and others.
The International Potato Centre, Abuja, has introduced vitamin-A fortified potato varieties, bio-fortified maize and cassava. Stressing the adoption challenges and efforts to drive it, Dr (Mrs) Olapeju Phorbee, the Country Manager of the International Potato Centre and Senior Country Coordinator of Building Nutritious Food Basket in Nigeria, explained to The Guardian that scaling up adoption of bio-fortified crops, which are vitamin-A bio-fortified cassava, maize and sweet potato, had been difficult.
“We are trying to scale up the production, processing/utilisation and consumption of these crops in Nigeria. We are doing that through seed system development, capacity development and policy engagements, getting the government to buy in and support these nutritious crops. We want the farmers and other stakeholders to adopt them. And we want processors to use them and consumers to embrace them,” Dr Phorbee explained while enumerating challenges faced to get stakeholders to adopt improved crops and technologies.
Other homegrown technologies
There are models of agro-forestry (combining economic tree crops with arable crops to ensure sustainable forest covers to mitigate the effects of climate change and sustain reforestation efforts), snail, rabbit and cane rat (grass-cutter) rearing business models at FRIN; poultry, goat and pig production models at the Federal College of Agriculture and the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Moore Plantation in Ibadan.
At the IAR&T, several research and developments products, including kenaf and jute improvement, improved varieties of grains, improved lines of pig breeds and other trail-blazing technologies are mostly un-accessed.At the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), over 250 research products and technologies have been developed, according to the Director General, Dr (Mrs) Gloria Elemo, but these have translated to insignificant impacts in the lives of farmers, processors and entrepreneurs on the basis of poor adoption rate. The technologies at FIIRO include zobo and kunu, cassava flour bread and confectioneries production.
Aflasafe, a research product developed by IITA in Nigeria to combat aflatoxins in grains, is struggling for acceptance in the country, while other countries import the product from Nigeria. The National Cancer Centre of the United States of America (USA) said aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize, peanuts, cotton seeds and tree nuts. The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world. Aflatoxin-producing fungi can contaminate crops in the field, at harvest, and during storage. Aflatoxins are said to cause cancer.
The Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, has improved multi-purpose solar dryer, grain preservation, fruit elongation, transportation and fish processing technologies, among others. Dr Olayemi Folorunsho, Head of the Engineering Research of the institute, explained that the technologies were results of deliberate efforts to stem the rate of food wastage in the country.The National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan, has developed a local insecticide against Tuta Absoluta, a tomato leaf miner commonly called ‘Tomato ebola’. In 2015, the insect ravaged tomato farms in the country, leading to the scarcity of the farm produce.
The insecticide, called NIHORT Lyptol, combats this pest effectively, but adoption and utilisation of the product remain abysmally low. The institute has also developed better techniques in planting tree crops. It demonstrates that mango, citrus and even cocoa and cashew trees should be spaced 10 feet apart from one another to maximise yield potential at maturity. The space in-between the trees can be used for arable/food crops before canopies are formed. But the majority of farmers have not adopted the spacing technique, leading to poor yield per hectare and poverty of farmers as well as food insufficiency in the country.High yielding varieties of mango, orange, pepper and vegetables have been developed, but only a few farmers have accessed them for adoption.
Causes of low adoption rate
Demystifying adoption challenges, Dr Anthony Okere, Assistant Director, Research and Development at NACGRAB, explained that lack of adequate advocacy using the extension service delivery system; fear of failure of new technologies and varieties on the part of farmers and entrepreneurs; failure of scientists and researchers to carry farmers and industrialists along while developing new technologies and varieties and inefficacy of research products, technologies and varieties to meet their immediate needs have been identified as barriers.
Dr Okere pointed out that inability to mobilise industrialists, farmers and their associations to the venue of naming, approval, registration and release of new improved varieties also affects the level acceptance and adoption.
Explaining the poor rate of technology adoption, Professor Gabriel Oluwatosin of IAR&T said research is viewed from two angles: basic and applied. The applied research is supposed to be demand-driven, in partnership with industries and farmers, in this instance.“Farmers and industries do not take up research products, technologies or varieties because they are not part of it,” Prof. Oluwatosin claimed.
There is a challenge of marketing, he added. For instance, farmers have embraced improved varieties of cassava but they intermittently find it difficult to sell the products. “Farmers are ready to take up good technologies and improved varieties but the challenge is sustainability. They find it difficult selling their products at good prices and they discontinue eventually. A farmer is a businessman; he grows what he can sell,” he asserted.
Dr Olaoye Afolayan, Director of Research, NIHORT, while also tracing the causes of the challenge, explained to The Guardian that in countries where adoption rate is high, research is demand-driven. These countries coherently channel farmers and industries to research institutions to find solutions to challenges in food and raw material crops production and value chain developments. “Such coherence is not here, for stakeholders go their different ways, and funding is a serious challenge,” Afolayan added, “and no farmer is ready to gamble with new varieties, and most of them are hybrids, which cannot be replanted. Therefore, farmers are hesitant in taking them up, because they are also resource-constrained.”
The ratio of extension officers to farmers is terribly insufficient. This was confirmed by Afolayan, who said the ratio is still about one officer to 2000 farmers in Nigeria despite the political statements about diversifying the economy via agriculture. This, he added, is a major obstacle to awareness creation and technology dissemination to farmers and entrepreneurs. Pitching his tent with Afolayan, Professor Emmanuel Ajani, Head of Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, University of Ibadan, said extension service is either non-existent or poorly coordinated.He, too, attributed the gap to lopsidedness of research, saying, “A fundamental issue on adoption is that the technologies and varieties are not demand-driven.”
The way forward
Professor Ajani revealed that most of the aquaculture technologies developed under an innovation platform of the integrated fish farming of University of Ibadan were adopted up to 80% because the platform carried farmers, processors, marketers, fish feed makers and financial institutions along by researchers. The projects were based on their needs.This, he said, is the most important factor that could be augmented with efficient agricultural extension service delivery and media advocacy.“If you don’t involve stakeholders at the conception, experimentation and trials, they may feel reluctant to take up new technologies and varieties.
“The government is not committed to the development of technologies; most of the research funds are foreign aids. And once the foreign aids stop, the research and development activities stop,” Ajani submitted.Dr Okere, the assistant director at NACGRAB, suggested interfacing of scientists/product developers and farmers/industrialists to know their needs, challenges and carry out researches around such. “The choice of technology/product to be developed should be decided by farmers, entrepreneurs and scientists,” he said.
Going forward, Okere similarly suggested that free samples of new improved seeds should be given to farmers and their associations with instructions on how to cultivate and manage such varieties, at the point of release. He added that meetings for approval and release of new varieties and technologies should be held rotationally in the six geo-political zones to give room for mobilisation of state and local government officials, farmers’ associations and media organisations in the zones to immediately create awareness about new agricultural varieties and technological innovations. This he calls the participatory approach.
Dr Afolayan (of NIHORT) suggested that “there is a national need for recruitment of agricultural research and extension officers, with adequate empowerment to deliver good results.”Professor Oluwatosin (IAR&T), while proffering solution to the hurdles, also suggested that the government should be alive to its responsibility of making policies that would ensure collaboration of industries and farmers’ associations with institutes. For, he said, there is a gap between the gown and town.
A research trust fund, sponsored by farmers’ association and industries, should be set up, he added. This would make the stakeholders to work with researchers and the emanating products/technologies would be adopted. The government should be firm on import substitution, the academic added. “Some companies in Oyo State are still importing soy beans for production of vegetable oil while local production is enough to feed their factories,” he lamented, saying this is an absurdity.
Restoration of WAAPP Nigeria
The first of the four components of the defunct West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) Nigeria was creating ‘enabling conditions for sub-regional cooperation in technology generation, dissemination and adoption’. It is a World Bank assisted programme for member-countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), designed to make agriculture more productive and sustainable and also to enhance sub-regional integration.
In Nigeria, WAAPP worked towards achieving its objective of increasing agricultural productivity while promoting sub-regional integration along the value chains of its targeted commodities covering aquaculture, cassava, maize; rice, sorghum, yam, poultry and fruit processing while assisting in the realisation of the nation’s desire towards food sufficiency.
WAAPP is coordinated at the sub-regional level by the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD). In Nigeria, WAAPP was implemented by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMA&RD) through a Project Coordination Office (PCO). WAAPP-Nigeria became effective in January 2012 and the first phase ended in 2016.
The second phase was meant to commence immediately, but up till now, the Federal Government has not made provision for its counterpart funding. This has truncated the technological generation and dissemination drive.Former Acting National Project Coordinator of WAAPP-Nigeria, Mr James Ocheme Apochi, had disclosed that “WAAPP is involved in the funding of demand-driven technology generation and adoption, and the dissemination of improved technologies through the adopted villages in 2012 with only 52 adopted villages, while in April 2015, the number of adopted villages increased to 296.
“We are collaborating with the National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS) to disseminate technology.”Nigeria has suspended the WAAPP-Nigeria’s operations by refusing update its counterpart fund of $5 million in a project which funding stands at $56 million.
Dr Folorunsho at NSPRI expressed the view that if N40 is used to generate a technology to be adopted, N60 should be spend on the extension, “because the problem we have is that we have the money for the generation, but we don’t know how we can go about making it adopted.”
Folorunsho added: “Nigeria started the WAAPP project late, and when Nigeria was making way, the money got finished. For a longtime now, there has not been any proper funding. That is part of some of the challenges.“Reviving WAAPP-Nigeria’s operations can be useful a lot because, apart from the generation of technology, dissemination is also crucial.”