Dr Babajide Adelekan is the Provost, Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan, Oyo State. In this interview by NURUDEEN ALIMI, He explains how far the college has delivered on its mandates and how adequate funding can help to do more.
What are those madates given to the Federal College of Agriculture Ibadan? And do you think the college is actually delivering on the mandates?
I am not sure whether you are aware of the fact that the Federal College of Agriculture is the oldest tertiary institution in Nigeria as it was founded in 1921. We have been around for a long time, hardly will you have an encounter with someone who have gone extensively in agriculture in Nigeria and would say he does not know about the college. We have the mandate to produce graduates in various areas of agriculture. For example we have agriculture engineering, crop production technology, animal production, horticulture, fisheries and couple of others. But everything is in the agricultural sector. Traditionally we are the people that feed the economy I mean the agricultural economy with the professionally trained workers and we have been doing this for decades. And this mandate of producing graduates in agriculture we take it very seriously and God’s willing we will continue to work very hard towards achieving these objectives.
Can you say the college is being well funded to effectively carry out your day-to-day operations?
You yourself know what the situation is in the country as of now. We are a government agency and we present our budget to the Federal Government at the begining of the year and of course we defend the budget on the floor of the National Assembly, the budget goes through the respective due processes until it is approved. But just like other agencies of government, we have been having problems with funding. We have not been adequately funded. Take note, I am not saying that we particularly but just like other agencies of government we have not been having the funds as much as we should have it. So in terms of adequate funding, I will say sadly we have not been adequately funded in recent time. And we hope that by the time the finances of the Federal Government improves we can receive improved funding. With more funding we can do much more better.
Have you at any point in time let the authorities in charge know the implications of not giving sufficient funds to the college?
Inadequate funding will mean less than adequate performance naturally. If you fund so lowly then you should not expect top performance because poor funding affects negatively. This is known to various levels of government and also the agency that we report to. We are under the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), which has its headquarters in Abuja, the ARCN is counterparts to the National University Commission (NUC), so what the NUC does for the universities is what the ARCN does for the colleges of agriculture and the ARCN is under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. They know that we are poorly funded and because even before the funds gets to us it passes through them so they know that we are poorly funded but just like we have said they keep us assuring us that when funding levels improve from the government then we also should expect improvement, but as of now we have not seen that.
How have you been able to cope despite the shotfall in funding?
We have done our best like people will talk of IGR, that is one part of the story but the little that can come terms of IGR in a depressed economy. You and I know that the World Bank says that we can not hope for 2% or 2.5% growth in the economy of Nigeria for 2018/2019 and an economy that is not growing there is limitations in terms of the IGR because the IGR can only come from economic activities taking place so there is limitation. We have done our best we generate little IGR and we do our best also to apply them judiciously. I want you to understand what we mean by IGR, some people will think about something like school fees, school fees are not really IGR whatever we take as school fees we give them back to the students in terms of materials and services. But when we do things like consultancy, when we produce food and sell, when we grow crop and sell those ones count for IGR and we do our part in that but do not forget that it is money that we use to find money. If you want more IGR, you first of all have to invest much in it and in terms of IGR we have looked at possibility of partnerhip with companies and private estabilshments and all that those have not yielded much fruits as expected. It is the overall economy that is actually affecting everybody.
As an administrator in the agriculture sector, what is your overall assessment of agricultural practice in Nigeria?
The Federal Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have been doing a lot to improve agriculture in Nigeria. Although we have seen improvement, but there is still room further improvement. What I am saying in essence is that in terms of contributions to Nigeria’s agricultural sector we can say the agricultural sector has a pass mark. For instance, there was a time that we used to import a lot of rice in Nigeria. But it may interest you to know that as of now, we have cut importation of rice by 90 percent. A lot of rice is produced in Nigeria now, we have hundreds of thousands of rice farmers in Kebbi, Sokoto and even in Ogun State and Niger State. And they are producing a lot of rice and much of this rice is feeding a lot of Nigerians. Look at the issue of cassava, we produce the largest quantity of cassava in the whole World, the closest country to us in cassava production is Brazil. Although we still have problem with the cassava value chain in that we have not fully developed all the neccesary value chains. You know that we produce garri from cassava, starch from cassava, ethanol from cassava and we produce livestock feeds from cassava and things like that. But what many people do not know is that we actually can derive more than 150 products from cassava alone. And the real ones that we have developed in the country are just less than 10. We have more than 150, we still have to work on the end stream of the value chain and one thing again is that we have problem with the preservation of cassava and research continue to go on to see how we can preserve cassava for much longer time. We can also speak of a crop like yam, we produce a lot yam we can also talk of cowpea, in the African continent no other country produces as much cowpea as Nigeria even on the African continent no other country produces as much maize and as much sorghum as Nigeria and even millet. So, a number of these crops we are doing very well in them. Despite all these, there are still gaps like for instance, take a look at a crop like tomato we need about 2.7 million tonnes of tomato every year in Nigeria. But it may surprise you that we produce only 0.7 million tonnes of tomato in Nigeria so we have to import 2 milion tonnes of tomato to be able to meet the shotfall. If you look at something like milk and dairy products, the demand for dairy products is about 2.7 million tonnes but we produce just about 1.2 million tonnes so there is still a gap of 1.5 million tonnes and that is taken care of by importation. There are still significant gap actually although we are doing well in some areas but we can still do much more.
Is the Federal College of Agriculture considering going into partnership with foreign organisations in a situation whereby students will go there on intership to broaden their knowledge about modern agricultural practices?
We always consider things like that but there is something I want us to take note of. We are in the tropics when we go for collaborations it is better we go for collaborations with countries that has similar climate and vegetation patterns as Nigeria. For instance we won’t gain much if we say we are going for collaborations in agriculture with European countries. We plant differently, they do not plant cassava, they do not plant yam, cowpea and all that. We can collaborate across board with African countries, the only issue now is that on the continent there are few countries we can collaborate with because Nigeria is already ahead in so many areas but we not relent once we see god anywhere that our students can benefit from, we will not think twice before we exploit such opportunity.